Monday, December 19, 2011

The Wild Tuerst and Straeggele of Christmas

From Switzerland: the Wild Tuerst and Straeggele of Christmas Tide

In ancient times a beautiful daughter of a rich man lived in the Entlibuch in the hill country outside of Luzerne. True, she had both beauty and riches, but the townspeople did not like her. It was because she led a wild, unseemly life. Instead of behaving properly like other girls, the young maid whistled through her fingers, called out to her hunting dog and then blew into her horn. Early in the morning she took off in hot pursuit of all manner of wild animals.  Deer and stag, even the ferocious wolf fled from her when she, raving, shouting and waving her spear, entered the forest.  Then her dog yapped loudly and from every mountain crevice came a terrifying echo.
The years passed in this manner and soon the wild maid no longer went to church. While other people were called to mass when the church bells rang, she took up the spear and ran with her dog into the forest to hunt the wild beasts. The town folk all shook their heads and said things would end badly for her. The demonic Tuerst would come and fetch the wanton maid, they murmured, when it flew through the forest like the storm wind.
One Christmas Eve there was a knock at the door where the rich daughter of Entlibach resided. When the servant opened he saw a young, slim man standing at the gate who asked for a night’s lodging. In the morning he said he would go out with the maid on a friendly hunt. Both man and maid servant recoiled when they heard these words, but they had to allow the late guest to enter the house, even if he did not appear to be a knight.
The beautiful daughter greeted the man with a loud “hello”. He replied that he loved the hunt above everything else. And so it was decided that the next morning the two would set out on Holy Christmas Eve to undertake a wolf hunt in the nearby mountain forest. The girl did indeed notice that the lean knight had not said from where he came, but she did not think long about it. The main thing was that she had found a handsome and agile hunting partner for the following day.
The next morning when the bells in the church tower rang out, villagers came from all around. All but the strange knight. He said to the maiden: “Leave these people, let them go into the church. Come! We shall go out on the hunt!”
So they were of good cheer, laughing and carousing, equipped with their spear and bow, they went out into the night accompanied only by the maid’s hunting dog. On their way to mass, the church folk passed the wild pair and watched how the revelers disappeared in the forest.
It was not long before they were deep within the dark wood. The maid was just about to take her spear and fling it after a deer, when her strange hunting companion gripped her raised arm and said in an icy voice and with eyes that burned through her like fire: “It is true I hunt the beasts of the forest, but you have never once listened to your conscience. You have committed sacrilege against God! Now you are mine and shall be like me! You shall fill people full of terror!”
He stretched upward and grew and grew into a giant. In revulsion the maid recognized that it was the Wild Tuerst. She screamed, she ran, how gladly she would have run into the church! But it was too late. The huntsman grew without stopping. She, too, grew alongside the fearsome hunter, until she was taller than the trees. The barking dog next to her also grew until he had become a monster. At once the wild Tuerst  began to storm across hill and dale, until it finally seemed as if all the wild creatures in the forest were raging.
The villagers, who were still making their way to church, witnessed the procession of these giant figures. They saw in the pale light how a dark abyss opened in the ground, and how it then swallowed the Tuerst and the Straeggele.  
After that Christmas Eve when the wild maid did not return home, word of her fate spread among the villagers. The Tuerst had fetched the Straeggele and the pair would now have to go out hunting until judgment day. For many years on starry winter evenings when the wind whistled around the houses, the villagers often saw two shadowy giants with their dog storming across the bleak sky. And if they heard a bell ring somewhere in the distance, they said it was the Straeggle – maid. But then the Tuerst only blew harder into his horn so that the villagers had to pull the coverlets over their eyes and hide in terror.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

A Selection of Christmas Fairy Tales

To help you navigate the various Christmas links on this blog, sort through the many different Christmas themes and perhaps provide impetus for further reading, here are some book notes from We wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Much has been written about the themes addressed in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Many critics see it primarily as a condemnation of social injustice and poverty. But few have identified the many fairy tales, folk traditions and popular beliefs much of the story is based on. The whole notion of ghosts and spirits haunting the Christmas season comes from the world of the fairy tale, as does the idea of three spirits from the past, present and future illuminating and interpreting one’s destiny. See the links on this website to read more, in particular, the links for Ghosts, Ghost Theory and Norns.

Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

The story Peter Pan shares the major themes and plot points of the Doomed Prince, a tale from ancient Egypt. Hit the link Doomed Prince to read an original translation of this tale.

Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro

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

Christmas Carols relating to the fairy tale themes explored on this Blog can be heard sung in German and English if you hit the Christmas Carols link.

