German Fairy Tales: Fundevogel – Female Stars, Shapeshifting and Growing Up

Ferdinand Fellner (1799–1859), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

FEMALE STARS AND SHAPESHIFTING

There are many heroes in folk and fairy tales but not so many heroines. Nevertheless, they are often intense, bold, or intelligent characters or have magical qualities when they do appear. The German fairy tale “Fundevogel,” also known as “Foundling-Bird,” has one such female star playing an essential role in the development and dénouement of the adventure. Presented here is a retelling of tale 51, “Foundling-Bird (Fundevogel)” from, “Household Tales,” translated by Margaret Hunt and compiled by the Grimm Brothers, followed by a brief discussion of the heroine and the magical shapeshifting acts by the children in their attempts to escape.

THE STORY OF FUNDEVOGEL, OR FOUNDLING BIRD

One day a poor woman carrying her baby son went out foraging for food in the forest. She had found a few nuts, berries, and mushrooms, and because she was also carrying her baby boy, she grew tired and sat down for rest and refreshment. She soon began to feel sleepy, so she lay down under a tree and fell asleep, leaving the child resting beside her. An eagle seeing the baby, swooped down and carried him far away and placed him on the highest branch of a tall tree.

Otto Ubbelohde, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A forester who lived in the woods, on hearing a child crying, was concerned and following the sound came to a tall tree. Looking up to its topmost branches, he saw a young boy. The poor boy was sobbing and wailing and terrified of falling. So, the forester, being kind-hearted, climbed up the tree and carried him down to safety.

There was no sign of a parent, guardian, or companion of any kind. Knowing the perils of the woods, he feared to leave the little boy alone with so many dangerous animals around. Furthermore, he had a young daughter named Lina, about the same age as the boy. Her mother had passed away when she was very young, and living deep in the forest, she rarely saw other children. Therefore, he decided to take him home as a companion and playmate for his daughter and bring them up together. He did not know the boy’s name and called him “Fundevogel,” which means “foundling bird” in his language.   The two children soon made friends and grew up happily together, becoming very close and attached, and when apart, even for a short time, they became sad, pining badly for one another.

OLD SANNA

The forester had no wife but employed an elderly woman named Old Sanna to cook meals, keep house and supervise the servants. One day Old Sanna spent a lot of time going in and out to the kitchen fetching and carrying water to fill a vast pot she had hanging over the fire. Seeing this, Lina asked her what she was doing.

Old Sanna replied she would tell her if she promised never to reveal the answer to anyone. Lina, being very curious, agreed. The old cook replied she would light a fire under the pot very early in the morning while the forester was hunting in the forest. Then, as soon as the water was bubbling hot, she would throw Fundevogel in the pot, boiling him alive.  That night Lina lay in bed horrified at the thought of poor Fundevogel, her best friend, being boiled alive. She decided she could not keep such a terrible secret despite her promise.

The forester got up very early the following day and left the house while the Old Sanna was still asleep. Lina had not slept all night worrying about what to do. She knew that she would be devastated if anything happened to her beloved Fundevogel and miss him terribly. Then, finally, it dawned on her that the old cook wanted to cook him for a meal and was appalled at the thought.   She wondered how he felt about her and decided she would try and save him but give him a little test.

LINA

Quietly rousing him, she whispered in his ear that she had something of the utmost importance to tell him. “Be sure I will never leave you if you will never leave me!

Fundevogel replied sleepily, “Be sure I will never leave you, now or ever!

So, Lina told him, “Last night, Old Sanna carried many buckets of water into the house, much more than usual. Being curious, I asked why she needed so much water. Sanna made me promise not to pass it on and told me that early tomorrow morning, when father was out hunting, a fire would be lit under the pot and heat it until the water boiled. Then she would throw you in and boil you alive. We cannot let her do this. Therefore, we must quickly dress and run away together before she awakens.”

