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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Petrification Myths: The Indonesian Folktale of Dewi Jurangga and the Son of Bromo

The island of Java in the Indonesian archipelago is rich in ancient culture and tradition and full of wonderful stories that tell the lives of its inhabitant and their relationships with each other, the landscape, nature and the gods. Presented below is a retelling of an Indonesian folktale called The Holy Mountain, from Indonesian tales and Folk Tales by Adele de Leeuw, which provides a folkloric explanation of how certain volcanoes and the Sea of Sand was created in the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park

The Giant of the Holy Mountain

There was once a mighty giant who had ruled over the god Indra’s holy mountain of Semeru since the beginning of the world.  His realm reached all around it above ground and extended below it under the ground.  This giant had a daughter whom he loved more than anything else and he had named Dewi Jurangga.  He watched over her day and night keeping her safe and keeping her hidden from the eyes of the world in his a part of his kingdom underneath the mountain.  So well did he guard his daughter that she had never been outside the kingdom under the holy mountain. She did not know what daylight was and had never known fresh air, never known the green leaves and beautiful flowers and never heard birds sing.

Every single day the giant would walk around the bounds of his kingdom  to make sure everything was in order. One day as her father went out to inspect his kingdom, she had a sudden yearning to know what the world of light above ground looked like.  Making sure he had gone, she ran up the way which she knew would bring her to the world of light on the earth because she had seen her father take it.

Dewi Jurangga’s Adventure

Stepping out into the sunshine, at first she was blinded, but as her eyes slowly became accustomed to the light, she grew increasingly enchanted by all the beautiful things she saw that she had never seen before.  First, she looked at the sky which was so deep and wide and blue and was awed.  She saw fluffy white clouds floating across it and was intrigued.  She saw beautiful green leaves and gorgeous flowers of so many different colors and was thrilled and she walked out into the world for the first time full of wonder and excitement and was happy.
Everything she was seeing, hearing, smelling and touching was beyond her wildest dreams and as she walked she seemed to be floating through a beautiful wonderland of new experience.  She could hear the birds singing and the insects buzzing and smell the glorious scent of the flowers and she floated on enthralled by it all. She floated over the rice fields and over the meadows and saw goats and cattle grazing and then she saw a man standing before her and she stopped.  She looked at him and smiled and he looked at her and smiled.

She thought he looked like her father, but was much younger and much more handsome than he.  He stood before her amazed at seeing her and quietly and gently said, “May I ask who you are?”

She had never before heard the voice of anyone else other than the deep rumbling sound of her father’s and she was charmed to hear the soft, gentle speech of the young man and said,

“My name is Dewi Jurangga and I am new in the world above the ground.  I am the daughter of the giant who is the King of the Holy Mountain of Indra.  This is the first time I have ever been above ground and walked upon the earth instead of under it.  This is the first time I have smelled the clean fresh air and the fragrance of flowers and seen the beautiful blue sky. It is the first  time I have met and spoken to anyone other than my father.”

Then the two chatted together like old friends.  She told him that she was so in love with the world above the surface of the earth that she wanted to give up the immortality bestowed upon her by the gods.

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Mt Batok dormant in foreground, Mt. Bromo belching sulphur to the left, Mt. Semeru erupting in the distance By Michael Day [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Son of Bromo

Then asked him if he was one of the divine gods, or a giant and he told her with great joy in his eyes,

 “I am the raksasa, the warden of the great temple of the gods appointed to this task by Brahma.  I am the son of a giant almost as powerful as your father and his name is Bromo.  I have set out to look for a wife because the gods have told me I would find one near the Holy Mountain and now I have found her, if you would give your consent!” 

At first Dewi Jurangga, was pleased and flattered and then she remembered her father and as sadness darkened her eyes she said,

“I fear I can cannot be your wife.  My father loves me more than anything else and he guards and protects me.  To him I am the light of his eyes and he will never allow me to marry a raksasa, especially one who is the son of Bromo who he hates.”

“Why will he not let us marry and why does he hate my father so?” asked the puzzled raksasa in disappointment.

she said sadly.

“He hates your father because his mountain sends fire and fumes and streams of molten lava to flow down into the fertile fields on the borders of his land.  One night your father sent so much fire it changed them all into an arid and infertile plain where nothing will grow nothing. That is why my father hates your father and will never let me marry his son,” 

The son of Bromo shook his head and said defiantly, “That may be so, but I am going to go to you father and ask his permission to marry you, if you agree,”

Dewi Jurangga told him she wanted to be his wife more than anything else in the world. With her agreement that very evening before sunset, he went to the her father in his kingdom under the Holy Mountain and begged her hand in marriage.

The Sea of Sand

He father was furious and roared and thundered with rage.  His daughter told him that if he did not allow the marriage she would go to Mount Bromo and throw herself in the lake of fire, at which he roared louder than ever.  He roared and roared until he could roar no more and sat silently trembling with rage.  Then, shaking his head sadly he said to the son of Bromo,

“Let me tell you this.  Many, many, years ago I vowed to the gods that my daughter, who is the light of my life, would only marry a divine being and not a son of a giant.  Her husband must be the son of a god and to prove his divinity and power he must create a sea of sand around the mountain of Bromo, my enemy. It must be a thousand feet deep and a thousand feet wide, so that the fires and lava from Bromo’s mountain will be extinguished. There will be no fuel to feed the flames and the lava will sink into the suffocating sand and die and will not burn my fields.  The sea of sand must be created in one night between the time of sundown and the first crow of the cock. If you can create this sea of sand as I have described it in one night, you shall have my daughter for your wife. If the sea of sand is not fully complete by the first cock crow you shall both be turned to stone and remain stone for one thousand times one thousand years.”

On hearing this the raksasa stood deep in thought for a few moments then looked into the lovely eyes of Dewi Jurangga and said,

“I will try this challenge for it would be better to be turned to stone and have a heart of stone that feels nothing than to live one day without your daughter as my wife.  Tomorrow at sundown I will attempt the challenge.”

