The Grateful Dead: The Russian Folktale of Sila Tsarevich and Ivashka

The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead as which is a type 505 tale as classified Stories of The Grateful Dead under the under the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system used by folklorists to categorise folktales.  Grateful Dead tales usually share a basic structure of where a debtor dies leaving and are refused a proper burial or in this case floated out to sea in a coffin. In this case the dead person did not receive a proper burial and was held in a state perhaps similar to purgatory until he received one.  In gratitude his ghost or soul returns to Earth to help the person who took the trouble to ensure he had a proper burial.  There are several other motifs and themes interwoven in the story that are also found in tales around the world.  Presented below is a rewrite of Sila Tsarevich and Ivashka with the White Smock, from The Russian Garland, edited by Robert Steele which is a collection of stories collected from Russian Chap-books.

Sila Tsarevich and Ivashka with the White Smock

This story begins in a time when Russia was ruled by a tsar by the name of Chotei who had three sons.   The eldest was named Aspar Tsarevich, the next eldest was named Adam Tsarevich and the youngest was named Sila Tsarevich.  There came a day that the two eldest brothers went to their father and asked his permission to travel the world. They wanted to journey abroad and see all the foreign countries and meet all the different people who lived outside Russia and see strange and wonderful things.  On hearing their request Sila Tsarevich, the youngest of the three was also filled with a yearning to see strange and wonderful things and travel to foreign climes and also begged permission from his father to travel like his two brothers.  However, although his father granted the two eldest permission but was reluctant to grant him permission due to the immaturity of his years telling him,

“Unfortunately you are too young to go wandering the world.  You are not used to traveling and there are many difficulties and dangers that can be encountered.  Drive this idea from your mind. Wait until you are older, wiser and stronger!”

Despite what his father said, the yearning to see new lands and people had awoken the wanderlust in Sila Tsarevich.  He could think of nothing else, talk of nothing else and repeatedly asked for permission. Eventually, he wore his father down and he reluctantly consented to his request.

The Floating Coffin

Tsar Chotei had given each son a ship manned by skilled mariners and eventually all the ships were laden with provisions and goods and made ready to sail. The first to sail was Aspar Tsarevich,  the eldest brother, followed by Adam Tsarevich the next eldest. The last to set sail was Sila Tsarevich. On reaching the open sea a strange sight was seen by those on board the three ships for floating and bobbing in the water was a stone coffin.  When Aspar saw this he immediately ordered the ship to chart a wide berth around it and continued on his way. When Adam Tsarevich saw the coffin floating in the water he too ordered his sailors to keep clear of it and continued on his way. When Sila  Tsarevich saw the floating coffin he had it be brought aboard and then order the ship to continue on it way.

The next day dawned, the wind blew and a violent storm was whipped up and the ship bearing Sila was taken by the storm and driven to a strange unknown country where it was thrown upon a sandy shore.   Sila ordered his men to carry the coffin on shore where he then told them to dig a grave and give a proper burial.

Then Sila Tsarevich informed the captain that he was going off alone and told him that he and the crew must stay with the ship.  If he did not return after three years the captain and crew were free to sail back home without him. Sila then left them to journey on into the land beyond.

Ivashka

Long he roamed and had traveled many miles from his ship.  One day as he was walking along he heard the sound of someone running up behind him.  Startled he turned and saw a man dressed all in white who was waving and hurrying up to him.  Instinctively he drew his sword both for his own protection and to give fair warning that he was armed and prepared should the need arise to fight.  However, no sooner had the man reached him than he fell upon his knees and thanked Sila showing great gratitude and respect.

Bemused, Sila asked the man what he had done to deserve such great praise and thanks and the man replied,

 “Sila Tsarevich,I am deeply indebted to you and can never thank you enough.  Do you remember the coffin you found in the sea and took on board your ship.  I had been laid in that coffin a hundred years before you came to pick it up. Had you not done so I could have been left to float alone in the ocean for another hundred years, or more, but for you.”

“Who are you and how was it you came to be in that coffin?”  asked Sila surprised.

“My name is Ivashka. When I was born It was discovered I had great magical arts.  As I grew up I became a great magician but my powers did not please my mother who accused me of making mischief and misusing them.  She ordered her servant to put me in that stone coffin. Then they took me and set me set adrift in the sea thinking I would sink in the coffin.  I did not sink but I did die of suffocation. Ever since I have floated around in the sea for a hundred years before you passed by. Then you came along and rescued me and now it is my duty to serve you in return and help you obtain your heart’s desire.  If it is marriage you desire I can tell you I know of Queen Truda who is a most beauteous and gracious woman who would make a worthy wife for you. Perhaps you are interested?”

Sila agreed he was interested and if she was as beautiful and gracious as he said then, yes, he would like to marry her.  He asked him to take him to her to her country so that he may court and woo her. Ivashka readily agreed and the two set off on the long journey to the country of Queen Truda.

