Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Elves of Christmas, A Fairy Tale for the Winter Season

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 21, 2019

Grimm’s Children Legends No. 1 Saint Joseph in the Forest

St. Joseph in the Forest: a Fairy Tale of Saints and Sinners 

There once was a mother who had three daughters. The oldest was naughty and mean. The middle child was much better, although she, too, had her shortcomings. But the youngest was a pious and godly child. The mother was so peculiar that it was precisely the oldest daughter that she loved most and she could not suffer the youngest one. That is why she often sent the poor girl into the big woods to be rid of her. She thought the girl would get lost and never more return. 

But like every good child, this girl had a guardian angel, who did not desert her. The angel always brought her back to the correct path. However, one day it seemed that her guardian angel was not guiding her by the hand for the child could not find her way out of the forest. The girl ran and ran until evening fell. 

Then she saw a light burning in the distance, ran toward it and came to a small hut. The child knocked and the door opened. Behind it, she found a second door, where she knocked again. An old man with a snow-white beard and venerable appearance opened the door. It was none other than the Blessed Saint Joseph. He spoke kindly to her “Come dear child, sit next to the fire on my little footstool and warm yourself. I’ll bring you a little clear water if you are thirsty. I don’t have anything for you to eat here in the woods except a few roots. You must first peel and cook them.”

Saint Joseph gave her the roots: the girl scraped them clean, then she took a piece of the pancake and bread her mother had given her and put everything in a little pot on the fire and cooked porridge. When it was finished Saint Joseph said “I am so hungry, give me a bit of your food.” The child was obliging and gave him more than she kept for herself. But God’s blessing was there and so the child’s hunger was satisfied. After they had eaten, Saint Joseph said “Let us go to bed: but I have only one bed. You lay down in it; I will lie on the straw on the ground.”

“No,” answered the child, “you stay in your bed; the straw is soft enough for me.”

Saint Joseph took the child in his arm and carried it to bed. The girl said her prayer and went to sleep. The next morning when she woke up, she wanted to say good morning to Saint Joseph but did not see him. She got out of bed and looked but could not find him in any corner. Finally she saw a sack with money behind the door. The sack was so heavy that the child could not carry it. On it was written that this was for the child who had slept there that night. The child took the sack and jumped away and returned happily to her mother. Because she gave her mother all the money, the woman had to be satisfied with the child.
The next day the second daughter also had an urge to go into the woods. The mother gave her a much larger piece of pancake and bread. 

The same thing happened to her. In the evening she came to the little hut of Saint Joseph, who gave the girl roots to make porridge. When the girl was finished the Saint said “I am so hungry; give me some of your food.” The child replied “Both of us can eat from the porridge.”

When afterward Saint Joseph offered his bed and wanted to lie down on the straw, the child replied “No, lay down on the bed, we both have enough room there.” Saint Joseph took the girl in his arm, laid her in bed and slept on the straw. 

In the morning the child awoke and looked for Saint Joseph. He was gone but behind the door the girl found a small sack with money. But the sack was only as large as the girl’s little hand. On it was written “For the child who slept here this night.” The child took the sack and ran home and gave it to its mother. But secretly the girl kept a few coins for herself.

Now the oldest daughter became curious and wanted to go into the woods the next morning. The mother gave her a pancake and as much bread and cheese as her heart desired. 

In the evening the girl found Saint Joseph in his little hut, just like the other two had found him. When the porridge was finished and Saint Joseph spoke “I am so hungry, give me some of your food!” the girl replied “Wait until I have eaten my fill.” Whatever I have left you can have.” But the girl ate almost everything and Saint Joseph had to scrape the bottom of the little bowl. The good man offered the girl his bed and wanted to lie on the straw. The child accepted this without hesitation, lay down in the little bed and left the hard straw for the old man. The next morning when the girl awoke, Saint Joseph could not be found.

But the maid did not worry: she looked behind the door for the sack of money. She thought something was lying on the ground, but because she couldn’t really tell what it was, she bent over and hit her nose on the floor. Something stuck to her nose when she got up. To the girl’s horror it was a second nose sticking to her own. The girl began to scream and howl, but it didn’t help. She had to look at her nose and see how it protruded so very far from her face. 