Turning to Dewi Jurangga he asked her if she agreed and she readily told him she did and then he said, “Find the largest possible coconut and cut it in half.  Take half the shell to the very place we first met and lay it on the ground. I will be there before sunset.”

So Dewi Jurangga did as he asked and just before sunset went to him at the spot where they had first met and gave him the half of coconut shell which is called a batok and whispered, “Do your best, my love!  Unveil your true power and we will be happy forever!”
Taking the shell from her he whispered, “My  kembang manis, my lovely flower, I will prove I am worthy of you!”

And as the sinking sun disappeared below the horizon he set to work.  Using the batok he filled it with sand and created mounds which he kept adding to creating hills.  He scooped up sand from the sides of Mount Bromo and ignoring his own father who threw burning rocks at him and yelled at him to stop.  He worked nonstop all through the night with amazing vigor and energy. By the time it was almost ready for the sun to rise he had created a sea of sand nine hundred and ninety yards deep and nine hundred and ninety yards wide, but he knew he it was not complete so he forced himself to work  quicker and harder.

The Trick

Dewi Jurangga’s father watched with eyes that could piece the densest and blackest darkness.  He was aghast to see that the son of Bromo would complete the sea of sand before sunrise and greatly feared he would have to fulfill his promise and give his daughter to him to be his bride.  He was furious and became even angrier as the son of Bromo looked like he would finish with time to spare and perhaps because of his fury he thought, or hoped, he heard the sound of a cock crow.

He was even angrier when he realized he hadn’t and it was his imagination, but  this gave him an idea. He said to himself,

“What if I imitated a crowing cock.  Yes, it would be cheating, but it would save my beloved daughter from marriage to the son of Bromo, a mere giant!  After all I am a powerful and mighty giant who is the King of the Holy Mountain. I am semi-divine and can do anything! ”

Turned to Stone

Therefore, he called out, imitating the crowing of a cock and immediately he was answered by one in a nearby village.

The son of Bromo was full of despair because he was unaware of the trick being played on him and thought the first cock had crowed before sunrise and knew his task was not quite finished.  Angily, he threw the batok and it landed on a mound and became a mountain that became known as the Mount Batok.

Then, behind him he heard a terrifying scream and turning and watched in horror as Dewi Jurangga, his beloved turned to stone before his eyes changing into a mountain that people called Kembang.

“Kembang Manis – lovely flower! All of my work has been for nought!”

he cried as he looked into her dark eyes and saw them glaze to stone.  She could not answer him as her mouth froze solid and with those last words he too turned to stone just as he had been warned becoming a mountain known as the Segarawedi.

However, the father of Dewi Jurangga was so frightened of the punishment of Brahma for the turning to stone of his warden and so sad that he had been the cause his own daughter becoming petrified, that he fled to the deepest regions of the earth below the Holy Mountain.  There he sits to this day contemplating how his own foolish selfishness caused two young lives to be so cruelly and terribly ruined. As he thinks on this, every now and then he lets out a sigh which rises to the top of the mountain and escapes into the beautiful blue sky like a white plume.

One Thousand Times One Thousand Years

There he must sit and sigh for one thousand times one thousand years  until Mount Bromo is sunk beneath the earth and the sea of sand no more.  Then and only then, will the spell of the petrification placed on Dewi Jurangga and the son of Bromo be lifted and they return to their original form.  Let us all pray that when that happens the gods smile upon them and they find eternal love and happiness together.

© 12/07/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright zteve t evans

Philippine Folklore: The Legend of Daragang Magayon and Panganoron and Mount Mayon

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Mount Mayon – Image By Ezra Acayan [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Daragang Magayon

In Philippine folklore two lovers named, Daragang Magayon and Panganoron,  feature in a folktale that explains how Mount Mayon, a active stratovolcano on the island of Luzon in the Philippine archipelago was formed and was named.  The volcano and story of the two lovers hit the headlines in January 2018 when an eruption spurted forth lava and smoke. Many people believed they saw an image in the fumes that resembled two lovers. Another image appeared in the lava flow that resembled the figure of a woman.  Many people associated the perceived images with the story and presented here is a version of the legend.

Daragang Magayon the Beautiful Maiden

A chief of the Rawis people named Makusog had a lovely daughter who he named Daragang Magayan, which means beautiful maiden in English.  She was his only child because her mother whose name was Dawani, which means fairy, had died shortly after giving birth to her and he never wanted another wife.

Magayon grew into a beautiful  woman with a sweet nature, who was much sought after by young men far and wide who competed for her affections.  However she showed no interest in any of them, or even the handsome Pagtuga who was a great hunter and chief of the Iniga people.  He would shower her with expensive gifts and although she politely thanked him showed no romantic interest in him at all.

Panganoron

One day as Panganoron, the son of a chief from the Tagalog region of the country, was passing along the Yawa river he spied Daragang Magayon going into the water to bathe.  He was enthralled by her beauty but as he watch she slipped on some wet rocks and fell into the river. At first he thought it was funny, but as she began to splash and struggle he realized she could  not swim and was in danger of drowning.  With no regard for his own safety he ran into the river and pulled her out saving her life.  From then on the two became friends and their friendship blossomed into romance. After what he hoped was an appropriated time Panganoron proposed marriage to her and she accepted and her father gave them his blessing.

Death

When Pagtuga found out about their impending marriage he became jealous and took Magayon’s father hostage, demanding she marry him in exchange for his life and freedom.  As soon as Panganoron learnt of this he called together the warriors of his people and led them to war against Pagtuga. The two sides clashed in a spectacular and bloody battle and the people and Magayon watched in awe and fear as they fought. Eventually, Panganoron defeated and killed Pagtuga and in her joy at his victory Magayon ran to embrace and kiss him.

However, because of the death of Pagtuga, in anger, one of his warriors fired a final arrow at Panganoron piercing his back and entering into his heart and killing him as the two lovers embraced.  In shock and horror, Magayon held him in her arms as people rushed to help, but before they could do anything she took a knife from Panganoron’s belt and plunged it into her own heart, crying out his name as she died.