The Country of Queen Truda

Ivashka led Sila many miles through forests and over mountains for many many days.  They saw many strange and wonderful things along the way that Sila had never seen before.  Eventually, at last they reached the country of Queen Truda, but Sila had a shock. The entire realm of Queen Truda was surrounded by a pallascade. Upon each and every one of the sharpened posts there was a human head impaled.  There was just one stake that had no head impaled upon it. Sila looked at the heads in horror then turned to Ivashka and asked him what had happened here. Ivashka then explained that the heads had all belonged to the suitors who had come to court Queen Truda.  Sila looked on in horror and turned to Ivashka and told him he no longer wanted to present himself to Truda’s father and wished instead to go home. Ivashka promised him he had nothing to fear and urged him to proceed with courage to the father of Queen Truda to ask for her hand in marriage.

As soon as Sila and Ivashka had passed beyond the terrible palisade Ivashka turned to Sila and said,

“Listen closely to what I’m saying!  You must now go before King Salom and speak most politely and humbly. Tell him what your business is and tell him who your father is and that  that I am your faithful servant. You must not try to conceal anything from him as he will see straight through you. Then ask for his permission to marry his daughter and he will be delighted and agree.”

King Salom

With this advice fresh in his mind Sila Tsarevich went directly to the palace.  As soon as he saw him King Salom jumped to his feet and rushed across the room to greet him.  He took Sila by the hand and led him into the marbled halls of his beautiful palace chatting to him all the way.  He seated him in a splendid chair next to his throne then sat down himself and begged that Sila tell him all about himself saying, “Now my friend, please tell me where you are from, who is your father, your name and your business.”

“My father is named Tsar Chotei the ruler of of all of Russia and I have come to ask your permission to court your beautiful daughter, Queen Truda,” said Sila politely and humbly.

The Wedding

This pleased King Salom greatly.  He was delighted with the idea of a son of the tzar of all of Russia being his son-in-law and agreed immediately.  He sent for his daughter and told her the news and she began the preparations for her wedding. The day of the marriage soon came around and the King and all of his knights, noblemen and courtiers met at the palace. When all was ready they formed a grand procession to the church where Sila Tsarevich the son of Tsar Chotei of Russia married King Salom’s beautiful daughter Queen Truda.  After the wedding ceremony they all returned for a grand banquet thrown by the King to celebrate the marriage of his daughter to such a worthy husband. There was music and singing and jesters, acrobats and jugglers and entertainment of all kinds and the best food and drink his kingdom could provide and a merry evening was had by all.

When at at last the feasting and entertainments came to an end and it was time for everyone to go to their beds Ivashka came to Sila and whispered in his ear,

“Listen to me Sila Tsarevich when you go to rest with your wife, beware!  You must not speak a single word to her or you will not live out the night.  Your head will be severed from your body and placed on the last stake on the palisade.  Your wife will try her hardest to make you speak and to make you embrace her but if you wish to live you will not utter a word or fall for her embraces.  Listen well or die!”

Shocked at this revelation,  Sila demanded to know what this all meant.  Ivashka told him,

“Queen Truda is possessed by an evil spirit that can take the shape of a six headed dragon and fly through the night.  It appears each night to her in the form of a man. I warn you that when the time comes and she lays her hand upon your breast and pushes down you must leap up shake her with all your might.  You must continue to shake her until all your strength has gone. Throughout the night I will remain awake and on watch at the door of your room.”

The First Night

So Sila went to bed with his new wife with this strange warning going around in his head.  As Ivashka had warned Queen Truda tried her hardest to kiss and embrace him but he lay still and silent throughout.  At last his wife placed her hand on his heart and pressed hard against it. Remembering Ivashka’s warning, Sila jumped up and shook her hard.

Outside in the darkness of night a storm arose and a six-headed dragon flew in through the window.  It was about to attack and eat Sila when Ivashka leapt through the door with his sword in his hand and attacked it.  The two fought ferociously together for three hours and then Sila managed to cut two of its heads off. This caused the beast to withdraw from the fight and escape through the window.  Ivashka then turned to Sila and told him it was now time to sleep and need fear nothing more. At this Sila laid himself back in bed and went to sleep.

The next morning the king called his servants to him asking them if his new son-in-law was still alive and was told Sila was indeed alive and well.  The king was delighted and rejoiced because Sila was the first of his daughter’s husbands to survive a night with her. He request Sila be brought to him and the rest of the day was spent celebrating.

The Second Night

The next night before Sila went to bed with his wife Ivashka again gave him the exact instructions and warnings he had given him the previous night and hid by the door to keep watch.  That night everything unfold exactly as it had done the previous night. As Sila shook his wife the dragon flew in through the window and was about to eat him. Ivashka leapt from his hiding place with his sword drawn and fought the dragon and managed to sever two more of its heads before the dragon escaped through the window.