She ran away screaming until she found Saint Joseph. She fell down at his feet and prostrated herself. Finally, in his mercy, he took away the nose and what’s more, gave her two Pfennigs.

When the girl returned, her mother stood in front of the door and asked “What presents have you received?”

The girl lied and said “A big sack full of money, but I lost it on the way home!”

“Lost it!” the mother cried. “We sure want to find it again.” And she took the girl by the hand and wanted to go out searching. First the girl started to cry and did not want to go. But finally she went along. On the way, the two were overcome by so many snakes and lizards, that they could not save themselves. They stung the child until she was dead, but the mother they stung in her foot because she had not raised the girl better. 

Translation Copyright

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Fairy Tale of Charlemagne and Thassilo in Lorsch

A fairy tale by Ludwig Bechstein: Thassilo in LorschLudwig Bechstein: Deutsches Sagenbuch 56. Thassilo in Lorsch

Now it happened  that Charlemagne came into conflict with Thassilo, the Bavarian Duke, who was his close relative. Through incitement this Thassilo became adversarial causing Charlemagne to take terrible revenge and issue severe punishment. He had the Agilolfinger Duke blinded by forcing him to gaze into a shield made red hot by fire, until the light of his eyes went dark and then vanished entirely. His long hair was then cut before the throne and per the Kaiser’s edict, he was taken to live in a monastery as monk.  

There after many years, it happened that Charlemagne rode out toward Lauresheim, which is the monastery Lorsch. He had long forgotten Duke Thassilo and was compelled to spend the night in the cathedral and pray. So he was astounded that a monk, who was blind, came walking guided by a radiant messenger of God. The Kaiser recognized the old man’s movements but could not remember his name.  The monk was led from altar to altar, prayed and then retreated with his celestial guide.  

The next morning Charlemagne called the abbot of the monastery and asked him the name of the monk who was served by an angel. The abbot was amazed and did not know how to answer. Following the Kaiser’s command he waited with him the next evening to watch.  

And so it happened like the prior night: a blind monk came again led by an angel. The Kaiser and the abbot followed the monk and his guide back to his cell, but there only found the monk. The abbot knew the monk by his monastery name but otherwise nothing about him.  The abbot addressed him and told him to state what he had been in his former worldly life; he should not not conceal or hide anything because it was his master and Kaiser who stood before him. 

The blind monk fell to the Kaiser’s feet and spoke: “Oh, master! I have sinned against you and my penance has been long. I was called Thassilo before.”  The Kaiser now mercifully raised him to his feet and spoke: “Your atonement has been great and harder than I would have liked. Your transgression is forgiven.” The blind old man kissed Charlemagne’s hand, sank to the ground and died. His dust now rests in the Lorsch monastery. 


Friday, July 12, 2019

The mysterious Achti-light, a fairy tale from Switzerland

A fairy tale from Visp, Switzerland: the mysterious Achti-light.

Last seen in the hot summer days sometime around 1890, a man reported that almost every evening at dusk a strange light moved from Stalden village toward Neubrueck. From the distance it looked like a lantern on the top and leather boots on the bottom. But when one tried to approach and look straight at the object, one saw neither light nor boots.
Everyone in the village of Neubrueck saw it. No one was frightened although they knew it was an unnatural light. 
We called it the “Achti-light” because it came at dusk.
This ghost was then banned from the area (and presumably never more returned*). 

(*Translator’s note). 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Fairy Tale of the Knight's Hound: from the Gesta Romanorum

