Divine Retribution: The Revenge of the Mice

Sabine Baring-Gould [Public domain]

Presented here is a retelling of a German folktale called The Mouse Tower, from Folk-lore and Legends: German by Anonymous.  It tells how an Archbishop of Mentz through an evil deed brought down the divine retribution of Heaven upon himself.

The Mouse Tower

The German city of Mentz, now called Mainz is situated on the River Rhine where it  is joined by the River Main. This story is set around the year 968 when the Archbishop of Mentz was Hatto Bonosus.  Although he was said to be a man of considerable intelligence and very knowledgeable about the scriptures and spiritual matters he was known to be very hard of heart and miserly.  He hoarded valuable works of art and treasure which he guarded jealously keeping it hidden away from all eyes except his own. He was never satisfied with what he had accumulated and always strove to acquire more, more, more.

There came a time when the city and all of the local area was hit by a terrible famine.  Very soon many people were begging for food and starving to death in the streets. Seeking help, crowds of people began to gather outside the Archbishop’s palace crying out and begging for bread.

Inside his palace the Archbishop was safe and well stocked with food and wine and went without nothing while outside people starved to death.  He refused to share his food and refused to give money so people could go to another town to buy and bring back food supplies. Instead he blamed the poor and the starving for their own misfortune for not being thrifty enough to save for hard times such as these.  The fact is that most people only ever earned enough money to live on day by day and never had any left over to save. Nevertheless, that is what the Archbishop told them, chastising them for their supposed indulgence.

Day after day, crowds of starving people arrived in ever increasing numbers to beg at his gates.  The Archbishop was now becoming annoyed and desperate to be rid of them. On the pretense of providing food he had them all taken to one of his empty barns. His servants had set tables and chairs as if for a magnificent banquet.  Once all the poor and beggars were inside and seated he ordered the doors to be locked to prevent their escape. Then he ordered the barn to be set on fire. The flames quickly took hold and through the roaring of the fire the screams of the dying could be heard. Turning towards those miserable servants who aided and abetted his crime he mocked,

“Ha! Listen to how those mice squeak!”

What he did not know was that those who looked down from Heaven witnessed his crime. A strange, unique and fitting punishment for the callous Archbishop of Mentz was prepared. After the flames had consumed the barn leaving nothing but ashes there came creeping from those ashes legion upon legion of mice.  They made for the Archbishop and followed him everywhere he went

No matter where he went or what he did they followed him.  He ran to his horse and carriage and quickly shut the door, but some got in an began biting and scratching him.  With the help of his servant he cleared the carriage of them and ordered the driver to drive home as fast as he could.  However, when he arrived home he soon found that the mice had managed to follow him and began attacking him again. He went up to his highest and most secure tower but the mice clambered up the walls or crept through doors and cracks to get at him. They bit and scratched him torturing his flesh and the more the servant beat them off the more appeared to attack him. They gnawed at the portraits of the Archbishop on the walls and his figure in tapestries and gnawed at his name on doors.

The Archbishop realized there was no safe sanctuary on land therefore he ordered a tower to be hastily built in the waters of the fast flowing Rhine.  When it was completed he took a boat to it and shut himself in. For a couple of days he saw no mice at all but to his shock he found they were beginning to appear a few at a time inside the tower.  Looking out of the window he was aghast to see swimming downstream towards him masses upon masses of mice. Although many drowned many managed to cling to the tower and begin climbing up. Soon they were swarming up the walls and penetrating through tiny cracks and crevices invading the tower like an avenging army of God.

At last they penetrating the highest and most secure room in the tower in which the Archbishop had locked himself.  They tore into him in fury, biting, scratching and tearing at his flesh. Finally,  the cruel and  vicious soul of the tortured Archbishop was forced to vacate his body through the revenge of the mice to face the judgement of Heaven

© 01/05/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 1st, 2019 zteve t evans

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Breton Folktales: Yannik, the Mad Thing of the Woods

Presented here is a retelling of a Breton folktale from Folk Tales of Brittany by Elsie Masson, called Yannik, the Fairy Child.

Yannik the Fairy Child

Once in a while – maybe once every one hundred years – someone appears among us who is different and somehow lightens our lives bringing hope and joy and easing our tired minds and aching bones. This story tells how such a one appeared and touched the hearts of all who encountered him. It begins in a time long ago in a village hidden in the woods in the wild, rugged, district of Finistère that is part of Brittany in France.  In those far off days the woods were a dangerous place full of savage bears, hungry wolves and other wild creatures. The villagers were poor and hard working, generous of heart and looked after one another. Life was hard and they lived upon the edge of survival from day to day.  They had no gold, silver or treasure they could use to relieve their poverty but it was in times such as these they were blessed by a different kind of treasure that appeared to enrich their lives.

Yannik

There appeared alone in the woods a feral boy the people called Yannik. Although he was as free as the birds that sing in the trees no sound had ever came from his silent lips until one glorious day, but even then only one word and one word alone would he repeatedly utter.  The villagers were poor but kindly folk and were both bemused and enchanted, not knowing how to treat him. Nevertheless, they grew to love, but never understand him. Sometimes he would appear as if in a world of his own and stand or sit and stare into space and look with eyes that saw right through you.  