Quickly and quietly, they dressed, and while the old cook was still snoring, quietly tiptoed from the house and ran into the forest.

As soon as Old Sanna awoke and had dressed, she kindled a fire under the pot, and while it was heating up, she made herself breakfast. By this time, the two children were long gone and far away. After a while, the water boiled, and she went into the children’s bedroom intending to catch hold of Fundevogel and throw him in the pot. On discovering both children gone, she flew into a rage and grew afraid.

She feared when the forester returned, she would have to explain their absence, and her wicked plot to boil Fundevogel revealed. She decided the children must be brought back and ordered three servants to find them and bring them back without delay. Unfortunately, the servants were all fast runners, and as the two children were resting just outside the forest, thinking it safe, they saw them fast approaching.

THE ROSE TREE AND THE ROSE

The children were horrified, and Lina turned to Fundevogel and said, “Be sure I will never leave you if you will never leave me!”

Fundevogel replied, “Be sure I will never leave you now or ever!”

So, Lina said, “You become a rose tree, and I will become the rose that grows upon it!”

When the servants arrived at where the children had been sitting, they saw a rose tree with a single rose upon it. They looked all around, but there was no sign of the children. Thinking they had escaped and not knowing what direction to go, they decided to return to the forester’s house.

Seeing they had not brought the children back, the old cook furiously demanded to know why. The servants told her they had run to the forest edge fast and seen the children a little way off resting. However, when they arrived in that place, only a rose tree with a single rose growing upon it could be seen.

THE CHURCH AND THE CHANDELIER

The old cook was livid and told them they should have cut down the rose tree, cut the rose from it, and brought them both back to her. Then, angrily, she ordered the three servants to go back and find the children carrying them straight back to her.

Meanwhile, the children had put further distance between them and the forest and stopped to rest. The servants returned to where they had seen the rose upon the bush, but it was gone. Then, finding the children’s trail, they quickly began to gain upon them. 

As they were resting, the children saw the servants coming, and Lina turned to Fundevogel and said,

“Be sure I will never leave you if you will never leave me!”

Fundevogel replied, “Be sure I will never leave you, now or ever!”

Otto Ubbelohde, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

So, Lina said,  “Then become a church, and I’ll become the chandelier within it.”

When the servants arrived expecting to find the children, they found a church with a chandelier inside and nothing else. Having found no sign of the children and not knowing what else to do, they returned to face the wrath of the old cook.

She was livid and demanded to know what they had seen. They told her that they had almost caught up with the children and had seen them in the distance. However, when they came to the place, they had seen them; all they saw was a church with a single chandelier inside but could find no sign of the children and so returned home.

The old cook was furious, telling them they should have taken the church down and brought that and the chandelier back to her. Then, angrily, she told them they were too stupid to be trusted and would accompany them, ordering them to take her to the place of the church and chandelier. 

THE POND AND THE DUCK

By this time, the children had moved on and were some distance away. However, their pursuers picked up their trail, and looking over their shoulders, the children saw them coming after them and were terrified to see the wicked old cook among them. The children were growing tired and realized they could not outrun them. Lina turned to Fundevogel and said, “Be sure I will never leave you if you will never leave me!”

Fundevogel replied, “Be sure I will never leave you now or ever!”

So Lina said, “Become a pond, and I will become a duck upon it.”

Their pursuers arrived and saw nothing but a pond with a duck upon it, but the old cook was with them this time. Lying down before the pond, she began to drink the pond dry. But the duck seized her head in its beak and dragged her into the water drowning her. In fright, the servants ran off, and the children skipped home hand in hand as happy as any children could be, and to this day, they are still alive and living if they have not yet passed away.

The End

DISCUSSION

Central to the action in these tale types are a series of shapeshifting transformations proposed by the heroine over the need to escape capture.  In other tales the pursuers responds by transforming themselves into something more powerful than what their quarry transforms into each time. In the case of the Fundevogel tale, it is just the children who change. In this case, instead of a contest of power, their transformations appear innocuous, simply throwing their pursuers off their trail, at least until the final change.

