Thursday, June 6, 2013

I am the Baleful Head

 The Baleful Head, c. 1876, Edward Coley Burne-Jones

(Click on picture to enlarge)

I am the baleful head

The above picture captures Perseus and Andromeda standing over a well whose waters reflect back the image of Medusa. Medusa, once renowned as a beautiful maid, invoked the wrath of the goddess Minerva who was jealous of Medusa's beautiful tresses. The angered goddess transformed her ringlets into vipers and she became so cruel a monster that anyone gazing upon her was turned to stone. Edward Burne-Jones referred to her as The Baleful Head in his series of paintings depicting the legend.

I relate to the virulent Medusa, having experienced my own transformation into a Baleful Head after months of hospital visits. My own pate is now covered with grey Medusa-like ringlets (but I must say, after having being nearly bald, it’s a real improvement!) . I would like to point out this bright side to the Baleful Head

Finally, a perfect piece of music illuminating the transient nature of love, as so beautifully told in the Perseus and Andromeda myth:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Crystal Ball Gazing

Grimm’s Saga No. 119: Crystal Ball Gazing


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

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

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

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

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

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

To read more fairy tales, click on the link:

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Serious Fairy Tale Business of Finding a Mate

The Serious Business of Finding a Mate
(The historical background of necromancy employed to find a mate.)

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

Although May is the most popular month for lovers, according to German folk custom the serious business of finding a mate traditionally began much earlier in the gloomy month of November.  This was not because Germans were naturally inclined to approach love in a somber way and therefore chose the darkest time of year for romance. Rather a popular belief persisted into relatively modern times that the dead, if so disposed, could actively intervene in the affairs of humans during the winter season. Winter itself was likened to a kind of death and it was believed that the barrier between the living and dead was especially permeable at the time starting with All Soul’s Day (Nov. 30) and lasting until the early days of January and beyond. During this period a supplicant could call on Saint Andrew, the Patron Saint of Lovers, on the eve of his feast day (November 29).  Seekers of love would perform certain rituals, make offerings to the saint and conjure through an entire evening. In return, the saint was supposed to send some vision or sign of the seeker’s future life partner. In some cases a flesh and blood lover might even appear.  The British Isles had their own saint for inducing these visions of love; it was St. Agnes the Patron Saint of Girls. The importance of this plucky saint seems to rest on her insistence to remain chaste before marriage. But Keats in his poem The Eve of St. Agnes emphasizes a mysterious sort of eroticism that probably comes much closer to the underlying folk belief.

Such customs had even Martin Luther scratching his head.  He reports in his Tischreden (No. 6186)  that maids, having stripped themselves naked, fell onto to the ground and prayed fervently to Saint Andrew:

God, oh my God, oh you dear St. Andrew. Give me a pious man, show me now the man I am to wed.

Luther dryly reports that no suitor came and one girl almost froze to death while waiting.

The Scottish prayer to Saint Agnes follows the same line:

Agnes sweet, and Agnes fair. Hither, hither, now repair;

Bonny Agnes, let me see,

The lad who is to marry me.

The sentiments in both prayers are similar enough to suggest some connection between the Agnes/Andrew characters, who at one time might have been a single pagan deity, subsequently renamed by Christian priests who were tired of dealing with frost-bitten teenage girls. In this new role as saint, the heathen deity’s function was now re-ascribed, blurring the overtly sensuous aspects of the custom while accommodating cultural and regional peculiarities. It’s a pity the identity of this mysterious divinity has long since been forgotten.

Link to fairy tales on this blog concerning Finding a Mate:

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Friday, April 26, 2013

King Redbeard or Frederick Barbarossa of Kyffhaeser

Emperor Barbarossa and his sons, Henry, King of Rome and Frederick, Duke of Swabia

Grimm’s Saga No. 23  Frederick Barbarossa at Kyffhaeuser 

Many stories have circulated about this Kaiser which assert that he is not really dead but shall live until Doomsday. Also no other rightful king shall ever come after him. Until then he sits concealed within the Kyffhausen Mountain and when he emerges he shall hang his shield on a barren branch, whereupon the tree shall sprout and better times shall come. Sometimes he speaks to the people who arrive at the mountain. At other times he shows himself to them. Often he sits on a bench by a round stone table, holds his head in his hand and sleeps. He bobs his head and blinks his eyes. His beard has grown long; some say it has grown through the stone table. Others have said his beard winds around the table in such a way that it must go around three times before he wakes up. But until now his beard has only encircled the table twice.