Although he could never speak a word of thank you, he would show his gratitude by rewarding his benefactor with a big, beaming, smile.  It was a smile that would light up their lives filling them with love and happiness for this strange, feral boy of the woods. When someone gave him a pair of wooden clogs he walked proudly up and down with a big radiant smile, his fair face simply shining with joy.  Everyone knew the gratitude he felt because his smile was his only language and that said everything that mattered.

He was a  mystery. No one knew who he was, what he was, or where he came from. He was a rare and beautiful thing who ran naked through the woods bringing joy, peace and good fortune wherever he went.  Whether he had become lost, or had been abandoned, no one knew. All they knew was that he was there and they called him Yannik. He was like all joyous things in one, a peaceful presence, a silent soul that communicated by the radiance of his smile and the peaceful aura of his being.  Such was Yannik.

Although he appeared alone in the world anyone of the villagers would gladly have given him a home. Everyone loved him and he came and went between homes at his leisure. He would enjoy their hospitality for a short time and then disappear into the forest to run wild and people would leave him gifts of food and clothing.   Although one night he may sleep in the farmer’s cottage and the farmer’s wife provide a wholesome supper and cradle him until he slept, come daybreak his bed would be empty. They tried to keep him locked in thinking it would be for his own good. With out fail, he always managed to find a way out. Even in the snow season his footsteps would lead back to the forest to be among the birds and animals and the whispering trees he loved, for he was not something that could be confined or possessed.

The Fol Goët, The Fairy-Child

In the wilderness of the forest Yannik knew no fear and none feared him.  The bears knew him and greeted him with affection and the wolf trotted at his side and the birds of the forest perched upon his hand and sang wonderful songs.  Thus it was that in the pathless forest Yannik was sustained and guarded by those who dwelt within.


In the farms and the villages the men called him the “Fol Goët,” or “the mad thing of the woods” but not unkindly, while  the women called him the “fairy child.”  In the little local church the choir would sing and Yannik would carefully and quietly sneak inside to hide at the back listening to their songs with a look of sheer rapture and such joy in his shining eyes. The old priest tried to persuade him to stay with him that he may teach a word or two of speech, but Yannik would not stay.  Nevertheless, he would still come and listen to the singing, his face radiant and his eyes shining.

One summer evening he had been roaming happily in the fields and drawing near the church heard singing and went inside to listen.  It was a feast day and the church was full and the children’s choir was singing a hymn of praise and as he listened to the pure voices of the children dressed in their white robes, their voices took him higher and higher.  He could hear harps and other wonderful accompanying instruments and the children were singing,

“Glory! Glory! Glory!”

Leaving his place at the back with a look of rapture on his face and a big radiant smile Yannik slowly walked up the aisle his  arms stretched out before him as if he was blind. The singing stopped and all fell silent as they watched him approach the altar where he was met by the priest who met his hands with his own. There and then Yannik spoke the first and only word that would ever pass his lips,

“Glory!”

And then he sang over ans over again,

“Glory! Glory! Glory!”

And the children in the choir took up the song and the people in the congregation all sang,

“Glory! Glory! Glory!”

From then on Yannik would always be heard singing “Glory! Glory! Glory!” wherever he went.  When he was accompanying the priest on his rounds visiting the sick and elderly he sang it. When he was visiting one of the local people who were always glad to see him and feed him he sang it.  When he was alone running wild in the woods he sang it. Wherever he went he sang,

“Glory! Glory! Glory!”

And that was the only sound that ever came from his mouth.

Well, the world turned and one summer evening the people were making their way home from a hard day of labor in the fields.  As the smoke from the cooking fires began to rise slowly the air was filled with the music of silver bells and a clear, sweet voice was heard singing,

“Glory! Glory! Glory!”

The people came out of their homes in surprise.  They looked at the beautiful sunset sky and heard the music and the sweet voice and said,

“Surely, it is Yannik the silent boy of the woods and it is the Heavens singing with him!”

In the morning the old priest went down to open the church just as he always did and was surprised to find Yannik lying across the threshold of the door.  Gently and tenderly he stooped to rouse him speaking quiet words so as not to alarm him. As he gently cradled the boy’s head, to his sorrow he realized the sweet radiant smile on his young face had frozen and that life had left the body of the child.

The Church of Fol Goët.

The villagers were full of sorrow at the loss of their treasure and on that spot built a new church.  They built it tall and they built it strong and they added delicate and beautiful touches to show their love for the Fairy Child –  the “the mad thing of the woods”  –and they called it the Church of Fol Goët.

For many years after mothers and fathers would bring their silent ones there to be blessed. They hoped that if they could but speak one word that it might be one that expressed the joy and happiness they found in their children and their children might find in the world and if nothing else came from their lips they might sing,

“Glory! Glory! Glory!”

© 26/02/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 26th, 2019 zteve t evans

German Folktales: Paracelsus and the Spirit in the Fir Tree

Public domain, via Wikimedia Common

Paracelsus was an influential physician, astrologer and alchemist of the German Renaissance.  His real name was Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim and he was born in 1493. He was was a medical pioneer of his time and credited with many notable achievements and has  been called the father of toxicology.  The medical movement called Paracelsianism was named after him and followed his ideas.  Presented here is a retelling of a legend called The Legend of Paracelsus from a collection of German folktales called Folk-lore and Legends: German by Anonymous.