The Knight’s Hound

There once lived a noble knight who had a single son whom he loved so much that he employed three nursemaids to care for him. But he also had a falcon and a  bird dog who were loyal to him. The hound had the virtue that when the knight rode out the dog ran ahead of him while he sat on his steed and jumped and was cheerful. But if things were going poorly for the knight, the hound pounced on the reins, held them fast and barked. In this way the knight recognized whether he should ride out or remain home and that is why he loved the hound more. Once it happened that the knight rode out to a tournament and the three nursemaids all left the house and no one remained inside. Only the hound lay by the child in its crib.  A horrible snake crept toward it and wanted to kill the child but the falcon saw this and fluttered over the child waking the hound. When the hound saw the snake he jumped up and pounced and they fought with each other until the dog killed the snake. But the snake had bit the dog so that it bled, and the floor around the cradle was full of blood, the cradle itself tipped over, but the child was  unharmed. When the hound had killed the viper, he lay down near the wall and licked his wounds. The nursemaids returned home and saw the cradle overturned and the hound’s bloody snout. They believed the hound had killed the infant and so they ran from there. The lady of the house encountered them and asked what the matter was. They said that while they were out the hound, whom the master loved so much, had killed the child. When the lady heard this she rushed home but the three nursemaids continued their flight. During this time the knight returned home and found his wife crying. He asked her what the matter was. She said the hound that she loved so had bit and killed her child. The knight erschrak and hastened in anger to his house and when the hound heard him coming he ran toward him playfully around his feet. The knight full of rage pulled out his sword and struck the hound dead and then he went to the child. He found it healthy and happy, the cradle overturned and the viper dead and ripped apart lying nearby. He then realized that the hound had killed the viper to save his child’s life and he was very sorry that he had believed the words of his wife and had wrongly punished the hound for his loyalty. 


Friday, April 26, 2019

The May Queen and the Sacred Sea of Hertha

Grimm’s Saga No. 365: The Sacred Sea of Hertha

Seven Germanic tribes lived between river and wood. They were called the Reudigner, Aviones, Angles, Warins, Eudoses, Suarthones and Nuithones*. They all worshipped Hertha, the Mother Earth, believing she involved herself in all human endeavors. The goddess came to the people driving a wagon. Her sacred forest, which had not been desecrated, was on an island in the sea. There her wagon stood enveloped by a cloth. Only a single priest was permitted to approach her. This priest knew the time when the goddess would appear in her sacred wagon. Two cows pulled her cart while everyone else followed behind reverently. Wherever the goddess went and whomever she honored with a visit, happiness and high times followed. No war was fought, no weapon seized, and everything made of iron was locked.

Peace and prosperity ruled the land and were desired by all. This lasted until the goddess had lived long enough among mortals; then the priest returned her to her sanctuary. The goddess along with wagon and cloth were then bathed in a remote lake. But the servants who assisted in this task were subsequently swallowed by its waters.

A secret terror and uncertain solemnity surrounded these matters, because anyone who witnessed the events, died immediately.

(*Names as recorded by Grimm).

A traipse through time: the trajectory of the May Queen, from pre-historical pagan ritual to Tacitus to the Brother's Grimm to Led Zeppelin to modern Druid celebrations.
This German saga by Grimm is based on an account by Tacitus. At first glance, the joyous spring procession described here might seem like a hippie-parade. The goddess Hertha (as translated by Grimm) or Nerthus (the name given her by Tacitus) is driving in a Zeltwagen, a cart covered with cloth or tent-like fabric (imagine a proto-historical VW camper, without any of the bells and whistles). This practical wagon was pulled on wooden wheels and served both as roving domicile and temple for the spring deity. Like a travel trailer, this goddess-vehicle was parked in a safe place for the winter, on an island in a sacred grove of trees. Hertha’s followers, male and female, probably all wore their hair long. According to Tacitus, many of the youthful male members of Germanic tribes combed their long locks to the side and tied these tresses into an enormous knot. Although Tacitus says these hair-dos were principally worn by young people, he sees this as a stature-enhancing ploy not tied to notions of beauty or adornment. Such hair-raising practices were intended to shock onlookers, especially enemies. The spring procession coincided with the first sprouting tree buds and it was the responsibility of the priest-consort to determine when this happened. The ritual was not without danger because the goddess- and cart-bathers did not survive after the wagon was returned to its garage for the winter. Most likely the helpers were slaves, who were subsequently pushed into the water and drowned. Although the spring procession ushered in a period of peace and prosperity (because tribes now turned their attentions to the more important pastimes of growing food and fishing from the sea) an underlying sense of terror and horror was never far from the surface of such celebrations. Remnants of the spring festival survived into the 12th century and beyond. But the goddess was now called the Pfingstkoenigin or Pentecost Queen. Later she was celebrated as the May Queen and her priest-consort became the May King. She was placed on a throne, draped in fine white cloth and honored with song and dance. In the seventies Led Zeppelin revived the May Queen in the popular rock ballad Stairway to Heaven. With her nature-loving ways (roving around in a camper, long hair and summer filled with music, love and peace, not to mention the high times that followed her) it is perhaps no wonder she was popular in the seventies. But May Queen celebrations have continued to the present, see the link below