Christmas Fairy Tales on this Website Featuring Christmas Hauntings:
The Advent Flibbertigibbet (Flibbertigibbet link)
Hille Bingel’s Wedding
The Troll’s of Winter
Marriage of King Wilt and Lady Lee
Ghosts of Christmas Past (Christmas Ghosts link)

The Lives of the Christmas Saints:
Saint Joseph in the Forest
Child of Mary
Saint Andrew, the Protocolete (Saint Andrew’s Eve link)
Saint Nicholas
Saint Lucy (Christmas Saints link)

The season is also a popular time for auguring one’s future, especially in regard to the New Year and designing your own New Year Celebration. See the links about

St. Andrew’s Eve,
The Lover Invited to Dinner
Augury for the 21st Century

And finally, who would have thought the Christmas Season would be such a good time for Nose Fairy Tales? A Nose Trilogy appears on this blog, the links are:

Nose Fairy Tale
Hille Bingels Wedding
St. Joseph

Happy Reading and Merry Christmas!

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Elves of Christmas

Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 39: The Elves of Christmas (or: Die Wichtelmaenner)

Through no fault of his own, a shoemaker had slipped into abject poverty. Finally he became so poor that he had nothing left but a bit of leather for a single pair of shoes. And so in the evening he cut out the leather and planned to begin his work the next morning.

Because he had a clear conscience he went to bed peacefully, commended himself to God and fell asleep. In the morning after saying his prayer, he wanted to sit down to work. But there before him stood two shoes on his table, completely finished! He was amazed and did not know what to say. He took the shoes in his hand to examine them more carefully. They were so cleanly made and no stitch was wrong, the shoes seemed to be his masterpiece! Soon a buyer arrived and because he liked the shoes so much he paid more than the usual amount and shoemaker could negotiate more than the customary fee.

Now with the money he was able to buy leather for two pairs of shoes. In the evening he cut out the leather and intended to start work the next morning with a fresh heart. But when he awoke the shoes were already finished and buyers were also not in short supply. They offered him so much money that he could buy leather for four pairs of shoes. And so it continued. Whatever he cut out at night was finished in the morning so that he soon had an honorable income, and finally, he even became a wealthy man.

Now it happened one evening not long before Christmas, that the man began his cutting work. He said to his wife “How would it be if we stayed up tonight to see who lends us a helping hand?” The wife was satisfied and made a light. Then they hid themselves in the corner, behind the clothes hanging there, and watched. When it was midnight two small little naked men emerged, sat down at the shoemaker’s table and took up the freshly cut leather. They began to stitch, sew and tap so that the shoemaker, in his amazement, could not turn his eyes away. They did not stop until everything was finished and stood complete on the table. Then they hopped away quickly.

The next morning the woman said “The small men have made us rich. We must show our gratitude. They were busy running around all night and had no clothes to warm them. They must have been freezing! Do you know? I will sew a little shirt, jacket, jerkin and pants for them. I will knit for each one a pair of stockings and you shall make a pair of shoes for each.” The man replied “Yes, I am satisfied.” And in the evening when they had everything finished they placed the gifts on the table instead of the leather. Then they hid to see what the little men would do. At midnight they appeared and wanted to immediately start their work, but they did not find leather cut out and ready but cute pieces of clothing. First they were amazed but then they were gripped by tremendous joy. Quickly they put on the clothing, ran their hands over the pretty cloth and sang:

“Are we not fellows fine? Why should we be shoemakers more?”

Then they jumped and danced and leapt over chair and bench. Finally they danced through the door. They never returned and the shoemaker lived a long and prosperous life and as long as he lived he was successful in everything he did.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Witch's Sabbath

Grimm’s Saga No. 252: The Witch's Sabbath

A woman from Hembach took her son Johannes, who was barely 16 years old, to the witch's gathering. Because he wanted to learn how to whistle, the mother told her son to practice whistling for the dancers there. She told him to climb the highest tree so that his whistling could be heard far and wide. The boy obeyed and climbed the tree.  And so he whistled loud and long and saw how they all danced below. Perhaps because it all seemed so strange to him, he finally said out loud: “ Protect me, dear God! Where do so many crazy and wild people come from?”  He had barely uttered these words, when he fell from the tree, sprained his shoulder and called out loud for help. But no one was there to help him, he found himself quite alone.

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Assembly of the Dead, Grimm's Saga No. 342

Fairy Tale for Halloween: The Assembly of the Dead

The queen had died. She lay in her castle in a splendid bed in the mourning hall that had been draped in black. At night the great room was illuminated with wax candles and the guards sat outside in the smaller antechamber.