The Legend of Paracelsus

Paracelsus was a deep and thoughtful man and wanted to find ways to help people by curing their illness and disease but rarely had sufficient funds for research.  Sometimes he took himself away for long walks to contemplate how he could do this.  One day as he was out walking in a part of the forest where few ever roamed he heard someone calling his name.  Surprised and a little baffled he looked around but could see no one in view. Nevertheless, he could still hear someone calling his name so he followed the sound until he came to an old fir-tree but could see no sign of anyone there. Bewildered he looked all around and walked around the trunk but could see no one but could still hear someone calling his name.  Examining the trunk of the fir tree he saw that deeply embedded within the wood was a small stopper that had three crosses etched into it. It was from here that the voice appeared to be coming from. On closer examination he realized the stopper was imprisoning a spirit in the trunk of the fir tree.

The Spirit in the Tree

The spirit now begged and pleaded with him to remove the stopper and set it free, but Paracelsus was wary.  He thought about this for a while and then said,

“If you will bestow on me a medicine that will cure all illness and disease and also a tincture that will turn everything it touches to gold to fund my research, then I will remove the stopper and set you free.”

The spirit readily agreed and so Paracelsus took out a small knife he always carried and after some trouble managed to pry out the stopper and put it in his pocket for safe keeping.  From out of the dark void that the stopper had filled their crept a most hideous and huge black spider that scuttled down the trunk of the tree to the ground.  As soon as it touched the ground it transformed into the ghastly, thin,  hideous old man who rose up to stand tall, squinting with his red eyes into the surprised eyes of Paracelsus.

The old man led him through the forest breaking a branch off a hazel tree as they went and leading Paracelsus to a high rocky ledge that overlooked vast swathes of the forest.  With the hazel branch he struck the rock wall three times and it opened with a groan. The old man bid Paracelsus to wait and disappeared inside the opening. After a short time he returned carry two small glass phials. One contained a yellow fluid which he handed to Paracelsus telling him that anything the fluid came into contact with would instantly turn to gold.  The second contained a white fluid which he gave to him and told him that this would cure all illness and disease. He then stuck the rock face three times and the opening closed up leaving no trace of the opening it concealed.

The Evil Spirit

As they walked back through the forest Paracelsus began to think about the spirit growing increasingly uneasy in its company.   It told him that it would now travel to Innsprück to wreak vengeance upon the sorcerer who had imprisoned him in the fir tree.  Paracelsus now realized the spirit was evil and feared for the magician and the world for having released it and thought about how he could set things to right.  When they arrived back at the fir tree he said to the spirit,

“Clearly you are a most gifted and magical being!  I wonder if you would mind making a show of your magical gifts by turning yourself back into a spider and crawling into that hole in the tree’s trunk again, purely as an exhibition of your cleverness and magic?”

The spirit was still very pleased at being released and loved to be flattered and therefore readily agreed.  In and instant it had transformed itself into a hideous black spider and scuttled up the tree trunk into the hole. Paracelsus quickly took the stopper out of his pocket and rammed it tightly into the hole trapping the spirit in the tree again.  Quickly finding a heavy stone he hammered the stopper into the wood as tight as possible and then taking his knife cut three fresh crosses into the stopper.

Tricked

Suddenly realizing it had been tricked the spirit screamed and wailed making a hideous noise and shook the tree as if it was in the grip of a hurricane but the stopper held firm. Paracelsus made his way home knowing that the evil spirit would remain safely incarcerated in the fir tree which was high in the mountains and protected by snow drifts and very few people ever passed that way.  

The Two Phials

When he arrived home he tried out the two phials of fluid the evil one had given him and was pleased with their success. It is said that it was largely these that made him one of the most celebrated physicians and alchemists of his day.

© 05/02/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 5, 2019 zteve t evans

The Legend of Nurse Maggie, The Crystal Palace and Old Father Rhine

Presented below is a retelling of a story called The Crystal Palace from, The Crystal Palace and Other Legends, by Marie H. Frary and Charles Maurice Stebbins

There was once a rather quaint old lady who was named Nurse Maggie by the children who lived in a village called Zurdof along the great River Rhine.  Nurse Maggie was very kindly and caring and was a very good nurse and was often called upon to care for the village children when they fell ill.   The children loved this because she would tell them the most wonderful stories of the olden days; of  bold knights and lovely ladies and the great castles they lived in. She told them stories of the nymphs of the wood and water and of fairies and elves, but the stories they liked the beast were the ones she told of old Father Rhine and what follows was one of their favorites.

One Dark, Wet, Night

The story begins one dark, wet,  night while Maggie was sat at home in her tiny cottage knitting before the fire. All of a sudden she heard a sharp knock at the door.  Putting her knitting on the table she went to the door to see who was rapping upon her door.  Opening it she found a very strange man carrying a lantern of peculiar design and pattern.  He did not say a word but instead beckoned to her to follow him, but Maggie hesitated.  Outside the rain was pouring down and the road was littered with puddles deep and wide, but that was not the reason for her hesitation.  The reason was because the man was a stranger and she had never seen anyone like him before in her life.

Seeing her hesitate and understanding her wariness, the stranger smiled kindly upon her, easing her anxiety and again he beckoned to her to follow him.  This time she followed him of the warmth and shelter of her cottage and down the dark street that led to the River Rhine. Along the way she paddling through puddles that became deeper and deeper.  Suddenly water began to flow all around her and she began to panic, but the stranger beckoned her on.

“Sir,” she said, “I cannot go on!  What kind of a man are you and what do you want of me, this of all nights?”

