Wednesday, February 27, 2013

They say the owl was a baker's daughter.

Ophelia: Well, God dild you! They say the owl was a baker's daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be. God be at your table! (Hamlet, Act 4 Scene V)

The Owl as Bakers Daughter

Once a fairy entered a baker's shop. She was dressed in rags as a poor woman, her clothing tattered, and she begged for a morsel of bread dough. The baker's daughter gave her a tiny morsel and the old woman asked that she be allowed to place it in the oven.

But when  she removed the bread the maid saw that the dough had risen and become the largest loaf in the oven. The woman therefore reconsidered and did not want to give it to the old woman. Finally she gave her another piece of dough, half as large as the first and placed it in the oven for the second baking. But this loaf rose even more than the first, and so the old woman was not allowed to have it. Now she asked for a very small portion of the dough. The girl gave her only a small morsel, hardly larger than a thumbnail and she placed it in the oven for the third backing. When it cam out of the oven it was larger than the other two loaves before. The foolish, greedy maid became fearful and with large round eyes gazed upon the old woman, who had thrown off her robe and stood tall and beaming.

The girl stammered "How, who, who...".

"Whoo- whooo" will be the only thing you ever utter again," the fairy said. "The world has borne your selfishness and greed long enough." And she raised her wand and touched the maid who now was transformed into an owl, flying out into the night with a "whoo-whooo".

Dear Lord, we know what we are but we do not know what we might become. 

And in this English folk song, the owl appears as king's daughter, not baker's daughter:

Once I was a monarch's daughter
And sat on a lady's knee:
But am now a nightly rover,
Banished to the ivy tree.

Crying hoo hoo, hoo hoo, hoo hoo,
Hoo ! Hoo! Hoo! My feet are cold!
Pity me, for here you see me,
Persecuted, poor and old.

I once was a king's daughter
And sat on my father's knee,
But now I'm a poor hoolet,

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Time of Hooting Owls: Fairy Tale of Hooting Ursula

Grimm's Saga No. 298: The Hooting Owl

At midnight in storm and rain the Hackelnberg Huntsman races through the Thuringia Wood and Harz Mountains. His wagon, horse and hounds make a crackling and creaking noise as he breaks through the brush of his favorite haunt: the Hackel Forest. A night owl flies ahead of him and folk call it Hooting Ursula. Wanderers who happen to meet this terrible pair fall down flat on their stomachs and let the wild huntsman pass by. Soon they hear the barking of hounds and the call: Uh-hu!

Many years ago in a remote cloister in Thuringia there lived a nun named Ursula. During her lifetime she always disturbed the choir with her shriek-like singing. For that reason they called her Hooting Ursula. But things only got worse after her death. Each night starting at eleven o’clock she stuck her head through a hole in the church tower and hooted wretchedly. Every morning at four she came uncalled and sang with the sisters. They could endure it for only a few days; on the third morning one nun said softly and full of terror to the nun singing next to her “That is most certainly Ursula!” Suddenly everyone fell silent, their hair stood on end and the nuns ran screaming from the church crying: “Hooting Ursula, Hooting Ursula!” No punishment would induce the nuns to enter the church again until a famous exorcist was called from a Capuchin monastery on the Danube. He banished Hooting Ursula in the form of an owl to the Dummburg region of the Harz Mountains. It was there that Ursula met the Huntsman Hackelnberg. She became charmed by his Hu-hu and he in turn was charmed with her Uh-u! And now they both go out together, flying through the air on the wild hunt. 

Our own Hooting Ursula is nesting in an owl box we attached to the remnants of a once stately pine tree, here are some pictures :

More about owl mythology and an owl fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Charcoal Burners Fairy Tale

Grimm's Saga No. 527

The Origin of the Zaehringer People

The Saga reveals that in days of old the Dukes of Zaehringen had been charcoal burners. They lived in the mountains where they erected their dwellings and in the forests they built their castles. These buildings still stand today and it is here they burned charcoal. Now it happened that whilst the charcoal burners were burning their charcoal, they seized an area of ground and established a pile of charcoal with the intent of burning it all down to the very last bit. But as one of the men was removing the charcoal he discovered in the ground a heavy, molten object, and as he examined it he saw it was heavy silver. So in the future he always burned charcoal at the very same spot, covered it with the same ground and earth but always found silver as before. He soon noticed it was the mountain itself that produced the silver, but kept this secret. Each day he burned charcoal there and finally accumulated a large treasure of silver.