The watchmen included a captain and forty-nine other men. Toward midnight the captain heard a carriage, pulled by six horses, rushing toward the castle. He then saw how a woman, dressed in the manner of a mourner with noble and decent countenance, descended from the coach.

She immediately asked to be given an audience with the deceased lady. But the captain replied he did not have the power to grant this wish. She insisted, mentioning her own famous name and arguing that as the Lord Chamberlain’s wife she had the right to see the deceased one last time. The captain hesitated, but the woman needled him so until he could no longer disagree.

After granting the woman access, he closed the door to the chamber and walked back and forth outside, listening carefully and peering through the key-hole. There he saw how the dead queen suddenly sat upright and appeared to be speaking softly to the woman, but with closed eyes and with no sign of life in her demeanor (except for her lips moving slightly). Whispering to his men, he invited one after another to look through the key-hole and each man saw the same thing. 

Finally, he took his turn at the key-hole once more and saw how the dead woman slowly lay down again on the fine bed. At once the woman opened the door and was led to her carriage by the captain, who could feel that her hand was ice-cold.

The wagon hastened away as quickly as it had come and the captain saw in the distance how her horses exhaled sparks of fire. The next morning news came that the Lord Chamberlain’s wife, who lived several hours away at her country estate, had died precisely in the hour she visited the dead woman.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Skulls that Speak in the Bone-House

The Skull in the Bone House

It was evening in the house of Constable Wyler who lived in the Swiss Valley of Loetschen. Women and girls sat in front of the fire spinning while older crones told tales about witches and goblins. The young listened attentively.

Nearby sat a young man of twenty, who boasted about his courage, fearlessness and incredible adventures. “And what fortune I’ve had!” he preened, “Never has a single hair on my head been harmed even though I have done some gruesome things in my time! And today I shall do what none of you would ever dream of. I will go into the bone-house and retrieve a skull! You will see!” Placing his fingers at the corner of his mouth, he pulled his lips back in a grimace so that his white teeth sparkled in the firelight.

The others listened quietly. Finally an older woman said he should not commit such a grave sin and should never make jokes about such things. But the assembled spinners could not hold him back from his foolish deed, even though they cried after him that one should never play with the dead for something gruesome might happen. But these words only acted as a catalyst. He tore himself from the group and stormed into the night.

He hung his hat on an elderberry bush in front of the bone-house of Kippel, where hundreds of skulls were stacked up high. Carefully lighting his lantern, he entered the dusty, dreary hut and searched among the desiccated skeletons for the skull of his uncle. When he found it, he placed it under his arm, then he blew out the candle and made his way home. “They will be surprised when I bring the skull into the chamber and place it on the table,” he murmured to himself and laughed into the dark night.

But it seemed that the skull he carried was getting heavier and heavier, the farther away from the bone house he came. When he arrived at the house of Kippeler Riedbord, he thought he could no longer carry his load. Reaching the chapel, he placed the skull on the stone before the door and murmured a prayer. Then he grasped the smiling skull and continued on his way until he reached Laerchen. But there he had to rest again. It seemed he was no longer carrying a skull but rather a leaden ball under his arm, which was aching under the heavy load. He considered what to do and thought to himself “It is not much further and I shan’t return now!”

But the jaws of the skull began to crack like wooden wheels running across sharp-edged gravel. Then the skull began to speak in a raspy voice: “You are lucky you only removed the skull of your uncle, otherwise you would have been torn to bits!” and the jaws of the skull flapped wildly and groaned like an old lock refusing to open with a rusty key. “Take me back to the bone-house in Aff, take me back, take me back” the skull moaned “and return me to the spot where I used to rest!”

The youth would have preferred a hasty retreat, but he had to remain were he stood. His feet were rooted to the ground and after some time like this he thought it  best to do what he was told and as quickly as possible. He picked up his heavy load and followed the way he had come. Gradually with each step it became easier and he felt his boney load becoming lighter the closer he got to the bone-house. As he stood before the door, he lit his candle and placed the skull at the exact spot of its prior rest. Then he quickly left the dark and creepy hut, never again returning to the evening spinning circle. Instead he returned to his room where he lay in bed lifeless and quite ill for many weeks. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Woman in White: Richmodis von Aducht

From Cologne: The Tale of Richmodis von Aducht

In the mid-fifteenth century plague spread through the city of Cologne. In its shadows, a woman in black could be seen creeping through the narrow streets. It was the Black Death. Its poisonous breath seeped through the window cracks of meager huts but was also seen in palaces and fine houses alike. Without pity it took the life of many thousands.
The gravediggers painted a black cross on innumerable house posts – a sign that the pestilence had visited.