The River Rhine

The stranger said nothing, instead he scooped her up into his arms and plunged forward into the River Rhine which had burst its banks.  Its waters were rose fast swirling all around poor, terrified Maggie who was now carried in the arms of the stranger.   Down into the swirling water he took her, down, down and deeper than down, through the cold, dark, water he carried her.  She closed her eyes and prayed for surely this was her end and stopped her struggling giving into the overwhelming force of the water.  Down the stranger carried her and Maggie wondered why she had not drowned and after what seemed like age they came through the water and she found herself in the most marvelous crystal palace.

The Crystal Palace

Mighty relieved at finding herself out of the cold water Maggie gazed around her and was awestruck at what she saw.  All around her were walls of pure crystal imbedded with precious stones and gems. A massive, magnificent, crystal dome arched over her head and she saw she was in an enormous crystal palace. Above and around it flowed the cold, dark waters of the mighty Rhine. All around were ornaments and artifacts of  gold and silver and then she spied, laid upon a bed of pure crystal with silk coverings a most lovely golden-haired nymph. She looked very pale, very weak and very ill and yet had fragile kind of beauty and the kind heart of Maggie reached out to her knowing she was close to death.

Nursing the Nymph

The strange old man turned to Maggie and said,  “I know you are an excellent nurse and this is my beautiful wife, who is very ill as you can see.  I have bought you here to my crystal palace in the hope that you will agree to nurse her back to health.  If you agree and bring her back to health, I will reward you so well you shall never regret it.”

Maggie looked upon the poor wan nymph and was touched by how beautiful she looked and as compassion rose in her heart she instantly agreed.   Maggie nursed her so carefully and diligently that her charge soon began to improve in health and gain strength and soon she was well and whole again.

When she became strong enough to talk, the nymph told her that her husband was, in fact, the water god that people called Old Father Rhine.  She explained that she had once lived on earth and that her father was King Rheidt and told her the story of how she had met her husband.

The Dance

One day she was at a dance held in a village alongside the Rhine, when a strange old man wearing clothes of foamy green had asked her to dance.  Being someone who is polite and friendly she had agreed. He took her round and round the dance floor, faster and faster with each turn, until finally they danced alongside the river and they had plunged into it.  Taking her in his arms, he took her down, down deeper than down, to his crystal palace. There they fell in love and had married and lived happily together ever since.  

Then she said,  “With your kindness, compassion and skill you have nursed me back to health and I thank you for that, but soon it will be time for you to return to earth.  When it is time Father Rhine will offer to reward you most generously, but only accept from him your normal fee. He will offer try to persuade you to accept far greater reward but you must insist he only pay you your normal charge.   Father Rhine detests greedy money-grabbing people, but loves those who are generous and sincere and he will remember you.”

Maggie’s Reward

As she finished talking Father Rhine came into the room and seeing his wife healthy and once again in full bloom asked Maggie to follow him.  She followed him through many wonderful halls of the crystal palace until they came to a vast room filled with all kinds of treasure. There were piles of gold and silver, diamonds, emeralds and rubies and precious gems of all kinds.  The river god was grateful to old Maggie for nursing his beautiful wife back to health and he implored her to take whatever she wanted from the treasure. As she gazed at all the wonderful treasures before her eyes he watched thoughtfully waiting to see what she would select.

Maggie gazed upon the treasure and it filled her eyes.  She thought just how much good she could do if she only had a fraction of that glittering hoard and after all she had earned a reward for saving the life of his wife.  Then she thought of all the people she had heard of who had let greed enter their rule their hearts and rule them.  

Stooping down she select a small item of the value she would have charged for her normal fee.  Old Father Rhine urged her to take more, but she firmly and most courteously refused. She told him nursing was her gift from god and it was her duty to help others with that gift.  Therefore, seeing his wife whole and healthy was for her the greatest gift possible.

Nurse Maggie

The river god nodded and took her by the hand and led her along a long, dark, corridor and she found herself in cold swirling water, but he took her up in his arms and swam up through the water and gently placed her on the bank of the Rhine near her own dear cottage.  As he turned to say goodbye, he placed a handful of gold coins into her lap and dived into the swirling waters and was gone. Ever since Nurse Maggie has continued to nurse the sick people, especially the children, of her village back to health. All her patients – especially the children – love her tell them the story of Old Father Rhine and how she nursed his wife in the crystal palace under the waters of the mighty River Rhine.

© 13/11/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright November 13th, 2018 zteve t evans

 

 

Beowulf’s Last Battle: The Great Flame Dragon

This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com as British Legends: Beowulf and the Great Flame Dragon by zteve t evans on 26/07/2018

Role Model

Beowulf is an anonymously written long poem originally written in Old English, the language commonly spoken in England in Anglo-Saxon times. It is named after its protagonist, Beowulf, a warrior from Geatland, and tells of his heroic adventures, great strength, courage, and prowess in battle. As well as providing an exciting story, its hero displays all the desired virtues of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy and warrior class in which it is set, making Beowulf a role model and inspiration for others of the time to follow. The main events of the poem tell how he defeated two monstrous beings, and ends with a battle with a flame dragon that costs him his life.