To see a 2008 Druid's Beletane Celebration of the Blessing of the May Queen and King in Glastonbury, England hit the link and type in Druids' Beltane Celebration 2008 in the search box:

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Signs of Spring and the Approach of Easter

Ostara is the Germanic goddess of spring and the rising morning sun. She represents nature’s resurrection from its deep winter sleep. A daughter of Woton and Fricka, she accompanied her brother Donar when he led the many processions celebrating victory over the winter giants in spring. She was also called the May Queen and the figures known as the May Count and May Countess, who often presided over Easter pageantry and spring festivals, most certainly are references to Donar and Ostara.

Reverence for the goddess was so firmly rooted in ancient ceremonies celebrating the vernal equinox that her name was subsequently transferred to the Christian feast day commemorating the resurrection of Christ. “Ostar” means morning, or rather, the direction from which the first spring rays of sunshine emanate. Easter month is the month of April, the time of nature’s reawakening and the Christian festival of resurrection.

On Easter Sunday the sun purportedly took three leaps of joy – delighting over the return of spring according to early pagan beliefs. The priests said these “jubilatory jumps” honored the risen Christ.

According to folk tradition, Easter water must be collected from a flowing stream at daybreak and the person who carries it home must not let any sound escape from his lips. If he forgets, the Easter water becomes babbling water and it loses all of its healing properties. The water must be scooped up at the precise moment the sun rises and the collector must bow three times in the direction of the sun. Sealed bottles of this holy water were stored in dark places and used throughout the entire year as healing agent against eye ailments and other sufferings.

The rabbit, considered to be Ostara’s favorite animal because of its fecundity, and the egg, considered to be a symbol of germinating life, were therefore dedicated to the goddess and forever associated with springtime celebrations. This gave rise to the belief that the Easter Bunny laid Easter Eggs on Maundy Thursday. Naturally, the eggs were dyed the colors of Donar and Ostara, red and yellow. Such colorful eggs were then brought to the gods as spring offerings. The custom of dying and presenting eggs at Easter has survived to this day.

The first night in the mild month of May was dedicated to the goddess Ostara. Giant fires were lit symbolizing the power of Donar and May flowers were strewn to honor the goddess Ostara. There were celebratory processions and in some locations it was popular to burn an effigy representing the giant-winter. Conquered by Donar’s superior power, this ritual burning signified winter’s power now broken. As Europe became Christianized, this spring narrative changed from “Nature is awakening” to “Christ is risen”.

Later, an attempt was made to remove the fervently revered goddess Ostara from the picture altogether, replacing her with the Holy Saint Walpurga. The saint’s feast day was set on the eve of April 30 to May 1st. Easter bonfires were now referred to as the devil’s fire and Ostara and her attendants became witches. The festival associated with the goddess was now referred to as the witch’s Sabbath and was supposedly held at Blocksberg Mountain. Blocksberg is the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz region of Germany. This mountain is closely tied to German folklore as is the Teutoburg Forest. On Walpurgistnacht witches were said to ride their firey broomsticks through the air and meet at this dancing site. 

To protect against such dreadful demons, a farmer was advised to paint three crosses on his barn door and place a broom across the threshold because malevolent spirits were said to retreat at the sight of a cross and broom. Whoever did not take such precautions might find that his cows had been visited by a dreadful disease in the morning, or that they now gave red instead of white milk. 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Hermann Hesse Tells Fairy Tales: The Drinking Horn