Two Lovers

Her father had seen what had happened and buried them together in the same grave.  From their grave there grew a great mountain of fire and Makusog named it Mount Mayon, after his daughter.  Many people say that Mount Mayon is as beautiful as his daughter, saying that Daragang Magayon is the volcano and the clouds that are surround it are Panganoron.  Smoke from an eruption of the volcano in January 2018 appear to show the two lovers in the image above and in a video what appears to be a woman is seen on the peak.

© 16/05/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 16th, 2018 zteve t evans

 

 

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

Anansi Tales: How the Tales were Named

The Anansi Tales are a body of traditional stories that originated in Ghana and spread throughout West Africa.   They were carried to the Caribbean and the New World with the unfortunate African people who were transported there to spend their lives in slavery. They were passed on orally and from generation to generation producing many variants of the same tale. The stories center around a protagonist called Anansi who is both human and spider.  He can appear in either form or anthropomorphically with a human head and a spider body.  He is often seen as a trickster or as a intermediary between the gods and humankind.  During the dark days of slavery he was seen as a symbol of hope and resistance by showing how someone who was considered small and weak could overcome the big and powerful by using cleverness and courage and was a reminder of the old ways back in Africa. The following is a retelling of an Anansi tale which highlights his cleverness and trickery.

How the Tales were Named

In the early days of the people, all of the tales that were told were stories about the chief of the gods whose name was Nyankupon.  Spider who was known as Anansi was jealous and thought all of the stories should be about him. Therefore, Anansi went to Nyankupon and asked that in future all the tales people told should be about him.

Nyankupon told Anansi that he would agree to this but only if Anansi could fulfill three tasks. For the first task, Anansi had to bring him a jarful of living bees. The second, was for him to bring Nyankupon a live boa-constrictor. For the third, Anansi had to bring him a living leopard. Anansi agreed and taking a clay pot he went to a place where he knew bees lived in great numbers and sat down and began talking aloud to himself saying,

“They will not be able to do it.”
“Yes, they will.”
“No, it is too difficult!”
“Of course they will be able to do it!”

He kept this debate up for some time and eventually the bees took notice of him and asked him what he was talking to himself about. He told them he and Nyankupon had been arguing over whether the bees were skillful enough fliers to be able to fly into the clay pot. He told them he believed they were, whereas Nyankupon argued they were not.

The bees were indignant and told Anansi firmly that of course they could and to prove it they all flew into the pot until it was packed tight with them. Anansi quickly put the lid on the pot and sealed and took it to show Nyankupon that he had succeeded in the first task.

The next morning Anansi went out and found a long stick and then went to a place where he knew a boa-constrictor lived. When he arrived at the home of the boa-constrictor he began talking to himself saying,

“Surely he cannot be as long as this stick”
“Yes, he will be as long!”
“Oh, no he won’t!”
“Of course he will! “

And he kept on talking to himself for some time until the snake came and asked him what he was talking about. Anansi told him that in Nyankupon’s town people are saying the stick is longer than the snake was whereas but he believed the snake was longer than the stick.

“Would you be as kind as to lay yourself along so that I may measure you? asked Anansi politely. The boa-constrictor the stretched himself along the stick from end to end and Anansi lost no time in binding him around the stick with his spider thread. Then he took him to Nyankupon successfully completing the second task.

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Leopard by Jacques Christophe Werner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The third morning Anansi sewed up one of his own eyes and went to a place he knew where a leopard lived. As he drew near he began to shout and sing at the top of his voice and he made such a din that the leopard came out to his home to see what all the noise was about.

“Why are you shouting and singing in such a joyous manner?”

said the leopard to Anansi.

“Look, can you not see? Look, I have stitched my eye up and now I can see such wonderful things that I have to sing and shout about them,”

cried Anansi.

The leopard looked and he saw that Anansi’s eye was indeed sewn up and then he said,

“Sew my eyes up too and then I will also see wonderful things!”

So Anansi the Spider quickly sewed up the eyes of the leopard rendering him blind and helpless. Then he led him to Nyankupon who was both impressed and astounded at the ingenuity of Anansi and granted him his wish. That is why all the old tales that people tell today are known as Anansi tales.

© 14/03/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright March 14th, 2018 zteve t evans

 

 

 

Wishes, Curses and a Sister Saves her Brothers: The Tale of the Seven Ravens

We all have dreams that we wish would come true.  Sometimes we make a wish and that wish is granted but what we actually get may be the result of how we have made that wish. If we make a detrimental wish against someone or something that wish becomes a curse.  Sometimes unforeseen consequences may be unleashed that affect others who have to pay some kind of a price even though they were not the ones who did the wishing.  The following is a retelling of a folktale called The Seven Ravens and explores how wishes are made and how they are fulfilled and what can happen when wishes are made in haste or anger.   It appeared in  Household Tales by Brothers Grimm by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm and is classed as Aarne-Thompson type 451, The Brothers Who Were Turned into Birds tale type.  Similar tale-types are found throughout Europe and other parts of the world. It has a female protagonist who sets out to rescue her brothers who were inadvertently turned into ravens by their father in anger.  Other tales with similar themes and a female protagonist are The Twelve Brothers, Brother and Sister, and The Six Swans.

The Tale of the Seven Ravens

This story begins with an old married couple who had seven sons.  Although the old man loved each son dearly he still he wished for a daughter.   After many years his wife again fell with child and to the great joy of the old man a baby girl was born but she was a very small and very weak and prone to illness and he thought she might die.  On account of this he decided to baptize her and told one of his sons to run to a nearby well and bring back water for the task.  His six brothers all ran with him for they were all greatly excited by having a baby sister and each wanted to be the one to fill the jug. In the tussle that followed for the task the jug was dropped down the well and could not be retrieved.  The boys were all aghast and stood staring at each other not knowing what to do.

Back home there father was waiting for the water and when they did not return he began to grow impatient and angry saying,  “Wherever can they be?  I bet they have begun some silly game and forgotten the task I set them.” Then he began worry about the health of his daughter and became frightened she would die without being baptised and he grew fearful. In his fear he grew angry and he cursed them crying, “I wish my sons to be turned to ravens.”