Beowulf and JRR Tolkien

The poem has influenced many modern works such as The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Fans of Tolkien will recognise many of the motifs and themes in the poem. In 1936, Tolkien gave a distinguished lecture,“Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics“ which was published in the journal Proceedings of the British Academy and a translation of the poem “Beowulf” was published posthumously. The underlying theme of the poem was the mortality of humankind and the struggle to live in an unsympathetic and often unfriendly world, which inevitably brings defeat and death in due time regardless of fame, status, and achievement. There are many different versions that have been made of the story by many different writers. Presented here is a retelling from the poem of Beowulf’s battle with the flame dragon and his death, influenced by various sources listed below.

Grendel and his Monstrous Mother

In his youth, Beowulf set out leading a company of young men to Denmark to slay the monstrous being called Grendel. Beowulf encountered Grendel in the great hall of King Hrothgar, and successfully defeated and mortally wounded him. Grendel escaped to the lair he shares with his mother at the bottom of a lake and dies. His mother, seeking vengeance, returned to the hall and killed one of King Hrothgar’s earls. Beowulf tracked her back to the lake and, entering the water, sank to the bottom where he found a cave which is the lair of the two monstrous beings. There he fought and killed Grendel’s mother and cut off Grendel’s head, returning with it to the surface as proof of his victory. For slaying the monsters, Beowulf won great praise and was richly rewarded by King Hrothgar of Denmark. Returning to his homeland of Geatland, he was welcomed by King Hygelac, his uncle, who proclaimed him the greatest warrior in the north lands. Songs and stories were made of his encounter with Grendel and his monstrous mother, and his fame spread far and wide.

Beowulf is Crowned King

After King Hygelac was killed in battle and death took his son and heir, Beowulf was crowned King of Geatland.  Beowulf’s rule was long and happy and the country prospered. With age, Beowulf grew wiser and more dignified and his people loved him and looked up to him. Despite his fame and past success, he yearned for a chance to once again prove himself in some test of strength and courage. He had won many battles, but nothing appeared to match the slaying of Grendel and his monstrous mother, and he grew restless.

One dark, cold winter’s night, as Beowulf sat in his great mead hall with his earls about him, there came a frantic knocking at the door. On opening the door, the doorkeeper found a ragged stranger, begging to be taken to the king. The man was poorly dressed for a cold winter’s night, and what he did wear was torn and dirty. Not liking the look of the man the doorkeeper forbade him entry. Wiglaf, the son of Weohstan, one of the king’s most faithful earls, came over to see what was happening. On seeing the state of the man and the terrified look upon his face, he spoke to him saying:

“Welcome stranger, the night is bitter and I see you shiver.  I know not whether you shiver from the cold or some unknown terror, for I see fear in your face and eyes. Whatever the cause tell us your name and come in and eat and drink with us and explain yourself to our king.”

The Stranger’s Tale

The stranger became confused and his head jerked this way and that. Wiglaf, thinking the man was refusing to say his name and rejecting the hospitality offered, dragged him before the king saying:

“Sire, this man comes knocking at your door this bitter winter night and refuses to say his name and refuses our hospitality. Therefore, I bring him to answer in person to you. What would you have me do with him?”

Beowulf leaned forward and set his keen blue eyes upon him and, looking kindly upon the shivering, ragged stranger, said:

“Come now man, have no fear. No one will harm you here. Tell us your name and why you come knocking at the door of my mead hall on this cold night.”

The stranger knelt before Beowulf and said in a trembling voice:

“Sire, I have no name and I have no home, and because of this, these last few days I took to wandering in the wilds in search of a place I could shelter through the winter. This morning I found a great barrow, and seeking shelter I found an entrance that turned into a long tunnel. The tunnel at least offered the potential of shelter, so I followed it until I entered a great wide and high space and found it lit by some unknown light. Looking about I was amazed to see piled all around the sides masses and masses of gold and silver artifacts and many, many chests of precious jewels of all kinds and colors. Indeed, the worth of all this treasure must be beyond measure. Then I realized the light was coming from a sleeping dragon that glowed in the dark, lighting up the cave, and in terror I ran back the way I had come.”

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Breton Fairy Tales: The Secret of the Resurrection of La Rose

The Magic Rose

Breton fairy tales are often a mixture of Roman Catholic, Celtic and other pagan elements that blend together providing  mystery and romance with more than a hint of danger and darkness. The story presented here is a retelling of a Breton folktale called The Magic Rose from Legends and Romance of Brittany by Lewis Spence (1) and tells the rather sombre tale of the transition through life of its protagonist, La Rose.  In many ways it appears to be a traditional fairy tale and like many fairy tales it is not quite what it seems for there is a hidden secret.

La Rose

The story begins in Brittany where an aging married couple had two sons.  The older son had a more adventurous and outgoing personality and went off to Paris to find his fortune.   The younger son, whose name was La Rose, had a more cautious and shy personality and remained at home,  preferring to live with his parents much to their discontent. His mother and father were beginning to feel their age and began to worry about their son.  They wanted him to take a wife to ease the burden on them.

To begin with he would not listen to their appeals but eventually he gave in and found a young woman he loved greatly and they married.  To begin with all was well but after few months sadly his wife fell sick and died. La Rose was heartbroken and every evening he would visit the cemetery and weep beside her grave into the night.

The Spectre and the Magic Rose

death-164761_1280

Image by PublicDomainPicturesPixabay – CC0 Creative Commons

One evening while he knelt at his wife’s grave he became aware of a tall dark spectral figure standing before him as he wept.  Looking up in shock at the ghastly figure which pointed at him and said in a rasping voice, “Tell me!  Why do you weep?”