Old Sanna, the cook’s evil designs on the boy, is the catalyst for the beginning of the transformation of the children. She makes them bring forth their magic and transform themselves to deal with the situation.  Through the threat of Old Sanna and the prompting of Lina into different transformations, Fundevogel learns how to use his inner power, or magic for his benefit.

The story shows the maturation of Fundevogel from when he had been weak, vulnerable, and powerless into someone who, through adversity and a good mentor, has learned how to use his inner power. Through this process, he has learned evil exists in the world and overcome it with his power and it was Lina who teaches him to use his personal power to counter the evil intentions of those who would hurt him. Athough the children defeat their adversary, in killing her they lose a certain part of their innocence yet gain much in personal power, and in life many ways, that is what happens as we grow up.

© 09/02/2022 zteve t evans


References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 9th, 2022 zteve t evans


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Five Mythical Birds from Around the World

Alicanto Image by JohnnyMellado – CC BY-SA 4.0

Birds have always played and important part in human culture appearing in the legends, myths and fables of people all around the world.  Presented here are five legendary and mythical birds from different parts of the world, each with their own folklore and fables attached.

The Legendary Alicanto Bird

In Chilean folklore and mythology the Alicanto is a strange, mythical, bird that inhabits a strange but very real place known as the Atacama Desert ( Desierto de Atacama) and other parts of Chile, South America.   The desert is rich in minerals and ores and according to legend is home to a mythical bird called the Alicanto that is said to eat different ores of metal.  Its wings are said to shine at night with beautiful metallic colors and its eyes radiate colorful lights.   These wonderful illuminations are said to be caused by the different metals it has eaten.  For example, if it eats gold it emits a golden light or if it eats silver its light is silvery and if it eats copper it may be reddish though its wings are often described as being a coppery green.  Sometimes it may eat more than one kind of metal resulting in different colors being emitted.  Because of the light it emits it does not have a shadow.

Because of the heavy nature of its diet the bird spends most of its time on the ground being too heavy to fly and considered flightless.  When it has not eaten for a long time it becomes lighter and can run much faster.  It lays two eggs whose shells are made from the metal it eats.  According to folklore, miners and prospectors would secretly follow an Alicanto hoping it would lead them to a rich deposit of metal ore or a secret horde of treasure known as an entierros.  These legendary hoards were said to have been hidden by indigenous people hiding their treasure from the Spanish.  It was also said pirates and privateers such as Sir Francis Drake hid their treasure in the desert.

Hopeful miners or prospectors would follow the light of bird’s wings in the darkness.  If the Alicanto became aware of them it turned off the light losing its follower in the thick darkness.  If the follower was of bad character and not true of heart the bird would lead them over a cliff to death.  One legend tells how a Chilean Silver Rush was sparked on 16 May, 1832 when a miner named Juan Godoy followed an Alicanto to rich outcrop of the precious ore.  This event led to a rush to mine silver with many miners striking rich.

The Basan in Japanese Mythology and Folklore

In Japanese folklore and mythology the Basan is a chicken-like bird sometimes called Basabasa, or Inuhōō and also  known as the “Fire Rooster”.    It was said to have its home on the Japanese island of Shikoku in the mountains of Iyo Province which is now known as Ehime Prefecture.   According to old depictions it looks like a large chicken with a large, intensely red comb. It is said to breathe ghost-fire from its beak which is not hot but a cold fire that glows.

They made their homes in bamboo covered mountain recesses but were known to occasionally materialize late at night in human settlements.   The wings of the Basan are said to make a strange and unearthly rustling sound when flapped.  If a human inside a house hears this noise and looks outside to investigate they will just get a glimpse of the bird as it disappears before their eyes.