Now it happened that a King had been driven from his own kingdom and fled with his wife, children and servants into the mountains of Breisgau to a place called Kaiserstuhl. There he and his clan suffered the greatest poverty. He issued a proclamation that whoever would offer help to regain his kingdom would become a duke and would marry a daughter of the king. When the charcoal burner heard this, he went before the king heavily laden with silver and desired to become his son and marry the king’s daughter, also to acquire the land and region – now where Zaehringen, the castle and the city of Freiburg can be found. In return he would give the king such treasure of silver that he would be able to recover his entire kingdom.

When the king heard this he agreed. He took the enormous load of silver and gave the charcoal burner his daughter in marriage, and he now looked upon him as his own son; also he gave him as much of the land as he desired. The son began his enterprise and allowed the ore to be melted. In return he received a large property and built the town of Zaehringen including the castle. The Roman King therefore made him Duke of Zaehringen. The Duke then went on to build Freiburg and even more towns and castles. And now that he had become powerful, his property, power and honor had grown and so  he became proud and wicked. One day he called to his own cook and ordered that he roast a young child for dinner because he longed to discover the taste of human flesh. The cook followed his master’s orders and will and when the child had been roasted and presented to the king at the table and the king saw what he had done, he was seized with terror and fright and he felt only remorse and sorrow at the sin he had committed. To atone for this sin he had two monasteries built in the Black Forest; the first St. Ruprecht, the second St. Peter. He did this so that God would be merciful and forgive him for his terrible deed.

Translation copyright

Thursday, January 17, 2013

From the Gesta Romanorum
The oldest collection of European fairy tales and legends
from the Middle Ages compiled by Hermann Hesse.

The Three Journeymen*


A story of heaven and how to get there.

Three journeymen once went out to seek work and it happened that between the three of them they had no more than one piece of bread and could find no other nourishment. And still they were very hungry, and thus spoke to each other: "If we divide this bread into thirds, it won't satisfy the hunger of any of us. Let us consider this dilemma in a reasonable way and decide how we should deal with this bread."

One of them replied: "Let us all lie down to sleep on the street and each one shall dream. Whoever has the most wonderful dream shall have the entire piece of bread." The other two replied: "Your advice is good," and they began to sleep. But the one who had offered the advice got up while the others slept and ate all of the bread. He didn't leave a single crumb for his fellow travelers. When he had finished he awoke his comarades and said: "Get up quickly, it is time for each to tell his dream."

The first fellow said: "Dear friends, I had a most wonderful dream. A golden ladder descended from heaven to earth on which angels ascended and descended. They guided my soul out of my body into heaven. When I arrived there, I saw the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So much happiness resided in my soul and never before has an eye bore witness to nor an ear heard what I perceived. And that was my dream."

The second fellow said: "In my dream a devil came with iron and burning tools, tore my soul from my body, abused me and spoke: "As long as God reigns in heaven you shall remain in this place."

The third fellow replied: "But listen to my dream! It was as if an angel came to me and said: "Dearest one, do you want to see where your comarades are?"  I replied: "Yes, my lord. We were to divide the bread between us but I fear that they have run off with it." But the angel replied: "No, that is not the case, the bread is lying next to us, follow me."

The angel then led me to heaven's door and I, per his request, poked my head behind the door and saw what seemed to be you being led away into heaven. You sat on a golden throne and had many splendid wines and meals before you. And the angel spoke: "See, your fellow journeyman lives in abundance among many friends, enjoys sumptious meals and shall stay there for an eternity. For whosoever has entered heaven can never leave. Come with me, I want to show you what has happened to your other comrade."

But as I followed him he led me to the door of hell and I saw you, and as you have said, you were suffering the most severe torment. But because large quantities of bread and wine were being brought to you, I asked: "O dear friend, I don't want you to lie in such misery!". But you replied: "As long as God reigns in heaven, I will remain here, because I deserve it. Quickly get up and eat the entire piece of bread, then you will once more see our fellow journeyman." So I, as you have seen, arose and ate the entire piece of bread, as you commanded.