The Truth is Revealed

Then to his surprise he heard the whirring sound of wings overhead.  Looking up he saw seven jet black ravens fly quickly across the sky. Of course, the father was sad and angry with himself for making the rash curse and devastated at the loss of his sons.  Nevertheless, life went on and he and his wife now had a baby daughter who they gained great joy from. With lots of tender loving care and devotion she shook off her fraily and began to grow hale and hearty and very, very beautiful.  Her parents never once spoke of their seven sons and she grew up thinking she was an only child not knowing she had brothers. Then one day she overheard her neighbours saying, “She such is a lovely girl but It is her fault about the terrible curse that fell upon her seven brothers.”

This both shocked and worried the girl who went to her parents and asked them if it was true she had brothers and wanted to know where they were now.  Now that the truth was out her parents felt they could no longer keep secret what had happened to her brothers. They explained how her birth had innocently and unwittingly caused the sequence of events that had caused her father to curse her brothers and how they had been turned into ravens.  Although they tried to reassure her by saying that it was the will of God and not her fault at all the news had a profound effect on her.

She would have loved to have had brothers and was shocked to find out she had seven of them.   Furthermore, she took it to herself that she had been the cause of their being turned to ravens and thereafter was constantly fretting and worrying about them.  She felt a great sense of guilt and could not get them off of her mind. Secretly, she wished that she would find them and resolved to bring them home no matter what danger or hardship she had to face.

The Ends of the World

Early one morning before the sun was up she stole quietly out of the house taking nothing but a ring that her parents owned, a loaf of bread, a jug of water and a small chair that she could sit upon when she grew tired on her journey.  She walked on and on for many, many days and at last came to the very ends of the world where she looked up and saw the sun.  However, the sun was too hot and scorched and burnt terribly so she ran away from it and came to the moon. The moon was cold and nasty and when it saw her said, “I smell the people flesh,” and she ran away from that and came to a place where she saw the stars.   The stars were all sat on their own chairs and twinkled kindness towards her so she sat on her own chair and told them about her quest for her brothers.  Then the morning star rose in the sky and gave her a drumstick of a chicken telling her, “This drumstick will open the door to the Glass Mountain and in that mountain and through that door you will find your brothers!”

The Glass Mountain

Thanking the morning star she took the drumstick and carefully wrapped it up in cloth and placed it in her pocket and off she went to find the Glass Mountain.  She walked and walked and walked and at last she came to the mountain but found the door shut. Thinking she would use the drumstick to open it she looked in her pocket but discovered it had gone.  Greatly disappointed she sat down and thought about what to do. At last she made a decision. She wished to find her brother so much she took out a little knife she carried and despite the pain cut off one of her own fingers and tried it in the keyhole.  To her delight and relief the door opened and she went inside. As soon as she entered a dwarf appeared who greeted her in friendly way asking what she sought.  “I seek my seven brothers who are the seven ravens,” she told him.

“The Raven lords are not at home at the moment but you can wait until they return,” the dwarf told her and led her to a chamber where a large table was placed in the middle.  Then the dwarf busied himself bringing seven plates of food and seven goblets of wine which he told her were the raven lord’s dinner.   The girl took a bite of food from each plate a sip of wine from each goblet but in the last she dropped the ring that had been her parent’s.

The Return of the Ravens

Suddenly, the air was filled with the sound of whirling and flapping wings and the dwarf said, “The Raven Lords are nearly home,”  and the girl quickly hid behind the door just as the ravens arrived.  They were hungry and looking forward to a meal but they looked at their plates and said, “What is this?  Someone has been eating from my plate! Look, someone has drunk from my goblet and it was a human mouth!”  Then one of the ravens looked into his goblet and saw at the bottom their parent’s ring and said, “The ring of our parents lies in my goblet.  Please God we wish it be that our sister has arrived to free us!”

When their sister heard this wish she was full of joy and stepped out from behind the door to the great surprise and delight of the ravens who were instantly returned to their human form again.  Great was all of their joy and they went home to their parents and lived happily as a family together for the rest of their lives.

The End

A Curious Tale

It is indeed a curious tale but what does it all mean? There is a school of thought, but not universally accepted, that this type of tale maybe an echo from a time when young men and boys were called upon to serve their king and country.  They were sent to fight an enemy and their sister’s desperately wanted to free them and return them to the family. One of the consequences of the draft was that females, although made the heirs to family fortunes or estates when their brothers never returned, were subject to greater degree of personal control and especially over who they married.  Apart from sisterly love for her brother rescuing and returning them would also release her from this strict management of her life. The problem with this idea is that the conditions it springs from are not found in every country that the story appears in though it is possible it could have been transported either orally, or in written form and adapted.

Themes and Motifs

There are a number of common folklore motifs such as the old couple, seven brothers, there is the quest the girl embarks on, the Glass Mountain and  human transformation to birds. There is also a Goldilocks-type scene where she eats food from the plates of the brothers while they are absent and the ring of her parents.  All these and more are woven into several themes to create a story with hidden meaning some of which religious in nature.

There is the importance of baptism that Christians believe washes away original sin.  It is not only a symbolic burial and resurrection but also a supernatural transformation.  Its purpose is not just to cleanse or purify but also symbolic of dying and rising in Christ and was necessary for the cleansing of original sin.  This is why it is a common Christian practice to baptize children and babies though it can be done at anytime in life.

It may be that the father believed that if his daughter died without baptism she would not receive these perceived benefits of it, which may explain his fear and urgency, but not excuse his anger and hasty wish. Curiously, despite the importance her father attached to it, we never learn if she was actually baptized but we are told she grew into a strong, healthy and beautiful girl.

Wishes

The thing about wishes is that although they can be beneficial they can also be dangerous when done in haste.   The story begins with an old man wishing he had a baby daughter and eventually this wish is fulfilled. He then hastily wishes his sons were ravens and this wish is granted.  However, because it was invoked in haste and anger it turned into a curse and his sons were transformed into what he wished for. Why did he wish they were ravens? It is not certain but one possible answer could lie in the story of Noah who sent out a raven first to see if the floods had abated and it did not return and like the raven the boys did not return.