The Firebird in Slavic and Russian Folktales

In Russian and Slavic folklore the Firebird is a beautiful, magical bird that is much desired but has a reputation of being both an omen of doom and a blessing for those who manage to find one of its feathers, or capture it.  The Firebird is described in various ways but essentially as a bird with brilliant, glowing orange, red and yellow plumage giving it the appearance of fire, hence its name.  The feather continues to glow even when one is lost making it a valuable prize for the finder emitting enough light to fill a large room.   They are usually depicted in the form of a fiery bird of paradise of varying in size with the story and artist.   It is an extremely beautiful bird and although not usually regarded as particularly friendly is not aggressive, or vicious, but is associated with danger.  This is because of its role as a bringer of danger to whoever finds it and very often a bringer of doom to those who demand its capture.

The typical structure of a firebird story begins with the finding of a feather by the hero.  All though initially pleased with the find the hero eventually begins to see it as the cause of all of his troubles. This is followed by a bullying king or tsar ordering the hero to undertake one, or more, difficult and dangerous quests in search of something rare and valuable. The hero often has the assistance of a magical animal helper such as a horse or wolf who guides him throughout.  The final quest is usually for the Firebird which must be brought back alive to the tsar or king.  On the quest the hero has a number of adventures and wins the love of a beautiful princess.  On return with the Firebird the tsar or king dies and the hero becomes ruler and marries the beautiful princess obtaining his heart’s desire.  In many ways it is a rite of passage for the hero who grows in wisdom and maturity throughout until he becomes strong and able enough to become the ruler.

The Boobrie in Scottish Folklore

In the legends and folklore of the west coast of Scotland the Boobrie is a shapeshifting entity that usually appears in avian form.  It is also known to take on other forms such as that of a water horse or bull.  The Boobrie was said to make a deep bull-like bellowing call described as being similar to that of a common bittern though these are infrequent visitors to the region.   When it appears as a water horse it has the ability to gallop over the tops of lochs and rivers as if they were solid land.   It was also known to manifest as a huge vampire-like insect in summer that sucks the blood of horses.  However, its preferred form appears to be that of an oversized water bird such as a cormorant, great northern diver or the extinct flightless great auk.  Although considered mostly aquatic it was known to take to the land sometimes concealing itself in tall patches of heather.

The Boobrie is considered to be a voracious predator.  Otters are said to be its favorite food and although it eats these in great numbers it will raid ships carrying livestock having a liking for calves, lambs and sheep.  Of course this made it an enemy of the local island farmers of the area. One legend from the Isle of Mull tells how a farmer and his son were ploughing a field beside Loch Freisa.   They were using a team of four horses but ran into trouble when one lost a shoe and could not continue.  Looking round they saw an unknown horse grazing peacefully close by.   Wanting to get the ploughing finished they decided they would try the unknown horse in place of the one that lost its shoe.   Hitching it up along side the other three they were heartened to see the unknown horse seemed to take to the task with ease and their ploughing progressed well. 

The Anqa of Arabian Mythology

In Arabian mythology the Anqa is large, marvelous and mysterious female bird. It is said she flies far away only returning once in many ages but can be found at the place of the setting sun.  She is also known as Anka, Anqa Mughrib or Anqa al-Mughrib.   Mughrib, has several meanings such as “strange, foreign,” “distant” or “west sunset” signifying the mystery and fantastical attributes of the bird.

Zakariya al-Qazwini, in his book, “The Wonders of Creation” describes the Anqa as very beautiful with four pairs of wings, a long white neck. He claimed it possessed a small resemblance to every known living creature and they were related to birds that lived alone on Mount Qaf.   He also claimed they were wise gaining wisdom and experience through their lifespan of 1700 years and mates when it reaches the age of 500 and an egg is produced. When the chick hatches it will stay in the nest for 125 years before it leaves.  The Anqa is so large its diet consists of large fish and elephants and nothing else.