From the German, Translation

* A person who has completed an apprenticeship and qualified to work in a trade in return for a daily wage. (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary)

Saturday, December 22, 2012


The Burning Babe

As I in hoary winter's night

Stood shivering in the snow,

Surprised I was with sudden heat,

Which made my heart to glow;

And lifting up a fearful eye

To view what fire was near,

A pretty babe all burning bright,

Did in the air appear:

Who, scorched with excessive heat,

Such floods of tears did shed,

As though his floods should quench his flames,

Which with his tears were fed:

"Alas!" quoth he, "but newly born,

In fiery heats I fry,

Yet none approach to warm their hearts

Or feel my fire, but I!

My faultless breast the furnace is,

The fuel wounding thorns;

Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke,

The ashes shames and scorns'

The fuel Justice layeth on,

And Mercy blows the coals;

The metal in this furnace wrought

Are men's defiled souls:

For which, as now on fire I am

To work them to their good,

So will I melt into a bath

To wash them in my blood."

With this he vanished out of sight,

And swiftly shrunk away,

And straight I called unto my mind

That it was Christmas Day.

Robert Southwell

Saturday, November 3, 2012

To Friends of the Fairy Tale and Followers of this Blog

I would like to thank all of you for your interest in fairy tales and following my blog. While I have translated most of the tales on this blog, as a result of a recent and rather long illness I have not been able to translate as before. Therefore I think it only appropriate to acknowledge and  thank my editor, reviser and text consultant for all the support he has provided in continuing this blog. I hope our collaboration will be able to continue and we will be able to publish both well-known and obscure tales. Please feel free to provide your feedback. At this stage in my illness it would be very nice to hear from some of the readers who love fairy and folk tales as much as I do. Take care and God bless!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Water becomes Ice in this Fairy Tale of the Two Sorceresses

In Autumn, Killing the Demons Within and Without

Grimm's Saga No. 251, Making Weather and Hail

One time long ago two sorceresses met while residing in a public house. They carried two pails or buckets of water with them, which they placed in a special spot, each discussing with the other whether the contents of these vessels should be made into corn schnaps or wine. The innkeeper, who secretly stood in the corner, listened carefully and in the evening when the two women had gone to bed he took the pails and poured them over the two women sleeping. The water became ice and in that very hour the two both froze to death.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Art of Making Hailstones and Winter Gales

A rather gruesome tale for gruesome weather.

How to Influence the Weather with Hailstones and Winter Gales

Grimm's Saga No. 251: Making Weather and Hail

In Berlin two women with supernatural powers were caught in the year 1553 because they knew the art of ice-making. Through their powers these wives were able to ruin the fruits of trees and had snatched the small child of a neighbor woman, gruesomely dismembering the body and cooking it in small pieces. But it happened that through God's grace, the mother searching for her babe came upon the lost child with its little limbs jutting out of the cooking pot. Now both wives were caught and interrogated under torture during which they admitted that if their cooking had not been halted, a frigid frost with ice and storm would have descended on all and ruined the fruit.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Witch's Dance

Grimm’s Sage No. 252: The Witch’s Dance

There lived a woman in Hembach whose son of barely sixteen years was named Johannes. She took this son to the Witch’s gathering. Because he knew how to whistle, she demanded that he whistle while they danced.  And so that he could be heard by the dancers, he was told to climb the highest tree. The young lad followed these instructions, and climbed the tree. He sat and whistled down upon the group that danced with such verve and because everything seemed so wonderfully odd he called out foolishly: “May dear God protect you, from whence comes such dotty and absurd riff raff?
 He had hardly spoken these words when he fell from the tree, sprained his shoulder and cried out that the assembled should come to his aid. But there was no one there, only him alone.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Mysterious Wild Man Grinkenschmidt from the Brothers Grimm

The Mysterious Wild Man

Grimm’s Saga No. 157: Grinkenschmidt

In the Detter Mountains, three hours from Muenster, lived a Wild Man by the name of Grinkenschmidt. He lived deep in a hole beneath the ground, covered with grass and straw and you can still see today where it once was. In that hole deep below the soil he made things of iron, rod-like and no one could open these artifacts.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Grimm’s Saga 464: King Ludwigs Rib Chatters

Grimm’s Saga 464: King Ludwig's Rib Chatters

Much has been said about King Ludwig’s hardiness and strength. Also the following story has been told: King Ludwig was on a war campaign when a porch or chamber collapsed under his weight. He fell down and his rib jutted out. But he concealed the injury from everyone, completed his trip and it was said that those who accompanied him heard his rib rattling in the procession. When all was done he moved on toward Ach and lay there in bed two months and had his wounds bound properly.

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