Divine Retribution: The Revenge of the Mice

Sabine Baring-Gould [Public domain]

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

The Mouse Tower

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

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

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

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

“Ha! Listen to how those mice squeak!”

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

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

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

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

© 01/05/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 1st, 2019 zteve t evans

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German Folktales: Paracelsus and the Spirit in the Fir Tree

Public domain, via Wikimedia Common

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

The Legend of Paracelsus

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

The Spirit in the Tree

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

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

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

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

The Evil Spirit

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

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

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

Tricked

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

The Two Phials

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

© 05/02/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 5, 2019 zteve t evans

German fairy tales: The six swans

The Brothers Grimm collected this German fairy tale The Six Swans and it was also included a version in The Yellow Fairy Book by Andrew Lang.

Public Domain

The story tells how a king had six sons and a daughter from his first marriage.  When his wife died he remarried but his second wife was the daughter of a witch. Although she was very beautiful her heart was evil.  She hated her step sons and cast a spell on them that transformed them into swans.  The brothers could only change into humans for fifteen minutes in the evenings.

Their sister resolved to free them but the only way it could be done was for her to make each brother a shirt made from starwort and for them to wear it. Furthermore, she must not speak, or laugh, for seven years, or the spell will never be broken and her brothers will stay forever swans.  Dutifully she kept her silence and refrained from laughing and set about making her brothers a shirt of starwort each.  Read more