“I weep for my dead wife!” answered La Rose.

“Would you have her alive again?” asked the spectre.

“Indeed, I would!  I would do anything to have her back again!”

“Then listen now!” said the spectre, “Come back to this place tomorrow at the same time. Bring a pick-axe and some clothes for your wife and you may see your heart’s desire.”  With that the dark spectre dissolved into the night.

The next evening at the same time La Rose went to his wife’s grave at the cemetery with a pick-axe and clothes, just as the spectre had said and knelt and wept over her grave.  As he wept he became aware of the dark spectre looking down at him. “Strike the grave with the pick-axe and you will see the earth peal aside to reveal the body of your wife wrapped in her shroud,”  said the spectre.

He then handed La Rose a small silver casket saying, “This contains a rose.  When your wife is free of earth pass this under her nose three times.  She will then awaken as if from a long and deep slumber.”

La Rose watched in awe as the spectre dissolved into the night.  Quickly he struck the pick-axe into his wife’s grave and immediately the earth peeled back and revealed her lying in her shroud.  Following the spectre’s instructions he took the rose from the silver casket and passed it under her nose three times. Just as the spectre had told him and to his astonishment and absolute joy, his wife sighed, sat up and said, “Why I seem to have had such a long deep sleep!”

La Rose gave his wife the clothes he had brought and she quickly dressed and they returned home.  His parents were overjoyed to see their daughter-in-law whole and well again.

The Passing of his Parents

His father was not a well man and he had reached a great age and sadly he fell ill and passed away.  His mother was heart broken. She too was of a great age and the grief of her husband’s passing was too much for her and she too expired.  La Rose wrote to his brother informing him of the sad news and requesting him to return home to receive his share of the family inheritance.  Unfortunately his brother wrote back saying he could not return to Brittany but would give no reason. Reluctantly, La Rose decided to travel to Paris to sort out the family affairs with his brother.

Broken promises

His wife did not want him to go and he was reluctant to leave but feeling he had no choice he told her he must go and promised that he would write to her everyday.  When he arrived he found his brother to be seriously ill and in need of intensive nursing which he delivered himself day and night. Because of the seriousness and intensity of this he forgot to write to his wife as he had promised and she had no news whatsoever of events in Paris and his brother’s health.

Days passed and weeks turned into months and still La Rose forgot to write to his wife. All this time she remained in Brittany worrying and fretting. She had no idea what could be wrong and she dreaded that some courier should appear on her doorstep with bad news.  Every day she took to sitting by her window weeping while looking out hoping to either see him coming down the road, or the dreaded sight of a courier.

The False Captain

It so happened that a regiment of soldiers were posted to the town and the captain was lodged in the inn directly over the road from the home of La Rose and his wife.  The captain was a handsome young man whose curiosity was aroused by the sight of a woman weeping through the window. He was saddened and intrigued by the sight of such a beautiful woman in such grief and set about to learn more about her.  The more he learned and the more he saw her weeping in the window the more he desired her.

Learning about her husband’s absence in Paris he wrote a letter falsely informing her that her husband had died and had it delivered by courier to her.  On reading it she was grief stricken. In this vulnerable state the captain wasted no time in insinuating himself into her affections. After an appropriate period of mourning he proposed marriage to her and she accepted.  The wedding went ahead and they became man and wife. Shortly after the regiment was sent to another town and she accompanied her new husband there.

La Rose Returns

Shortly, after her marriage, the brother of La Rose recovered from his life threatening illness.  Now being free of the burden of providing his nursing care La Rose remembered his wife and his promise to her.  At last, able to complete his family business with his brother he rushed back to Brittany eager to see his wife again.  Can you imagine the shock he had when he discovered the door of his home locked and barred and the house empty? He went to see his neighbours who told him about how his wife had grieved for him.  They told him of how a courier had arrived with a letter informing her of his death and her subsequent marriage to the captain. La Rose was devastated and spent many days moping and weeping for his wife. Eventually he pulled himself together and resolved to go after her and so enlisted in the same regiment as the false captain in the hope it would place him near to her.

The Regiment

He was a talented scribe and soon the quality and finesse of his handwriting brought him to the attention of one of the lieutenants who made him his secretary.  Although he had hoped to catch a glimpse of his wife he was yet to do so to his disappointment. Then one day the captain who had married his wife visited the lieutenant on regiment business.   He noticed the quality of the handwriting of La Rose who was working at his desk and asked if he could borrow him for a few days to help him with paperwork and correspondence.

A False Accusation

It so happened that while assisting the false captain he saw his wife but she did not recognise him at all.  La Rose of course knew her and now he knew who her new husband was. Nevertheless, he refused to let it show and kept his identity from them.  The captain was delighted with the service La Rose had given and as a reward invited him to dine with him and his wife one evening.

The false captain had a servant who was dishonest and had stolen a silver dish.  Fearing the theft was about to be discovered he secreted the dish into one of La Rose’s pockets.  When the silver dish was missed the servant then accused La Rose who was searched and the stolen item found.   Although La Rose protested his innocence he was court marshaled and sentenced to be shot and taken to prison to await his execution.