The Third Night

On the third night, Ivashka gave the same warnings to Sila and again hid himself by the door to watch.   Again his wife tried to make Sila speak and embrace her and again he would neither speak or respond to her entreaties to embrace her.  Once again she pushed down upon his heart and he began shaking her. Once again the dragon flew in through the window and attempted to devour him but was attacked by Ivashka who cut off the remaining two of its heads and burnt the remains of the dragon scattering the ashes across the fields.

The Journey Home

Sila continued living with his wife at the palace of KIng Salom for one year but through all that time he continued to refrain from speaking to her or win her love.  One day Ivashka went to him and told him it was time to go to King Salom and request permission to return to his own land. The king gave his permission and provided two companies of his soldiers to escort him home.  So Sila, taking his wife and Ivashka with him set off with his escort on the journey back to the ship and to his homeland.

The Freeing of Queen Truda

When they reached halfway Ivashka told Sila to make camp for the night.  The next morning Ivashka collected pieces of wood to make a fire and then brought Queen Truda near to it.  Then he took out his sword and cut her into pieces.

This shocked Sila and he began to weep and wring his hands but Ivashka said, “Have trust, my friend and stop your weeping!  I tell you she will return again to life.”

Sila stopped weeping but watched in horror as as all manner of vile and evils things crept and slithered from her body.  Ivashka threw each and everyone of these on the fire and said, “Now you see for yourself the evil things that have possessed your wife, but now she is free from them!”

When all the evil things had left her and been burnt he placed the pieces of her together to form a new body.  Then taking out a vial he said contained the water of life he sprinkled this over the reassembled body and Queen Truda instantly sprang to life whole and free from evil.  With that he turned to Sila Tsarevich and said,

“Now my task for you is done and I have repaid my debt to you for saving me from the water and giving me a proper burial.  You will soon discover that your wife loves you above all things and that you will have great happiness together until the end of your days.  You will never see me again and now I bid you farewell.”

With that the smiling figure of Ivashka dissolved into the the thin air before the eyes of Sila Tsarevich and his wife Queen Truda.  Sila and his wife continued on the journey to his homeland. When he reached the place he had left his ship the captain and crew were still faithfully waiting and he and his wife went aboard after dismissing his escort.

The ship met with a fair wind which carried them quickly and safely to the port Sila had previously set sail from.  On news of his arrival his father, Tsar Chotei was delighted and welcomed them with a spectacular volley of cannons and fireworks. He came down to the ship and led them back to his palace and threw a lavish banquet to celebrate the return of his youngest son and his wife.

Heart’s Desire

Sila Tsarevich was pleased to find that his wife seemed to love him more and more  every day. He felt the same about her and they were very happy together. After two years living with his father Sila decided he and his wife would return to her homeland.  On his return King Salom abdicated and handed the crown to Sila who with Queen Truda beside him ruled the kingdom for many years in peace and happiness. Let us remember that and all of this came about because Sila had stopped to take in an abandoned coffin floating in the sea and give the dead a decent and proper burial and because of that he received the help of the Grateful Dead to achieve his heart’s desire.

© 08/08/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 8th, 2018 zteve t evans

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The Grateful Dead: The Three Pennies, John Barleycorn and the Fate of the Rye

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Image by Joseph-Louis-Hippolyte Bellangé – [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Stories of The Grateful Dead which tell of the gratitude of a dead  person to someone alive who has helped them to a proper burial are found in many parts of the world.  Under the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system used by many folklorists they are classified as type 505.  Many of these tale types share a basic structure where a debtor dies leaving their debts unpaid and are refused a proper burial or in this case absurdly intended to dig up a dead person expecting them to pay the debt.  In some cultures dying in debt or not getting a proper funeral prevented the dead from moving on to heaven. Along comes someone who out of the goodness of their heart pays off the debts allowing a proper burial to take place and allowing the soul of the dead person to enter heaven.  The ghost, or soul, then returns to Earth to reward that person, often helping them find their heart’s desire.  Presented here is a retelling of a Danish folktale called The Three Pennies that is classified as being of the Grateful  Dead Type 505 tale. Although it is fairly short it is rather a strange story having some rather curious motifs and dark undertones that echo a fertility rite and the idea of the dying and rising god.

The Three Pennies

The story begins with a soldier who had faithfully served his king and country for many years  and on a count of his age was given a discharge. As a thank you for his bravery, commitment and service he was given a small loaf of rye bread and three pennies.  On receiving these tokens of the King’s gratitude he was set free from service to go where he would and so set off into the world to see what providence would bring.