The girl, on learning of the fate of her brothers, though it could not have been any fault of her own, had experienced great, though unnecessary guilt at her father’s hasty wish. To a  lesser extent her brother’s childish behaviour arguing about who would fill the jug with water for her baptism was also to blame, being the trigger for her father’s anger.

On hearing the news she had seven brothers who had been turned to ravens at her birth the girl blamed her own entry into the world for an event she could have had no control over.  To rid herself of the guilt she erroneously experienced, she wished to find and rescue her brothers and in the process of doing that wished entry into the Glass Mountain. Both these wishes were granted but not without a long arduous journey to the end of the world and the painful cost of her finger.  As well as a physical transformation the seven brothers appear to have been elevated to lords, but despite this change in status they wished she would come and find them and take them home.  That wish was granted and the story ends happily.

© 07/03/2017zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 7th, 2018 zteve t evans

 

Supernatural Animal Helpers, the Grateful Dead and the Quest for the Bird “Grip”

Themes and motifs in folk and fairy tales are devices that help to enrich the story.  They are not the story-line but are woven into the narrative to enhance and highlight certain parts, or points the narrator wishes to make, or to provide an overall meaning, which is sometimes deliberately hidden.  Presented here is a retelling of a Swedish fairy tale called The Bird “Grip” whose song was said to cure blindness of kings.  This tale is classified as  Aarne-Thompson folktale type 550, “The Golden Bird”, a Supernatural Helper in the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system and it also involves the Grateful Dead (type 505). This is followed by a brief discussion about some of the motifs and themes that appear in the story and what they may mean.

The Quest for the Bird “Grip”

This tale begins with a great king who ruled a great kingdom.  However there are some things in the world that do not recognize greatness in either kings or kingdoms and this king was afflicted by a condition that closed both of his eyes tragically leaving him blind. All of the great physicians in his entire great kingdom could not bring back the sight of the king no matter what they tried.   Many great physicians from many other great countries also tried to cure him but to no avail.  At last a poor old woman came to the palace and asked to see the king because she thought she could help him.  Out of desperation he agreed and let her examine him.  She told him that although she could not cure him herself his only hope was to seek out the bird “Grip” whose song alone brought light and vision to all who heard it, even the eyes of the king.

The bird Grip was kept by another king in distant realm in a golden cage.  This king thought the bird was beyond price and he kept it  closely guarded at all times.  How he would possibly seek out this rare and treasured bird the blind king did not know and fell into despair.  Now, the king had three sons.  When the eldest of these heard this he offered to go and seek out the bird Grip and bring it back to his father so he could listen to its song and it would open up his eyes.

The Eldest Son

This greatly pleased his father and he agreed to this proposition.  He gave his son plenty of food supplies, a good horse, and a big bag full of gold coins.  So the prince began his journey with the intention of finding and bringing back the bird Grip to cure his father’s blindness.  He rode many miles though woods and dales until he came to an inn.  Feeling tired and in the need of refreshment he placed his horse in the stables and went into the inn.  As he entered he became aware of many people all drinking and chatting happily. Seeing him enter they all greeted him cordially making him feel very welcome.  A drink was thrust in his hand and soon he was laughing and chatting, playing dice and singing and he began to feel very jolly.  He was enjoying himself so much that he decided to stay for just a bit longer.  Indeed, he was enjoying himself so much he kept putting off his departure.  In fact, he was having such a good time he completely forgot about his poor blind father and his quest to bring back to him the bird Grip and there he stayed enjoying the company and revelry of the inn.

While the eldest prince was making merry his poor blind father was sitting at home waiting patiently and hopefully for his son’s return with the bird Grip to cure his blindness.  The more days that passed by with no sign of him the more he began fretting about where his eldest son had got to.  His second eldest son saw his father’s worry and went to him seeking permission to go and look for his brother and search for and bring back the bird Grip to cure his poor blind father.

The Second Eldest

The King agreed and furnished his second eldest son with a plentiful supply of food, a good horse and a big bag of money.  The prince set out following the same road as his brother and after many days arrived at the inn where he found his brother drinking and making merry.  His elder brother welcomed him warmly and introduced him to his friends who made a great fuss of him.   Soon he was chatting and singing and playing dice and having such a wonderful time that he clean forgot about his poor blind father and his promise to bring back to him the bird Grip to cure his blindness.

Back at the Palace

Back in his palace the king waited in hope that his sons would safely return to him not just to cure his blindness but because he loved them dearly and was genuinely concerned for their welfare.  When his youngest son saw how worried his father was he felt so sorry for him. He went to him and asked him for permission to go and look for his brothers and to search out and bring back the bird Grip to cure his blindness.  He told him he was certain that he would succeed in finding them and also be able to bring back the bird.  However, having lost two son the king was reluctant to give permission to his youngest son for fear of losing him too.   Nevertheless, his youngest son was adamant that he should go and continued to beg his father’s permission until he eventually reluctantly agreed.  The young prince was given a fine horse and provisions of food and a big bag of money to help him on his way.

The Youngest Son

He took the same road as his two brothers had taken and after many days of traveling came to the inn where they had stopped.  Just as they had been, he was tired and in need of refreshment so he took his horse to the stable and went inside the inn.  There he found both his brothers drinking and making merry in the bar.   As soon as they saw him they made a great fuss of him and entreated him to join them but refused to go back to their father or join him on the quest for the bird Grip.

However, as tired and in need of refreshment as he was the young prince refused to stay. As he had now succeeded in finding his brothers and was sure of their safety he continued alone on the quest not wanting his poor blind father to suffer longer than he needed to.  Bidding his brothers farewell he went off alone looking for another inn in which to spend the night further on along the road.

He rode on and came to a dark tangled forest and he followed the road on through the trees which took him deep into the woods.  Just as the sun was going down he came to an inn.  Now feeling very tired and in need of refreshment he thought he would knock on the door and ask politely for board and lodging for the night as he still had all of the money that his father had given him.  So he knocked on the door.  It was opened and he was greeted by the innkeeper in the most friendly and sociable way possible which put him at ease.   The innkeeper told him he would be pleased to put him up for the night and invited him in.  He told a servant to take the horse to the stable while he showed the prince to his room.  He called for a maid who came in and promptly lay a table cloth over a table and brought in dishes and plates of different food and goblets of wine for him to enjoy for his supper.