A farmer from the village of Reblingen wanted to transport his corn to Nordhausen in 1669 but he was stopped by a man of diminutive size and led into the mountain. There he was instructed to empty his sack of corn and fill it with gold instead. This farmer saw the Kaiser sitting but he did not move.

A gnome also once led a shepherd into the cave. He was whistling a song that the Kaiser enjoyed, whereupon the Kaiser stood up and asked “Are the ravens still flying around the mountain?” When the shepherd replied yes the king cried out: “Now I must sleep one hundred years longer.”

Saturday, April 13, 2013

“The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk."

The Owl of Minerva (Roman) or Menrva (Menerva, Etruscan)

Menrva was an Etruscan goddess most like the Greek goddess Athena.  Bearing helmet, lance and shield, the myth surrounding the birth of Athena was also part of Menrva's backstory.  Menrva purportedly sprang from the head of Tinia. Tinia was the Etruscan god of heaven, sometimes depicted with a beard, at other times beardless, but always bearing a bundle of lightening bolts.

Minerva, the Roman goddess, was the protector of skilled manual laborers, craftsmen, and teachers. Her primary festival was held March 19 - 23 and called the Quinquatrus. Because of Minerva's skill and knowledge she was also held in high esteem as the guardian of doctors.

Athena the virgin goddess of Athens has been tied to a Crete Goddess of the Palace and in this regard associated with snake goddesses (picture of Athena as snake goddess appears in the Parthenon). She was allegedly owl-eyed, an all-seeing creature even in the dark and as such an all-knowing being and symbol of wisdom.

“The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk." (Hegel)

To read an owl fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm:

And more about owl mythology:


Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd

Excerpt from the Mabinogion* via the Wiki-page 

"So they proceeded to the place where was the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd.

"Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd, here is an embassy from Arthur; knowest thou aught of Mabon the son of Modron, who was taken after three nights from his mother?"

"If I knew I would tell you. When first I came hither, the wide valley you see was a wooded glen. And a race of men came and rooted it up. And there grew there a second wood; and this wood is the third. My wings, are they not withered stumps? Yet all this time, even until to-day, I have never heard of the man for whom you inquire. Nevertheless, I will be the guide of Arthur's embassy until you come to the place where is the oldest animal in this world, and the one that has travelled most, the Eagle of Gwern Abwy.""

* A collection of medieval Welsh stories based on pre-Christian Celtic mythology.

Further owl stories on this website can be accessed by clicking on the links:

Or an owl fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm:

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Blood-Curdling Call of the Barn Owl

Taken from: British Birds, W. H. Hudson, 1902:

The following account by W.H. Hudson in 1902 describes our strange relationship to the beautiful barn owl, a mingling of fear, respect and awe.

The Barn Owl

"Another general remark about this most strange and fascinating fowl may be made in this place. The barn-owl, being so widely distributed, and in many countries the most common species, and being furthermore, the only member of its order that attaches itself by preference to human habitations, and is a dweller in towns as well as in rural districts, is probably the chief inspirer and object of innumerable ancient owl superstitions which still flourish in all countries among the ignorant. His blood-curdling voice, his whiteness, and extraordinary figure, and, when viewed by day on his perch in some dim interior, his luminous eyes and great round face, and wonderful intimidating gestures and motions, must powerfully affect the primitive mind, for in that low intellectual state whatever is strange is regarded as supernatural.
Before sitting down to write this little history I went out into the woods, and was so fortunate as to hear three owls calling with unearthly shrieks to one another from some large fir-trees under which I was standing, and listening to them, it struck me as only natural that in some many regions of the earth this bird should have been, and should be still regarded as an evil being, a prophet of disaster and death."