As he set off along his way, savoringdbt, his new found freedom, he met three men walking in the opposite direction to him.   In their hands they each carried some kind of digging implement. One carried a spade. Another carried a shovel and the third carried a pickaxe.  All three seemed to be in an agitated state of mind.

Curious as to what they may be up to the soldier stopped them and asked their what they were up to saying, “Where are you going with all of those tools?”

One of them replied,  “This I will tell you as you ask. Today a man died and was buried owing us all money.  We are determined that we should be paid and we are going to dig him up,”

“What a shocking notion!” exclaimed the soldier.  “Can you not see that he is incapable of making a payment.  The dead should not be disturbed, he cannot pay you so leave him in peace!”

“That we will not do,” said another, “ He owes us each one penny and we must have our payment, so he must be dug up!”

On seeing that the men would not listen to reason the soldier said, “If I pay you two pennies will you then leave the dead undisturbed?”

“Two pennies will only pay two of us what we are owed.  What about the third?” said on of the other men.   “How then is the third man to be compensated?”

Seeing that the men would only accept full payment the soldier said in disgust,  “Since your greed has taken over your reason I will also give a third penny.  Take these three pennies and be happy that you have now got that which is so dear to you.  Take it and go but leave the dead in peace!”

So content with being paid in full debt owed each of them they went on their way leaving the dead man undisturbed.  The soldier walked upon his way reflecting on the greed and foolishness of some people and as he walked he noticed that a pale stranger was now walking by his side.  He was somewhat puzzled as he had not noticed when he had joined his company. As the soldier turned to look at him the pale stranger turned and saluted him and continued to walk alongside him without saying a single word.  They continued to walk throughout the evening and as midnight approached they came to a church.  The pale stranger said, “Come my friend, let us visit this holy place tonight.”

The soldier looked at him in bemusement and asked, “Surely that would be improper at this hour?  What would we be doing in a church at midnight?”

However, the pale stranger was most insistent saying, “We have to go inside!  We must do this!”

After much argument the soldier and the pale stranger entered the church and walked down the aisle to the altar where there sat an old woman holding a light burning in her hand.

They walked up to her and the pale stranger said, “You must take a hair from her head and smell it.”

Puzzled, the soldier did as he was told but nothing happened.  The pale stranger again told him to pull a hair from her head. Again the soldier compiled but again nothing happened.  A third time the pale stranger told him to take a hair from her head and smell it. This time the soldier pulled a tuft of hair from the woman’s head to smell, but this enraged her and she marched out of the church carrying the lead vault with her.

The two followed her out of the church and down to the beach where they found the lead vault on the waterside.  Then the pale stranger said, “Come, we will go to sea therefore take your seat”

“Where is the ship?” said soldier who was now completely bewildered.

“You must have faith in me, just sit yourself in this lead vault and we will sail over the sea to a land where there is a princess, who it is told, is destined to marry a man who sails to her land in a lead ship.  This will make your fortune,” said the pale stranger.

So the soldier got in and sat himself down and the pale stranger sat next to him.  The tide came in and the lead vault rose in the water and floated out to sea. It floated on and on for many days across the wide open water and eventually came to rest on a beach on the other side of the sea.   People soon gathered around to welcome them and there was great joy and happiness that someone had arrived across the sea in a lead vault to claim the princess as the prophecy had foretold. The soldier and the princess were married with such splendour and magnificence as had never been seen before and was never seen thereafter.

After the ceremony the bride and groom left the church and entered into a carriage that was waiting for them and the pale stranger followed them and also got in.  The coachman asked where they would like to be taken and the pale stranger quickly said, “Drive with all possible speed to the other side where the sun rises!” In obedience the coachman whipped up the horse and drove off wildly heading for the other side.

On their way to the other side the soldier looked out of the carriage window and saw a herdsman and he called upon the coachman to stop.  The coachman quickly stopped the carriage and the soldier leaned out and asked the herdsman who he was. The herdsman then replied, “I am the Count of Ravensburg and there in the distance is my castle.”

The pale stranger then urged the coachman to drive on as quickly as possible and presently they arrived at Ravensburg Castle.  The coachman drove through the gates which shut behind them. As they were climbing out of the carriage they heard a knocking at the castle gates and went to see who it was.  Looking through a window in the gate they saw it was the herdsman who appeared anxious to come in. The pale stranger asked what he wanted and the herdsman, who was also a conjuror, told him that he had every right to enter the castle as it belonged to him.  The pale stranger thought about this for a minute or two and then said, “To be allowed in he must suffer the whole fate of the rye.”

Conjuror looked at him puzzled and suspicious and asked, “And what is the fate of the rye?”

 

The pale stranger then told him,

“To suffer the fate of the rye, when autumn comes you must be scattered and sown in the ground and lay under the cold earth through the dark days of winter.  When spring comes you will burst through the earth and grow and ripen in the sunshine and rain. When you are ready you will be harvested. You will be cut and dried and placed in a barn and then you will be threshed.  That is part of the fate of the rye”

“I am to be threshed?” cried the conjuror aghast.