Inside the Inn

Outside the sun had now gone down and it was very dark in the forest and the prince was glad he was now inside eating heartily by a warm fire.   As he was enjoying his supper he suddenly heard the most terrible screaming and wailing coming from the  room next door.  Jumping up in fright he called to the maid who came running in.  “What in the world is that terrible screaming and wailing?” he asked anxiously.

Looking terrified the maid told him

“Those are not the shrieks of this world, they are from the next!  They come from a dead man who was murdered by the master because he could not pay for the board and lodging he had taken.  Furthermore, because the man had not enough money to pay for a funeral either the master refused to give him one.  Every night he goes into that room where the dead man lays and whips and scourges the corpse.  Those shrieks you hear come from the man who is now in the place of the living dead.  There he must remain until his debts are paid.”

As she finished speaking she quietly lifted the cover of a large dish on the table.  Lying on that dish there was an axe and a sharp knife and as he looked in horror upon it he knew that the master of the inn was going to offer him the choice of his own death unless he paid a ransom. Therefore, he called to the master and gave him a large sum of money in ransom for his own life.  Then he paid him what the dead man had owed him and then gave him more money to ensure the deceased at last had a proper burial, which to his credit at least, the murderer did arrange.

Escape

Despite having paid the ransom the prince still feared for his life and asked the maid to help him escape in the night.  She agreed but only on the condition that he take her along with him telling him she was a prisoner and also feared for her own life.  Then she told him the master kept the key to the stables under his pillow at night and if he would keep watch she thought she could take it.  In the dead of night she bravely crept into the room of her sleeping master while the prince stood ready to aid her in case he woke and managed to take the key without disturbing him.

The two quietly saddled his horse and with her seated behind the prince they rode off into the night leaving the master of the house still sleeping peacefully.   They rode through the night and for many days thereafter until at last they came to an inn where they rested.  The innkeeper agreed to take on the maid as a servant and the prince left her there while he rode on in search of the bird Grip.

The Fox

He continued long the forest road for many days until one morning as he was riding along he came across a fox sitting in the middle of the road as if waiting for him.

“Good morning,” said the fox, “and where are you going this fine sunny morning?”

“It so happens,” said the prince, “that I am on a quest that is too important to tell to any stranger that I may meet along the road.”

“Yes, indeed,” said the fox, “your quest for the bird Grip is far too important to tell to any old strange fellow you meet on the way.  Of course you must never tell how you hope to find it and take it home to cure your poor blind father, the King.  If you like I can help you to complete your task, but in return you must follow my instructions and my advice to the letter.”

The prince was astounded that the fox seemed to know all about his quest, nevertheless he realized he had no idea where to find the bird Grip and so he agreed.

The Castle of the Bird Grip

The fox told him that the bird Grip sat in a golden cage in a castle and that he would lead him there.  Then he told him when they arrived he would then tell him exactly what he must and must not do.  So after a few days of traveling the fox led the prince to the castle. The fox then gave the prince three grains of gold and told him that he must throw one grain into the guardroom as he passed by.  Another grain must thrown into the room where the bird they called Grip sat in his golden cage before he entered it.  The last grain of gold was to be thrown into its cage.  When that had been done it would then be safe to open the cage and take the bird but he must not on any account stroke the stroke the bird Grip or disaster would follow.

So the prince crept into the castle and as he tiptoed past the guard-room he threw a grain of gold inside and all of the guards fell asleep.  When he came to room where the bird  Grip was kept he threw in another grain of gold and all those whose duty it was to guard and take care of it fell asleep.  Then he went to the cage and threw the last grain of gold inside and the bird Grip fell asleep.  The Prince opened the cage door reached in had gently took hold of the bird and brought it out.  As he looked at it admiringly he was struck by how beautiful it was.  Gently he caressed its neck with his finger but as he did so the bird immediately awoke and began to screech.  All the people in the room awoke and the guards in the guard-room awoke and ran to the room and taking him prisoner threw him into jail.

In his small bare cell the prince thought how foolish he had been to ignore the advice of the fox.  His disobedience it had brought him to this miserable jail but worse it had destroyed any chance his father had of regaining his sight.  As he was lamenting his own stupidity the fox suddenly appeared before him.   The prince was delighted to see him and took his reproaches meekly promising that in future he would obey his instructions to the letter, if the fox would only get him out of the dreadful fix he was in now.

The fox nodded and told him he had indeed come to help him.  He told the prince that when he was brought to trial the judge would ask him questions and that he must answer “yes” to all of them.  If he did that the fox promised everything would be alright.  So when the prince was brought before the judge, the judge asked him directly if he had come to steal the bird Grip.

The prince said, “Yes.”  

Then the judge asked him if he was a master-thief.

The prince said, “Yes.”

The king who was attending the trial heard this and said he would forgive the prince and would pardon him for trying to steal the bird Grip.  However there was a catch,  The King told him to earn forgiveness and a pardon he would have travel to a neighboring kingdom and steal a  princess who was the most beautiful woman in the world and bring her back to him.

The prince, as before said, “Yes.”

The Princess

So he was set free and taking his leave set off along the road to the neighboring kingdom to steal the princess who was the  most beautiful woman in the world.  As he walked along the fox appeared next to him and showed him the way to the castle where she resided.   When they arrived outside the fox gave the prince three grains of gold.  He told the prince to throw one into the guard-room, one into the chamber of the princess and the last one into her bed.  Then he gave him a stern warning telling him that he must not kiss the princess.

With that he prince crept into the castle.   When he came to the guard-room he threw a grain of gold inside and the guards all fell asleep.  When he came to the chamber of the princess hr threw in a grain of gold and all of he maids-in-waiting fell asleep. Then he threw a grain of gold on the princess’s bed and she fell asleep.   He went to her and as he lifted her in his arms he noticed how beautiful she was and he could not help but steal a kiss as she slept.  As he did so she immediately awoke and so did her maids-in-waiting who screamed and woke the guards who ran up and arrested the prince and threw him into jail.