Read this alongside the Tragic Tale of the Schuhu by Grimm (See below). 

Or more about owl mythology:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

An Owl Fairy Tale from the Brothers Grimm


Grimm's Fairy Tale No. 174: The Owl

Or the Tragic Fairy tale of a Schuhu

A few hundred years ago people were not as smart or sophisticated as they are now and a strange tale was reported to have happened in a small village. One of the very large owls that folk refer to as a Schuhu came out of the neighboring forest during its nightly foray and took refuge in the barn of one of the farmers. When daylight broke it did not dare leave its corner in the barn for fear of the other birds who would let out a fearful screech if they saw it. When the stable boy went into the barn in the morning to fetch some straw, he became frightened at the sight of the owl, who sat in a corner and looked so enormous that the lad ran away and reported to his master that he had seen a monstrum as no other sitting in the barn; it could turn its eyes around in its head and swallow a person whole in one gulp.


"I know you quite well, young lad," the master said. "You are brave enough to chase a blackbird in the meadow but if you come across a dead chicken, you first grab hold of a stick before you approach. I shall have to see for myself what kind of monster this is." And the master entered the barn bravely and looked around. But when he saw the strange and hideous animal with his own eyes he fell into a panic that was not less than that of the stable boy.  In large leaps he fled from the barn and ran to his neighbor and pleaded for help against an unknown and dangerous beast.   The entire city might fall into danger if the monstrum broke free of the barn where it sat. Fear spread through the town and screaming could be heard in all the streets. The citizens arrived armed with pikes, pitchforks, scythes and axes to take on the enemy. Finally the councilmen also appeared with the mayor at the head of the crowd. After arranging themselves on the market square they moved on toward the barn and encircled it from all sides. At which time one of the bravest amongst them stepped forward with pointed spear and entered the barn. But he immediately took heel with a scream and came running out deathly pale. He could not utter a single word in his fright. Now two others took their turn and entered the barn, but things did not go any better for them. Finally a large and strong man, who was famous because of his deeds in war, spoke " You won't be able to dislodge the monster just by looking at it! We must employ an earnestness in this task but I see that you have all become old women and no one wants to bite the fox!" 


He had them bring him arms, a sword and spear and thus prepared for battle. Everyone admired his courage although many were concerned for his life. Both barn doors were now opened and one could see the owl perched on the middle of a large beam. The man had a ladder brought to him and when he leaned it against the beam and was ready to climb it, the crowd yelled to him to act in a manly fashion.  They commended him to St. George the dragon-slayer. When he had climbed the ladder and the owl saw that the man was after him, it became confused by the the crowd and screaming and did not know where to turn. So it turned its eyes, raised its feathers and spread its wings, snapping with its beak and cried out Schuhu Schuhu in a rough hissing voice. 


"Stab it, stab it!" cried the crowd to the brave hero. He responded "Whoever stood in my shoes would not be calling out to stab." He took one step higher on the ladder but then began to tremble. He turned back and almost fainted in fear.


Now there was no one who would put himself in danger. "The monster!" they said, " had poisoned and mortally wounded the strongest man amongst them with its snapping and breathing alone. Should we put other lives at risk? They now held counsel about how to save the entire town from utter ruin. For a long time everything seemed lost until finally the mayor found the solution. He spoke "It is my opinion that we take money from our common treasury, enough to pay for this barn and everything inside, grain, straw and hay, pay the owner and do not hold him at fault. But then we shall burn down the entire building and with it the terrible creature within. In this way, none among us shall wager his life. We have no time to spare and it is not the time to be stingy."


Everyone agreed. And so the barn was set afire at its four corners and everything including the owl was wretchedly burned. And whoever does not believe this story happened should go out and inquire about it himself.   


To read more about the Ghost or Death Owl hit the following Wiki-Link:

Links to owl themes & mythology:

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