“You will be threshed first and then ground in the mill,” replied the the pale stranger.

“Threshed and ground!”  shouted the  conjuror becoming angry.

“Yes and then sifted,” the pale stranger told him calmly.

On hearing he was also to be sifted the conjuror became so enraged that he burst into flint-stones.

The pale stranger then turned to the bride and groom and bid them goodbye saying,

“My friend, now you are married to the beautiful princess who loves you and you her.  The troll of Ravensburg Castle is dead forever and now all his treasures and his castle are all yours.  I have been as good and generous with you as you were to me when you gave away those three pennies to pay my debts purely out of the goodness of your heart.”

“I have no I regrets about giving away those pennies and have not once mourned their loss.  Why, I would do the same again to provide the dead with proper burial!” replied the soldier.

“That, I well know now, or I could never have been able to help you, but now having helped you attain your heart’s desire I have repaid you and can no longer stay. I go now to where I belong, therefore farewell!” With that he shook his hand and dissolved into nothingness before his very eyes and was gone.

Motifs and Themes

The number three crops up a number of times.  There are the three gifts from the king, his freedom, a rye loaf and three pennies,There are three pennies, three creditors, three debts,  three different garden implements and the curious behaviour of pulling hair from the old woman’s head and smelling it.

What was the purpose of this this bizarre act? The two appear before her like ghosts and she gives no indication she knows of their presence until her hair is pulled a third time. This provokes her into a superhuman effort of picking up the lead vault, box or probably coffin and carrying it to the seashore ready for them to use as a boat.

The herdsman claims he is also the Count of Ravensburghand a conjuror making three identities. He is told if he wants to pass through the gates of the castle he claims as his own he must undergo the fate of the rye. A herdsman, or shepherd is a euphemism sometimes used to describe someone such as a king or religious leader who had followers.  The herdsman provides, food, security, shelter and leadership to their herd or flock.

There is a Ravensberg Castle in Germany and there were Counts of Ravensberg.  There is also a town named Ravensburg which was a great trading center that did have a castle but was destroyed,  but it really is not clear if these are anything to do with the story.

John Barleycorn

Those familiar with the British folk song John Barleycorn will notice the similarity of the fate the rye that the conjuror is offered to that of John Barleycorn in the song.  It is also noticeable that the old soldier is given a loaf of rye bread when discharged from the King’s service.  Rye (Secale cereale) is a a grain closely related to barley (genus Hordeum) and has many uses including rye bread, flour, crisp bread, animal fodder,  beer, and some types of vodka and whiskeys.

In British folklore John Barleycorn is the personification of barley, or corn and the alcoholic drinks such as whiskey and beer that are made from it.  The violence, abuse and disrespect John Barleycorn has to endure before being reborn, regrown in a never ending cycle correspond to the different stages of barley or corn cultivation, harvesting and malting.

The figure of John Barleycorn may be derived from early pagan Norse deities such as Kvasir or Mímir band is associated with Beowa from Anglo-Saxon paganism who is associated with barley and agriculture.  This ritual is also associated with the very ancient idea of vegetation deities and the dying and rising god that is symbolic of the natural dying and regeneration seen in vegetation that is essential to human existence.  Jesus Christ is seen by some people as a dying and rising god.

The idea of a dying and rising god is not universally accepted or rejected by scholars and many have an open mind on the subject.  Although its meaning to this story cannot be proved for certain it is curious to find it present. Certainly, the conjuror’s bad tempered rejection of the fate of the rye causes him to turn into flint-stones, of all things.

Flint-stones are found naturally in many parts of the world and were a natural material that was used to make tools and implements in very ancient times such as arrowheads, and axes and knives.  These were sometimes found fields were ploughed or holes dug and were called thunderstones having thought to be thunderbolts from the gods. Flints also produce a spark when struck with steel that can light fires and in some cultures were believed to ward against the return of the dead.

The Grateful Dead Theme

The gratitude of the dead who have been given a proper burial thanks to the generosity and goodness of a person in stark contrast to the greed of the creditors of the dead is the underlying theme of the tale.  The soldier, although by no means rich, readily gives up his three pennies earned for long loyal service to the King to give to the creditors to pay the debt of a dead man he did not know. Despite the poverty this will leave him in he never once regrets his act seeing it more as a duty than an act of generosity even though all he is left with is a loaf of rye and that is the key to achieving his heart’s desire as explained by the pale stranger.   The implication of the story is that the living affect the transition of the dead to the afterlife while the dead can return and influence the lives of the living.

This short, strange story has generated more words in discussion that it consists of and probably a lot more could be written.  Is it just a rather bizarre, obscure fairy or folktale or is there some hidden purpose to its telling as suggested above?