The number of dead rose so quickly that it soon became impossible to bury them all. The bodies of the unfortunate were pushed into a common grave, covered with earth and a wooden cross was placed on top.  It was a time when crying, moaning and wailing filled the narrow lanes of the old city of Cologne.

Near the New Market close to the Church of the Apostles there lived a rich councilor by the name of Mengis of Aducht . But fate visited him and plucked his youthful bride from his arms. The young councilor’s grief was without bounds. He could not pull himself away from the corpse of his bride wearing the white wedding dress she had worn only a few years before. After decorating the coffin with flowers, he adorned his silent wife with the beautiful earrings she had worn in life.

Even the night seemed to mourn the loss of Lady Richimodis. It was deadly still in the cemetery near the church when suddenly the bar of the wooden door was raised. Two shadows slid by through the dark rows of newly dug graves. It was the two grave diggers of the Holy Apostle’s Church, who had buried the young wife of the councilor.  They had closed the lid of the casket while the knight bowed before his wife one last time. But they could not help noticing the sparkling gems, precious rings and costly fabric that enveloped the young woman.

But now from the darkness the rustling of dried flowers in the funeral wreath could be heard. The two grave diggers returned, but this time with sinister intent. Slowly they dug up the tomb and the clods of earth piled high. A dull noise rang out and the light from the lantern flickered as the two men hastily opened the lid of the coffin and gazed upon the lifeless face of the lady. The light of the lantern fell on the folded hands of the corpse and the rings on her fingers glistened.

Suddenly the lifeless body twitched in its coffin. The small, narrow fingers moved. In horror the grave robbers raced from that place, leaving the coffin open and their tools lying on the ground.

A deep sigh emanated from the crypt. Several minutes later the woman who had been buried there sat up. Her eyes searched the dark surroundings. Slowly she understood what had happened: in a death-like state they had buried her while she slumbered.  But her horror only gave her a new vitality. She stood up and gripped the lantern left behind. And without restraint she opened the door the robbers forgot to lock.

The streets were empty. Only the silent stars looked down on the lonely figure in the snow-white gown as she made her way home.

To read the latest about the Black Death in the NYT, go to:

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Three Tells of Switzerland

Grimm’s Saga No. 298: The Three Tells

The Three Tells

According to common folk and shepherds of Switzerland there is a cleft in the craggy rock near Lake Waldstaetter. Here the three liberators of the land sleep; they are called the Three Tells. They wear the ancient dress of their ancestors and shall rise again and go out as liberators when the time of dire need arrives for their homeland. But access to this cave is only given to the fortunate finder.
A shepherd boy once told the following story to a traveller: his father, searching for a lost goat in the mountain crags, entered a cave. When he remembered that the three men sleeping inside were the three Tells, the old man who was the real Tell sat up and asked:  

“What time is it?” And when the frightened shepherd said “It is high noon!”, he replied: “Then it is still not time for us to return.” He went back to sleep. The father and his comrades went out looking for the Tells to wake them in a time of need for the fatherland. He searched often for the cave, but never found it again.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Grimm's Saga: Wilhelm Tell