Père La Chique

As you will understand La Rose was feeling miserable and despondent at the way of the world.  An old veteran of the regiment named Père La Chique would bring him his meals and seemed friendly and kindly towards him.  This cheered and encouraged La Rose greatly and he made friends with him. One day, knowing his execution would be soon he said to La Chique,  “Père, my friend I have two thousand francs that I am sure you could use to the good.  If you will promise to do something for me when I am gone you can have them!”

Père was a man who liked his liquor and was always short of money so he readily agreed.  La Rose reached into his pocket and pulled out the little silver casket that the spectre had given him so long ago.  Handing it to Père he said, “After I have been shot and they have buried me bring a pick-axe and strike it in the ground over my grave.  The earth will peel back and you will see me lying there in my burial shroud, dead. Pass the rose under my nose three times and I will wake as if I have been in a very deep slumber.  Make sure you bring me some clothes to wear.”

Père agreed and took the money and the rose.  Soon after La Rose was taken out and shot. Père now with a pocketful of money set about his favorite pastime in style.  He went from one inn to another drinking and merrymaking with his friends. Now and then he remembered his promise to La Rose but only for a short time.  However, after a few more drinks he either forgot again, or thought to himself that La Rose was surely better off dead than suffering the grief and weariness of the world and carried on with his drinking.

Of course with so much money in his pocket many of his old friends appeared and he found himself surrounded by new ones whom he spent his money on.  When all of the money was gone they all disappeared and left him to reflect on his behaviour. Feeling ashamed he again remembered his promise to La Rose.

Resurrection

Finding himself a pick-axe and some clothes for his dead friend he went to the cemetery to carry out his promise.  Striking the earth with the pickaxe the earth peeled back, just as he had been told. When he looked in the grave and saw his dead friend wrapped in his shroud his nerve failed him and he ran off.  After a stiff drink he summoned the courage to return. Taking the rose from the silver casket he passed it under the nose of La Rose three times. La Rose sat up and yawned as if he had been in a deep slumber just like he said he would.  Hastily, he took the casket and the rose back and dressed himself and the two of them left the cemetery.

After his resurrection, without money and no roof over his head, La Rose was obliged to look for ways to earn a living.  He took many menial, low-paid jobs to make ends meet and one day while wandering the streets looking for work he heard the beating of a drum.  He followed it to the town square where the Town Crier stood on the steps of the town hall about to make an announcement.

The Crier told the crowd that had gathered that the King was looking for men to act as guards for three nights  at the local chapel and was prepared to pay handsomely for suitable recruits. Naturally, this piqued the attention of La Rose thinking it sounded too good to be true.  Indeed it was for the Crier went on to explain that the King’s daughter had been transformed into some kind of terrible monster and was imprisoned there.

Nevertheless, La Rose was desperate and decided he would apply, which he did and was accepted.  The captain of the guard then warned him that all those who had guarded the chapel between eleven o’clock in the evening and midnight had never been seen again and no trace of them had ever been found.  Naturally, La Rose was dismayed and thought about quitting the post but decided he would give it a try anyway as life to him at this time seemed not worth living.

The First Night

The guard duties were duly allotted to the new recruits and it fell to La Rose that he take the third turn at guarding the chapel.  The first guard went on duty on the first night and was never found in the morning. On the second night it was the same with the second guard.  The third night came and La Rose fearfully took up his post in the sentry box at the chapel. As time wore on he could feel fear creeping up on him and again he thought of running.  He was about to do so when terrible voice called him by his name. He froze to the spot as the voice cried, “La Rose! La Rose! Where in the world are you now, La Rose?”

“Who is it that is calling my name?” answered La Rose trembling .

“Listen to me carefully and you will come to no harm!  Very soon the most terrible beast will leap out of the chapel and it will look to kill you.  At the stroke of eleven place your musket against the sentry box and climb on top of the box and the beast will not harm you.”

When he heard the chapel clock strike eleven he placed his musket against the sentry box and climbed on top.  Just as he had done so he heard a terrible howling and the most fearsome beast leapt out of the chapel with flames issuing from its mouth and nostrils, crying, “Sentry, sentry, sentry, where are you, sentry? I will devour you when I find you!”  

As it cried out it seized the musket in its teeth and tore it into a thousand pieces and then vanished.  La Rose looked down from the top of the sentry box terrified. When the beast had gone he climbed down to look at the crumbled remains of his musket.

He was the only sentinel who had ever survived one night guarding the chapel.  When the news was given to the king he was delighted and full of hope. He knew that to break the spell that held his daughter the same sentry must survive three consecutive nights at the chapel between the eleven and twelve o’clock at night.

The Second Night

The next night La Rose took up his station at the chapel equipped with a new musket.  Time passed and again he heard the same voice he had heard the night before. This time it told him to place his musket against the door of the chapel and hide behind the sentry box.  La Rose did exactly as he was told. At the stroke of eleven the beast leapt screaming from the chapel and grabbed his musket and bit it into thousands of pieces and then quickly returned to the chapel leaving him unharmed.

The Third Night

The third night came and once again La Rose heard the voice.  This time it told him that when the beast issued from the chapel he should run to the back of the building.  There he would see a leaden tomb which he should hide behind. Behind the tomb he would find a small bottle.   When the beast came for him he was to throw the contents of this over the head of the beast.

When the clock struck eleven he heard the dreadful scream of the beast as it burst through the chapel door.  Standing to one side La Rose waited until it was clear of the doorway then darted behind it through the door and ran to the back of the chapel.  Just as the voice had advised him he found a leaden tomb which he hid behind and behind the tomb he found a small bottle and pulled out its stopper.