© 09/05/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 9th, 2018 zteve t evans

The Grateful Dead: The Tale of Fair Brow

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Old Fisherman (cropped) – Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Grateful Dead Tale Type

In the study of folktales The Grateful Dead, sometimes known as the Grateful Ghost, is a tale type classified in the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system as type 505 and found in many diverse folk and fairy tales from around the world.  It often entails someone dying in debt and being refused a proper burial preventing the soul of the dead entry into heaven until their creditors are paid in full.  The hero will pay off the debt and ensure a proper burial  using the last of their money to do so.  Then destitute they set off on a journey in which they meet up with a stranger who helps and guides them.  Often towards the end the integrity of the hero is tested in some way and when it is passed the stranger will reveal himself to be the the soul or ghost of the corpse whose debts and burial was paid for. In gratitude the protagonist is then often granted their heart’s desire, hence the term The Grateful Dead.

The Story of Fair Brow

The following is a retelling of one such story called Fair Brow from Italian Popular Tales by Thomas Frederick Crane and tells how there was once a rich merchant trader who had fair and handsome son.  He had sent him to the best school to receive a good education and when his son finally passed through the school his father decided that he should now learn how to make his way in life as a merchant trader.  He gave him a ship and he gave him a chest full of money to buy goods that he could fill the ship with and sail from port to port and sell his wares for a profit. He told his son, “Your schooling is finished and now you are of an age where you must learn to make your own way in life.  To help you start I will give you this ship with enough money to fill it with goods that you can sell in other places for profit.  Use that profit wisely to buy more goods to replace those sold that you can again sell at a profit. Be careful with what you buy.  Be careful with what you sell and be careful with what you do.  Go now and learn how to trade.”

The Corpse

So following his father’s advice the young man set sail for a distant port to buy merchandise that he could sell for a profit.  On the way, before he had bought anything at all, he stopped off at a passing port to take a break from the voyage and to see what the people were like.  As he roamed around the harbor side he came across a bier with a corpse laid out upon it. He was curious to see that although some people looked the opposite way as they passed it others would leave a coin or two alongside the corpse.  Perplexed the young man approached a passer by who had just placed a few coins on the bier and asked, “Surely this dead man should be buried properly and with dignity for surely he desires his grave.  Why do your people keep him so?”

The passer by replied, “When this man was alive he accrued a pile of debt.  Our custom is that no one is allowed to be given a proper and decent burial until all his debts are paid.  As he is dead the only way his creditors can be paid is by the good charity of others.  Until all his debts are paid in full we cannot bury him.”  This greatly shocked the young man, who declared, “Let it be known to all that he is indebted to that I will pay his creditors whatever he owes them in full.”  He went to the local authorities so that a declaration could be made public.   After all of the dead man’s creditors had been paid there was not a single penny left of the money his father had given him to buy merchandise so he went back to his ship and set sail for home.

On his return his father was delighted but surprised to see him return so soon and asked eagerly how much profit he had made so quickly.  The young man knowing his father would disapprove said, “Alas, father, as we sailed the open sea we encountered pirates who took all of the money you gave me in return for my life!  I fear we have made no profit at all.”  On hearing this father said, “In truth this is no consequence.  I am happy that you are still alive and I will give you more money to start again but this time head in the opposite direction to your last voyage.”

Pirates From the Levant

And so his son sailed off in the opposite direction to his previous voyage.  While he was at sea they came across a Turkish ship and thinking it would be better to communicate with them he hailed them as they drew near.  As they came along side he said, “And where have you come from?”

“We sail from the Levant,” replied the captain.

“And what is your merchandise?” inquired the young man.

“All have I is one beautiful girl to sell,”  replied the captain.

“How is that you have this girl to sell?” he asked

“We have stolen her from the Sultan and we will sell her for great profit because of her beauty,” replied the captain

“Show me this girl!” said the young man and the pirates brought her on deck, “I will buy her freedom from you.”

“How much will you give us?”  They asked.

“I will give you all the money in this treasure chest,” said the young man showing them his father’s money.

“Then you shall have her,” said the captain handing the girl to him.  As he had no more money was left the young man returned to his home port with the girl.  On arrival he married her and then went to see his father.

His Father’s Wrath

His father was delighted to see him saying, “Welcome home my fair and handsome son! What rare bargains have you made?  What vast profits have you gained? What riches do you bring home to me?”

His son said, “Father I bring you a most precious thing, the rarest of jewels, the most beautiful woman in the world, the daughter of a Sultan and I have brought her for my wife!  I bring her now to show to you my merchandise!”

His father looked at him in shock and disgust and then exploded into violence striking both of them rapidly with his fists and pushing them out through the door into the street crying, “Foolish, foolish wastrel is this all you have brought for all the money I have given you! Out of my house and take her with you. Go!”