From the Gesta Romanorum: The Drinking Horn

There is a small mountain in the kingdom of England (also known as land of the Angles) that looks like the shape of a man reaching for the pinnacle. Knights and huntsmen often sought this place as a refuge when they were exhausted from heat or thirst.  Indeed, once it happened that a solitary wanderer who had been separated from his comrades climbed this mountain. He spoke to himself as if in the company of another: “I am really quite thirsty!” And immediately a cupbearer appeared at his side and in his extended hand he held a large drinking horn decorated with gold and precious stones. This is the type of drinking horn some people used instead of a cup. The cupbearer offered him this vessel filled with an unknown but extremely sweet nectar. Immediately after he drank from it, the heat and fatigue faded from his body and it seemed that he hadn’t exerted himself at all but rather should now take up the task at hand with renewed vigor. After he had sipped the drink the servant gave him a clean linen cloth to dry his lips. And upon finishing this service he vanished without expecting a reward for his assistance nor was there another request or demand. The wanderer did this for many years until he reached an advanced age and it had become a well known and daily occurrence. Finally a certain knight was out hunting and arrived at the very spot and demanded a drink. When he received it he did not return the drinking horn after he sipped, as was the custom, but rather he kept it for his own further use. When his lord discovered this matter he condemned the thief to death and gave the drinking horn to an English King, Henry the Old, so that no one would think that he had approved such an enormous transgression.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Why Speech is Sweet Music to God's Ears: from the Gesta Romanorum

Why Speech is Sweet Music to God’s Ears

Whenever he heard music Kaiser Tiberius was wondrously delighted.  Once it happened that he was out hunting, heard a zither playing and was so pleasantly charmed by its sweetness that he was overcome with emotion. He turned his horse toward the place from where the music emanated and rode on. But when he arrived at the place he saw in some distance a cheerful brook and next to the stream sat an old man with a zither on his lap. From his zither came such unforgettable music that the Kaiser became pleasurably captivated. Kaiser Tiberius spoke to the man: “My dear, tell me why your zither rings so dear?” He answered: “Your Majesty, I have sat here by this brook for thirty years and God has shown me such grace that as soon as I touch the strings of my zither, a beautiful melody breaks forth and the fishes swim toward my hand and jump out of the water. And in this way I feed my wife and family. But alas, it is a shame that now a piper comes to the other side of the water. He plays so sweetly that the fish have left me and swim to him. That is why dear sir, because you are powerful and the Kaiser of the entire kingdom, give me aid and let me prevail against the piper!”  The Kaiser answered “My dear man, I can only help you in one thing, and that must be enough for you.  I have in my bag a golden fishhook. I will give it to you and you can attach it to the tip of your rod. Touch it to the strings of your zither and the fishes will begin to move.  Then pull the hook ashore (the fish will follow) and the piper will withdraw in embarrassment.” The poor man did everything and before the fishes reached the piper, he pulled them with his hook. When the piper saw this he left the place in confusion.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Snake, a Fairy Tale from the Gesta Romanorum

The Snake

When wise Theodosius ruled his eyesight deteriorated. He therefore issued an edict: a bell would be installed in his palace and anyone who had a matter to bring before him would ring the bell with his own hand. When the bell rang the judge who was then appointed would come immediately and issue justice.  
It happened that a snake built its nest underneath this bell and within a short time had babies. When these young vipers could slither, the snake made its way with its young to a spot outside the city. While the snake was away, a toad occupied its nest; when the snake returned with its young vipers, it saw how the toad had taken over the nest.  It battled with the toad, but could not remove it on its own and so the toad took possession of its nest.  When the snake realized this, it wrapped its tail around the bell’s rope, pulled it efficiently and rang the bell as if saying “Come down, you judge, and give me justice, for a toad has violated every law and taken possession of my nest.”
When the judge heard the bell ringing he came down but didn’t see anyone so he went upstairs again. When the snake noticed this, it rang a second time.  When the judge  heard this and saw the snake ringing the bell rope, and saw how the toad had occupied its domicile, he climbed the stairs to the palace and told the king everything. The king spoke: “Go down and don’t only drive the toad from the nest, but kill it also, because the snake must assume its rightful place once more.” And so it happened.
One day after this incident, the king was lying in bed; the snake came into his chamber and carried in its mouth a precious stone. And when the king’s servants saw this, they said to their master that a snake had come in.  But Theodosius spoke: “Do not prevent it from entering, because I believe it won’t harm me.”  The snake crept onto his bed and approached his face. And when it stared into his eyes, it dropped the stone and then retreated from the king’s chamber. When the stone touched both of his eyes, the king’s eyesight returned. He rejoiced and had his servants search for the snake. But they could not find it. The king kept the precious stone and lived in peace until his dying day.