The beast quickly turned and gave chase and was about to leap over the tomb when La Rose stood up to face it and threw the contents of the bottle over its head.  The beast howled horribly and thrashed and writhed on the floor. The chapel shook but eventually everything calmed down and stood before him was the most beautiful princess.

The King’s Daughter

La Rose then took the princess to the Old King who was delighted to have his daughter back.  He was so grateful that he begged him to marry his daughter which La Rose was also pleased to agree to.  So La Rose married the Old King’s daughter and a little while later the Old King decided he would retire and abdicated making his son-in-law the new King.

The New King

It came to pass that one day as the new king it was his duty to inspect the regiments of his army.  As he inspected the regiment that he had served in he found it was the false captain standing at the head of the lines of  soldiers who were all stood to attention in his honour. As he inspected the lines of soldiers he told the Colonel that he thought someone was missing. The Colonel admitted that there was indeed one man missing but told him that the missing man was an old veteran who really was not much use for anything.  It was thought he lowered the tone of the regiment so he had been left behind to clean the barracks. La Rose told the Colonel that he would like to see him and Père La Chique was brought before him trembling. He then ordered the false captain to step forward and ripped the epaulettes from his shoulders and placed them on the shoulders of Père La Chique making him the new captain.

Then he ordered that a great fire was to be set around two stakes.  Then he ordered the false Captain and his wife who he deemed had so easily forgotten him to be tied to the stakes and they were burned alive together. Perhaps this may seem a rather harsh treatment for his first wife who La Rose had once loved, resurrected and then forgot about and indeed, maybe it was, but it is not what it seems.  Nevertheless, La Rose as the King and together with his Queen, lived a long and happy life thereafter.

The Secret

You see the thing about the world of  fairy tales is that there maybe magic and there may be love but the world inside the tale grotesquely mirrors the world outside which also has magic and love.  It also has pain and grief and injustice and somehow we all have to deal with what the world gives us, face our demons and rise again, which is also mirrored in the folktale, but that is not the secret. You see, only the reader can find that and it is a powerful secret to know once it is understood.

© 23/10/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 23rd, 2018 zteve t evans

(1)  CHAPTER VI: BRETON FOLK-TALES – The Magic Rose – Legends and Romances of Brittany – by Lewis Spence – [1917]

Petrification Myths: The Witch Dancer of Lengmoos

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Fotograf: Stefan Kuhn – CC BY-SA 3.0

Petrification myths and legends are found all around the world.  Sometimes someone is turned to stone as and act of divine retribution when they upset the gods and sometimes legends are attached to natural geological features of the landscape.  The following is a rewrite of  a folktale called The Witches of Lengmoos from Tales and Legends of the Tyrol, by Countess Marie A. Günther and tells how an arrogant young man offended God and was punished for his offense by being  turned to stone.

The Witches of Lengmoos

In Lengstein, there was once the son of a rich peasant who traveled to many foreign places.  He met many people and saw many strange and wonderful things and came across many new ideas.  When he returned home he would mock all of the good and faithful peasants who would faithfully say the rosary every evening.  His mother became increasingly worried and concerned as she heard him mocking and belittling the holy church calling it nothing but the ridiculous joke of priests.

Thursday Nights

Every Thursday he was often found drinking with his friends in the local inn.  As the ale flowed so did the stories.  Many stories were told and each one was exaggerated a bit further than the last.   On one such evening one of his friends told how every Thursday night a coven of witches would meet and carry out rituals and dance on the Birchboden mountain nearby.   They would arrive on the wings of the wind coming from all directions and all areas of the country and there they would hold their dark Sabbat.

As soon as he heard this the young man boasted that he would join them in their dance that night.  His friends strongly advised him not to but despite their warning he would not listen and set off that very evening.   Reluctantly, his friends followed him, pleading with him not to go through with it, but he would not listen. They followed him to the Mittelberg where the Kebebelschmeide rises and the mountain stream called the Finsterbach rushes through a gully, but they would go no further that night.  The bold young man laughed at them calling them foolish and ran through the forest alone singing happy songs to a place where stood many pyramids of porphyry  twenty to thirty feet high.

The Witches Sabbat

On arriving he saw many, many witches all dancing wildly around in circles, leaping and performing somersaults and other acrobatics and tricks. The young man was delighted with what he saw and ran to join them in their wild dancing and antics.  There he stayed joining in with all of their dancing but as the church bells of Lengmoos struck midnight all of the pyramids of porphyry shuddered violently and the Finsterbach foamed up wildly.

The Witch Dancer

His friends watching from a safe distance saw all of this and then when a wild black storm hit the mountain in fury they ran to a nearby hut for shelter.  There they stayed until morning until the storm abated as quickly as it had started. They waited until the bell of the morning Angelus had rang when they knew the power of the witches would also abate and then went out to find their friend.   To their abject horror they found him transformed into solid stone with his legs up to his knees firmly embedded in the ground. He remains there to this day and no moss or lichen will grow upon his petrified form. No bird will perch on, or fly over his body and no man or woman will go near this place for fear of the divine retribution wreaked upon the “witch-dancer” of the Lengmoos who dared to  mock the Lord.

© 16/10/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 16th, 2018 zteve t evans