He continued kicking and striking them both until he was out of breath.  Then he turned and silently went back inside his house and shut the door on them.  Of course his son was greatly upset both for himself and for his new wife but he also had a problem because he had never learnt how to make a living for himself in the wide world.   They wandered the town together and eventually found a room in a villa whose owner kindly allowed them to stay for awhile in return for work.

Fair Brow

The young man spoke to his wife saying,  “Whatever shall we do?  I do not know any trade and I have no profession or anything to sell.  How shall we live?”

“Fear not,” said his wife, “I have some talent as an artist and can paint the most beautiful works of art, though I say so myself.  I shall paint and you shall sell what I paint, but you must reveal to no one who the artist is,“ she added.

Indeed she was very skilled and renowned in her own land for her paintings and now while she created the most exquisite works and he sold them.  He soon found the best place to sell them was down on the harbor side as many ships would come and dock and many sailors and merchants and fine gentlemen would be found going about their business.  They would often look for mementos, souvenirs and things to buy to take home with them.  In this way the young man and his wife made their living and all though they did not make much money they had each other and found pleasure in each other’s company.  In the evenings he would play upon musical instruments and sing to her as he was a good musician and a talented singer though his father had never recognized such attributes as being of any value. Nevertheless in their own company they were very happy and she would call him her “Fair Brow” as he was very handsome.

claude-joseph_vernet_-_a_calm_at_a_mediterranean_port_-_google_art_project

Claude-Joseph Vernet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Sultan’s Servants

Meanwhile, the Sultan had been distraught at the theft of his daughter and had sent out ships carrying his servants to search the corners of the Earth for her.   One day one of these sailed into the bay and docked in the harbor in the town where the young man and his wife were living.   The ship carried many of the Sultan’s servants who came ashore in search of his daughter.  The young man saw them coming ashore and thinking this would mean good business went to his wife and said, “Paint as many pictures as you can for I sense a good day of business today!”  So his wife painted very many beautiful paintings and said to her husband, “Remember, never tell anyone that I am the artist!”

Fair Brow nodded reassuringly and told her that he would not and took all of the paintings down to the harbor to sell.  As he unpacked and exhibited her pictures many of the Sultan’s servants clustered around to admire the paintings and recognised her work. “Who is the the artist who paints such wonderful works?” asked one of the servants.  This greatly excited the young man and he forgot his wife’s warning and said, “Why, it is my wife,”   Then they said with great enthusiasm, “We will buy all of these.  Can she paints us some more.  We will buy all you can sell us!  Can we meet her?”  Thinking at last his luck had changed he told them, “Come to my house with me and she will paint all the pictures you could wish for!”

So he took them to his house and as soon as they saw his wife they knew she was the Sultan’s daughter and they took her and carried her back to their ship and sailed back to the Sultan who was delighted to have his daughter back again.  Once the Sultan had got his daughter back he kept her out of sight in a guarded tower surrounded by a magnificent garden so that no one else could steal her away again.

The Old Fisherman

Meanwhile, Fair Brow was alone and sad without his wife whom he loved dearly.  He was ashamed that he could not stop her being kidnapped and lacking the skills to make his way in the world alone he fell into a dark, bleak depression but was determined to go after his wife.  Miserable and alone he took to wandering along the seashore hoping to find a ship that would take him on as a crew member and go in search of his wife, but he had no luck there either.  Then one day he came across an old fisherman with his boat pulled up on the sandy shore and he was sat nearby mending his fishing net.

Approaching him he said, “Old fisherman, though I am strong and supple of body, you are far better off than I!” And the old man relied, “Why is that so young man?  I am old and my bones ache and my muscles are so stiff I can barely move sometimes?”

The young man said, “You have a skill that helps you make your way in the world and I have none. Would you allow me to join you when you go fishing?”  The old man looked him up and down and smiled saying, “That I will if you so wish it.  You can use the pole to fish while I use the nets and perhaps together we shall catch plenty of fish!”

The Solemn Oath

With that the two made a solemn oath that from that moment they they would share all they had with one another and all that came their way in the future, whether it was good or bad.   With the promise made the old fisherman then divided his supper into two equal parts giving one to Fair Brow and keeping the other.  After they had eaten they went to sleep in the boat.

While they slept a storm brewed up and took the boat from the shore across the wide open sea finally throwing it aground on the shores of Turkey.  Being strangers on the shore the people who found them claimed the boat and took them to the Sultan.   He looked them up and down and took them as his slaves giving the old fisherman the task of growing his vegetables and the Fair Brow the task of growing the flowers.  The two newcomers soon made friends with the other slaves and did not have a bad life.  The work was steady and fair and they were fed well and not mistreated and even had spare time.  In his spare time the old fisherman would make the most marvelous musical instruments such as guitars, flutes, violins and clarinets and the fair Brow would play them and sings songs and the others would join in.