Grimm’s Saga No. 518: Wilhelm Tell

Now it happened that the Kaiser’s bailiff named Grissler rode out to Uri. And when he had lived there some time he erected a pole under the linden tree and everyone had to pass by it. On this pole he placed a hat and ordered a farmhand to sit there and keep watch. He ordered the following public proclamation: Whoever passes must bow to the hat as if the master himself stood there. And if a person did not see the hat and did not bow, he would be punished and have to pay a hefty fine.
Now a pious man resided in the land; his name was Wilhelm Tell. He stood before the hat but would not bow. The servant who guarded the hat now accused Tell before the bailiff. The bailiff had Tell brought before him and asked why he did not bow before the tree and hat, as was commanded. Wilhelm Tell answered: “Dear sir, it is something like this; I do not believe that Your Grace is held in high regard. If I were a funny fellow, I would not be called Tell.”
Now Tell was a good marksman, his equal could not be found in all the land. He also had pretty children whom he loved. The bailiff had the children brought before him and when they arrived he asked Tell, which child was the dearest of all. “I love them all the same,” Tell replied. The man replied “Wilhelm, you are a good shot. One cannot find your equal in all the land. You shall now prove it to me. You shall take your children and shoot an apple from one of their heads.”
The goodly Tell recoiled. He begged for mercy for what was asked was not natural. He would do anything else asked. But the bailiff forced him with his servants and placed the apple on the child’s head himself. Now Tell saw that he could not avert the issue. He took the arrow and placed one in his quiver. With the other hand he took another arrow, loaded it in the crossbow and asked God to protect his child. He aimed and shot and the arrow happily struck the apple on the child’s head. Geissler said it was a master shot. “But one thing you shall tell me: What does it mean that you hold another arrow behind in your quiver?”
“It is the habit of marksmen.” But the bailiff would not cease needling him and wanted to hear an explanation. Finally Tell admitted that he feared for his life if he told the truth. When the bailiff promised to preserve his life, Tell spoke: “I did it because of this: if I had missed the apple and shot my child, I wouldn’t have missed hitting you with the next arrow. When the bailiff heard this he said: “Your life has been promised you; but I want to put an end to all this so that sun and moon cease shining for you!” He had him seized and bound and placed in a boat so that he could be conveyed back to Schwyz. As they were traveling on the sea and came near Axen, they met a strong wind. The ship swayed back and forth and they all thought they would meet a miserable end. None of them knew how to steer the vehicle through the waves. One of the servants spoke to the bailiff: “Unbind Tell. He is a strong and powerful man and understands what to do in such weather. We want to escape this calamity.” The bailiff spoke and called to Tell: “If you help us and do your best so that we can escape, I will have you unbound.”
Tell replied: “Yes gracious sir. I will do it gladly. Trust me.” Tell was then unbound and stood at the helm of the ship in good faith. And so he waited for his advantage, espying his crossbow lying on the floor. They now approached a large rock which since has been called Tell’s Plate and is stilled called that today. It dawned on him that he might now escape and cried out to them all to row hard until they arrived at the base of the rock, because when they passed it they would be through the worst of the waves. So while they rowed close to the rock he forcefully turned the ship as he was a strong man. He reached for his crossbow and jumped onto the rock, pushing the boat back where it rocked back and forth on the water.
Quickly retreating into the shadows of Schwyz (through the dark mountains), he finally arrived in the empty streets of Kuessnacht. There he waited for the bailiff and his men. When the bailiff arrived with his men, Tell stood behind a brushy shrub and heard the noise of the attackers coming his way. He spanned his crossbow and shot an arrow into that man, who fell down dead. Tell ran away quickly over the mountains to Uri, found his comrades and told them all that had happened.  

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Translation Copyright

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Quiet Gnomes of Plesse

The Quiet Folk of Plesse
There are many springs, wells, ravines and caves near the Hessian mountain castle Plesse, where, according to the saga, gnomes live and dwell. People call them the quiet or silent folk.  They are all quiet and good-natured, preferring to serve people whom they like. If some misery afflicts this silent folk, they do not take their rage out on people, but rather revenge themselves on the cattle, which they torment to no end. In truth this underground race of gnomes rarely communes with people, instead preferring to live inside where there are rooms and chambers filled with gold and precious stones.  When a gnome has some business to tend to up on earth, he doesn’t do this during the day, but rather waits ‘til night. This mountain folk is made of flesh and blood like any other people; they have children and die. But only they have the gift of making themselves invisible. They can as easily pass through rock and walls as one passes through air. Sometimes they appear to people, take them into a rocky chasm and give them presents if they are so disposed, but always precious objects. The main entryway to a gnome’s dwelling is near a deep well; the tavern nearby is called zum Rauschenwasser (or the place of the rushing water).

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Grimm's Saga: The Little Red Mouse

Grimm’s Saga No. 248: The Saga of the Little Mouse 

The following story purportedly took place at the estate of a noble family at the beginning of the 17th century near the village of Saalfeld in Thuringia. The maids and servants were all in the kitchen peeling fruit when one of the girls was overcome by fatigue. Removing herself from the workers, she lay down on the kitchen bench to rest, not far from the others. When she had lain there quietly for some time, a little red mouse crept out of her open mouth.  Most of the workers saw it and silently pointed to the animal scurrying away. The little mouse ran hurriedly to the window that was cracked open, slid out and was gone for some time. Now a saucy kitchen maid became curious. Even though the others warned and  tried to dissuade her, the girl approached the  lifeless, soul-less sleeper, shook her, moved her from one spot to the next, and then walked away. Soon the mouse returned, ran to the prior spot where the girl had lain and where the mouse had crept out the girl’s mouth. But now the little mouse could only run back and forth, and because it could not find the place it had originally emerged, it finally disappeared. And so the girl was dead and remained dead. The saucy kitchen girl regretted her deed, but it was all for naught. It was said that in the same household a servant was often pressed while he slept by the Trude, or night spirit. He could not get any rest. But this finally stopped when the maid died.