As the prince was lamenting his foolishness the fox appeared in front of him and sharply rebuked him off for his stupidity in not obeying his instructions.  Nevertheless, he promised to help him on condition that when the judge questioned him he would answer “yes” to all his questions to which the prince agreed.   When he was brought to trial the judge asked him if he had meant to steal the princess.   The prince replied “yes.”  Then the judge asked if he was a master-thief and the prince said, “yes”.

The king was attending the trial and when he heard this he told the judge that he would pardon the prince if he would but go into the next kingdom and bring back for him the horse with the four golden shoes.  To this the prince said “yes” and he was set free to go and steal the horse with the four golden shoes for the king.

The Horse with the Four Golden Shoes

He had not gone far along the road when the fox appeared next to him as he walked along.  This pleased and comforted the prince and he asked the fox the way to find the horse with the four golden shoes.  The fox told him he would take him there and after a few days of journeying they arrived outside the castle where the fox said the horse with the four golden shoes was kept in a stable.

For the third time the fox gave the prince three grains of gold.  One to make the guards in the guard-room sleep, one to make the stable boys sleep and the third to throw into the stall where the horse with the four golden shoes was kept.   The fox told him that on the wall behind the horse there was a hook with a beautiful saddle made of gold was hung. He warned him that on no account should he touch it or worse would befall him than had already befallen him and he would no longer be able to help him.

So the prince did exactly as he was told and when he threw the last grain of gold into the horse’s stall he noticed the beautiful golden saddle hung on a hook in the wall.  He thought how splendid it would look upon the horse with the golden shoes.  Although he fought the urge he found himself reaching out and was just about to touch it when something suddenly knocked his hand away.  With that sharp shock he quickly recovered his senses and led the horse quietly out of the castle while everyone still slept soundly.

Along the road the fox appeared next to him as he led the horse along.  “I almost touched the saddle,” said the prince.

“Yes, it is a good job I jumped up and knocked your arm or you would have been beyond my help,” said the fox.

Heart’s Desire

They traveled on taking the horse with four golden horseshoes back to the castle of the king where the princess was. The prince told the fox that he could not get the beautiful princess out of his mind and that she was his heart’s desire.  He asked the fox if he thought it would be a good idea for him to ride home to his poor blind father on the horse with four golden shoes with the princess sitting behind him and with the bird Grip on his arm.  The fox agreed that would be something quite special and when they arrived at the castle he gave the prince three grains of gold with the exact instructions he had previously given him.

This time the prince did exactly as the fox had instructed and carried off the princess while she slept without kissing her.   As he set her upon the horse with the four golden horseshoes she woke up and smiled at him and together they rode happily along their way with the fox trotting alongside.  Eventually, they came to the castle where the bird Grip sat in its golden cage.  The fox gave the prince three grains of gold and the exact instructions he had previously given him and this time while everyone was asleep the prince resisted the urge to stroke the bird and carried it back to where the princess, the horse with the four golden shoes and the fox were waiting for him.

Parting of Ways

The prince was now very happy as he would be able to return to his father with the bird Grip and restore his sight.  He also had the horse with the four golden horseshoes and the beautiful princess who he had fallen in love with and who now loved him.  So they all traveled together until at last they came to the place in the forest where the prince had first met the fox who turned to him and said,

“This is the place where you found me and I can go no further.  Now you have obtained your heart’s desire it is time for us to part.  Listen well! I will tell you that you will have a good and safe journey back to your father, but do not on any account pay a ransom for the life of anyone.  Do not forget!”

The prince was sorry they were parting ways.  He had come to rely on the wisdom of the fox but he thanked him for all of his help and promised that he would note his warning after all that had happened to him. The fox vanished before his eyes and the prince rode on chatting happily to the princess and on his arm he carried the bird named Grip back to his poor blind father.

Return to the Inn

After a few days they arrived back at the inn where he had found his brothers merrymaking with their quest forgotten.  However, he was now struck by how grim and glum it seemed and there was no merrymaking now.  As he drew neared he was chilled to see two gallows standing upright in the yard.  He noticed all of the windows had been covered by black curtains and there was a sorrowful and depressing atmosphere hanging over the inn, where once it had been bright, warm and cheery.

Feeling concerned, he asked what had happened to bring such changes to the place.  He was told that everyone was sad and gloomy because two princes were to be hanged that day.  They told him that they had spent all their money drinking and merrymaking. Instead of stopping when their money ran out they had run up a massive bill with the innkeeper which they could not pay.  It was the law in these parts of the world that those who were in debt and could not pay must be hanged unless someone was prepared to pay a ransom for their lives.

Immediately the prince realized it was his two brothers who were to be hanged having spent all the money their father had given them and run up debt merrymaking.  Despite their foolishness he was sorry that they should come to such an ignoble end.  Therefore, as he had enough money he settled the ransom by paying off all their debts and saving their lives.

The Lion’s Den

Of course, his brothers were relieved and grateful to begin with but when they saw that he had a princess along with, the horse with the four golden shoes and the bird Grip their gratitude turned to jealousy and resentment.  They began to plot to kidnap the princess, and steal the horse with the four golden shoes and the bird Grip.  They wanted to ride back to the castle with these treasures and present them to their grateful father who would be cured of his blindness and heap rewards upon them.

After much thought they at last agreed on a strategy to be rid of him forever and take his prizes for themselves.   They lured him to a den where a pride of lions lived and pushed him into it and left him thinking they would eat him leaving no trace.  Then they took the princess on the horse with the four golden shoes and the bird Grip. They told the princess to say nothing of their younger brother and if anyone asked she was to say that it was they who had brought her here or they would kill her.

The two brother rode proudly back to their father at his palace in triumph.  He was delighted at their return and ordered great feasting and celebrations and praised them for their courage and dedication to him.  Then their father asked if they had seen anything of their younger brother.  They told him that they had found him merrymaking at the inn and had spent all of the money he had been given.  He had run up a great debt with the innkeeper and because he could not pay had been hanged as was the law.