© 12/05/2021 zteve t evans

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Copyright May 12th, 2021 zteve t evans

Slavic Folklore: The Domovoi – A Spirit of Hearth and Home

Slavic folklore: The Domovoi   

In Slavic folklore a domovoi or domovoy, was a household spirit.  Domovoi are usually small bearded males who sometimes have bodies covered in white fur, or hair and  sometimes they are affectionately called “Grandfather” or “Master.”  Sometimes they appear as the miniature double of the head of the household and sometimes, but rarely, they have a female companion.

According to tradition there are two kinds of domovoi.   One kind lives inside people’s houses and the other, called a dvorovoi, lives outside in the yard or garden and can only be found in the country. Sometimes they have a wife and are considered less friendly and more dangerous than a domovoi especially to animals and livestock that have white fur.

Origins of the Domovoi

Some people think they have originated before Christianity and were part of an ancestor cult.    Another tradition  tells that they were once malevolent spirits who were thrown from the skies.  Some of these spirits landed in human dwellings and overtime grew to like people in the dwellings and grew less evil.  They still retained the ability to cause mischief when they wanted if they were not adequately placated, or were treated disrespectfully.  However,  overtime as they got used to humans they became more benign and helpful.  They can grow fond of people who take care of their home environment and will help maintain it but dislike those who neglect it and begin causing trouble.

The Shapeshifting Domovoi

There have been claims that domovoi can take on the appearance of the owner or householder of the home.  Witnesses have claimed to see the owner of the home outside in the garden or yard when in fact he has been sound asleep in bed.  They are also thought to have the ability to change their shape into replicas of the cat or dog of the home and even rats and snakes.  The voice of the domovoi is said to sound rather harsh and hollow.

Domovoi Folklore

By tradition every home has its own domovoi.  Although the middle part of the home is said to be their domain they also live under the threshold, or under the stove, stairs, or sometimes outside in the chicken or cattle shed.  Every human house, cottage, apartment, flat or dwelling of any kind large, or small, has a domovoi to look after it and its human dwellers.

The domovoi can sometimes be a trickster or maker of mischief and sometimes tickles people when they are asleep.  He will also knock on the walls and throw crockery and pans for the sake of making mischief.  Usually he will be friendly and on good terms with the domovoi next door but if they start stealing from the home he protects he will defend the property from his neighbour.

The domovoi is the guardian of a home and it is wise to keep him happy by leaving rewards such as salt, porridge, bread, milk or tobacco.  If he is kept happy he will guard the home and maintain order and peace and will help with household chores and outside jobs, but a word of warning.  If a domovoi is disrespected or abused, or the homeowner becomes untidy and slovenly the domovoi can become angry and bad things start to happen.  He becomes like a poltergeist making objects move and fly through the air and things happen that should not, though he will rarely harm humans directly. 

Sometimes when the domovoi is producing unhelpful or unwelcome behavior this can be called barabashka which means knocker or pounder.  The domovoi can become greatly offended at times and will abandon the home and family.   This was something that caused great concern as his presence usually ensured a benevolent and harmonious atmosphere in the home prevailed.

Foretelling the Future

It was believed that the future could be foretold by the behaviour of the domovoi.  If the domovoi was laughing and joking, or singing and dancing, then happy times can be looked forward to.  When he sweeps his thumb up and down a comb like he is strumming a guitar a wedding is pending.  The touch of the domovoi can also dictate the future. Good luck will abound when his furry hand feels warm but when it feels cold then beware because bad luck is on its way.  Beware when a domovoi becomes visible, puts out the flame of a candle, or cries in the night. These are signs of an impending death of someone in the family and very often the head of the home.

Respect Your Domovoi!

All in all, according to tradition, a domovoi in the home can be of great benefit to the homeowner.  To keep him content they must respect, reward and placate him in an appropriate manner and do their utmost to maintain the home environment in a clean and tidy state.  If these things are done then the home will be a happy and harmonious environment for all.

© 05/08/2020 zteve t evans

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Copyright August 5th, 2020 zteve t evans