814px-jean-c389tienne_liotard_-_a_woman_in_turkish_dress_-_google_art_project

A Woman in Turkish Dress – Jean-Étienne Liotard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Sultan’s Daughter in the Tower

High in the tower the music and singing floated up to the Sultan’s daughter with her maids in waiting.  Hearing it took her mind back to her husband and the times he would sing to her while he played upon musical instruments.  Then, she knew that this could only be her Fair Brow and she became excited.  Almost not daring to look she peeped through the blinds to the garden below and there she saw that it was indeed none other than her husband who was singing so fair and playing such wonderful music.

It so happened that every day her maids in waiting would come down from the tower with a large basket which they would fill with flowers that Fair Brow had grown and take them up to the top of the tower to brighten up the apartment of the Sultan’s daughter.   She said to her maids, “Today we will have some fun.  When you are in the garden picking my flowers put that young man in the basket and cover him over with blooms and carry him up to me. Tell the gardeners to help you.”

So her maids went down to the garden and whispered to the other gardeners what the Sultan’s daughter had ordered.  They thought it was a great joke so they put the young man in the basket. Despite his good-natured protests they covered him up and the maids carried him up to the Sultan’s daughter’s apartment at the top of the tower with no idea of what was in store for him.  When they set the basket down in front of her he jumped up like a jack-in-the-box thinking to surprise her but found he was the one to be surprised as he jumped straight into the loving arms of his wife.

Reunion

Surprised and delighted they hugged and kissed and then told each other their stories and then began planning how to escape the tower together.  His wife, being the Sultan’s daughter had a tremendous prestige and power and she ordered that a ship be laden with pearls, gold and other treasures should be made ready in the harbor.  The next day when the maids of honor took out the old flowers they hid in the baskets and the maids carried them down to the garden and down to the harbor and on to the ship.  Once aboard she ordered the captain to weigh anchor and set sail and on a fair wind quickly made it to the open sea.  Then Fair Brow realized he had forgotten something.   The old fisherman had been left behind and they had promised to share everything together both good and bad.  Despite his wife’s protests he made her order the captain to turn the ship around and go back for him even though this put them at risk of the Sultan catching them.  He told her of the old fisherman and the promise they had made each other and said, “My love, I must hold my sworn word even if caught for I must never break a promise!”

As luck or fate would have it they found the old fisherman waiting patiently by the shore as if he was expecting them.  With him safely on board they headed for the open sea and once far distant from land Fair Brow said to his friend, “Old fisherman we have a contract.  Let us divide all the treasure half for you and half for me as we agreed.”  The old man looked at him and replied, “Indeed we have promised each other and therefore I shall also have one half of your wife and you the other?”

The Grateful Dead

“My good friend, I am in your debt, therefore you take all of the pearls, gold and treasure and I will take my entire wife, or do you insist on me dividing her.” replied Fair Brow.  Then the old fisherman said, “My good young friend you are generous beyond measure and wise knowing what is your greatest treasure. Therefore, know now that I am the soul that once belonged to the poor corpse that you paid all of your money to pay off his debts. Please do not divide her!  All of the luck that you have now acquired stems from that one generous and merciful act of paying my debts and provide a proper burial that freed me from purgatory.  Now I go to my proper place in Heaven.  Farewell!” and with that he vanished and was never seen on Earth again.

And so the ship sailed on to the home port of Fair Brow and his wife and when they arrived their were great celebrations.  His father was waiting on the shore to greet them, begging their forgiveness and Fair Brow was now rich beyond measure and he lived in peace and happiness with his wife.  He would sing and play music to her and she would paint him marvelous pictures.

Curiosities of the Grateful Dead

As can be seen The Grateful Dead is a curious type of tale that explores the law of reciprocity and much more.  In this story the living had a degree of power over the dead preventing someone who had died without paying their debts from entering heaven by withholding a proper burial until the debts were paid.  Along comes Fair Brow and pays the debts and ensure a proper burial allowing the dead to enter heaven.  This explores the idea that the living have a power over the dead first by refusing proper burial and second when Fair Brow pays the debt releasing the dead man from the bond that held him from entering heaven.  It also explores the idea that the dead can come back and influence events on earth when the ghost of the dead man returns as the old fisherman to aid Fair Brow reach his heart’s desire.  There is also another idea that if the dead are released from debts they return to help the creditors achieve their heart’s desire but the creditors will be tested to see if they are truly worthy of being granted it.  Why?   Perhaps because it would then be too easy for creditors to write off debts in the expectation of reward from the dead.  They have to prove that their motive is purely altruistic and that they are truly worthy, hence the final test.

© 07/02/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 7, 2018 zteve t evans