This news greatly upset the king as his youngest son was his favorite and furthermore the happiness for the treasures that the two brothers had brought back faded.  The princess cried bitterly day and night and would speak to no one.  The horse with the golden shoes turned vicious and could not be approached so no one could see its golden shoes.  The bird Grip, whose sweet voice could cure blindness would not sing.

The Return of the Fox

It so happened that when the young prince was flung to the lions he had closed his eyes expecting the worst.  When nothing happened he opened them and saw the fox sitting before him with the pride of lions all friendly and docile towards him.  The fox was not angry that he had forgotten his warning.  All he would say was that brothers who would forget their poor blind father while making merry were nothing but a disgrace to their royal blood.  As such he was not surprised that they would cruelly betray their younger brother.  Then he led the prince out of the lion’s den and gave him instructions to follow that would return to him all that had been lost.  The prince was truly grateful and thanked the fox for all of his help and for being a true friend.  The fox replied that it was the prince that had he had been of service to him he would now ask for a service in return.  The prince told him he would do anything that was possibly in his power and asked him what he could do for him.   The fox became deadly serious and told him sternly.

“I have but one thing and one thing only that I ask of you.  To be of service you must take your sword and cut off my head,”

This greatly shocked the prince who insisted he could never do such a thing to his good friend.  The fox was adamant that it must be done.  He insisted he would be doing him a great service but the prince continued to refuse.  At last the fox hung his head in sorrow and told the prince that if he would not comply with his request he would have to do a terrible thing himself and that was to kill the prince.  At this the prince realized the fox meant what he said and he took out his sword and cut off the head of his friend but as he did so a handsome youth sprang up from out of the fox and stood before him smiling.

“From the bottom of my heart I thank.  You have broke the spell that even death could not undo.  You should now know that I am the dead man who lay so long without burial and rites who was murdered by the innkeeper.  You paid my debts, ransomed me and gave me a proper funeral and because of this I have helped you gain your heart’s desire!”

Then he took his leave and left the prince vanishing before his eyes.  Now, although the prince was on his own he knew just what to do without the help of the fox.

The Return of the Prince

He disguised himself as a blacksmith and went to the palace of his father to offer his services.  The King’s servants opened the door and told him that there was a horse that needed his shoes looked at but it would not let anyone near it.  Although many had tried, no one had been able to complete the job.  The prince told them he was confident he could do the job so they took him to the stable where the horse with the four golden shoes was angrily stamping the ground whenever anyone went near it.  As soon as it saw the prince its demeanor changed.  It stopped stamping and took on a docile and friendly manner and was obedient and calm as the prince lifted its hooves one by one to reveal its golden shoes.

The King’s servants were very impressed and told the prince about the bird Grip and how it would not sing no matter what was tried.  The prince told them he knew the bird very well for he had attended to it when he had visited another King who had kept it in a golden cage.  He told them he knew more about its ways than anyone else and if it would not sing it was because there was something that it did not have.  If they took him to see it he was sure he would be able to tell what was amiss and provide what was missing so that it would sing.

The King is Cured

The servants decided they would go and ask the poor blind king for his permission as the bird was kept in the same room where he would sit along with the princess who would not stop crying floods of bitter tears.  The king was desperate and readily agreed and the prince was led into the room.  As soon as the princess set eyes on him she stopped crying and began smiling radiantly and the bird Grip began to sing.  It sang and it sang and the darkness that had blighted the king’s eyes were driven away and he could see everything.  He looked at the blacksmith and saw through his disguise recognizing his youngest son and he embraced him happily.  Then he saw through the lies that his two sons had told him about his youngest son and he banished them from his kingdom.

As for the young prince, he married the princess and his father gave him the horse with the four golden shoes and half of the kingdom.  From then on peace and happiness flooded into the the king’s court which was filled with the wonderful singing of the bird Grip.

Curious Motifs

There are several curious recurring patterns or motifs throughout the story that are also found in folktales around the world. The number three has a special role. The king has three sons. There are three brothers. There are three tasks. Three grains of gold. The prince fails three times then has three successes and wins the three prizes; the princess, the horse with the four golden horseshoes and the bird Grip. An exceptionally curious motif and perhaps the grimmest of all is the decapitation of the fox. Decapitation is found in many folktales around the world. In this case, it seems to be a device to reveal the identity of the magical fox who turns out to be the soul of the dead man whose ransom was paid by the prince. Perhaps understandably, it also often represents a change in the nature of a person from the physical plane to that of the spiritual.

Interwoven Themes

The appearance of the dead man, whose burial the prince had paid for, as a magical fox is unusual. In most folktales involving the Grateful Dead – those of the dead who return to repay the living – usually appear as human or a ghost. The Grateful Dead theme explores the Law of Spiritual Reciprocity, which is also known as the Law of Sowing and Reaping, but there are two aspects of this presented in the story. The Prince’s two older brothers would have reaped the grim consequences of their bad behavior and were only saved from the gallows by the intervention of their younger brother. Yet still, they did not change their wicked ways and ended up banished from the kingdom by their father when the bird Grip finally sang and cured his blindness to see through them. The young prince who keeps true to his purpose is helped find his heart’s desire by the magical fox which was an incarnation of the soul of the dead man’s whose burial and ransom he paid.

There is also the blindness of the king who despite his own greatness and that of his kingdom succumbs to a natural tragedy that could just as easily have afflicted anyone one of his subjects from the highest to the lowest, but in this story it afflicts the greatest. Great though his physicians are they cannot help him and it is only through the advice of a poor old woman that the cure he seeks is eventually found, thus greatness is humbled and the quest to cure the king’s blindness is born.

The theme of the quest for a special bird is also found in many other folktales around the world and often involves an animal or supernatural helper. During the quest, the young prince undergoes a coming of age through which he is offered the good advice of the fox but does not follow it. It is only when he learns to follow the advice of the fox that his own personal growth begins until he can, at last, be confident enough to follow his own animal instincts which the fox perhaps may represent. Of course, all stories are very much open to interpretation and the one that matters is always your own.

© 27/02/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 27th, 2018 zteve t evans