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

 

Petrification Myths: The Curse of Yonder Mountain

This is a retelling of a Spanish  fairy tale from Catalonia called The Water of Life that tells how a brave and plucky girl saves her three brothers after they have been turned to stone by a magical spell.  A version appeared in in Cuentos Populars Catalans (1885) a collection of D. Francisco de Sales Maspons y Labrós and was included by Andrew Lang in The Pink Fairy Book (1897).

The Dream Palace

The story begins in a small cottage there lived together three brothers and one sister. They all loved each other dearly and were very happy together but they were all dreamers spending much of their time daydreaming from dawn to dusk.  Then one day the eldest brother suddenly jumped up and said to the others, “Perhaps if we all work hard we can make some money and become rich enough to build a palace for us all to live in.” Both his younger brothers and his sister all jumped up and agreed saying, “Yes, that is a wonderful dream.  That is what we will!”

And indeed they did work hard and they made lots of money and grew very rich and they built themselves a beautiful palace in which they lived happily together.  The palace was a wonder and many people traveled from miles around to have look and see. Everyone agreed it indeed was most beautiful and none could find any faults at all with it.

The Old Woman

Then an old woman came to have a look around with the other sightseers.  While everyone was saying how splendid and wonderful the palace was she suddenly declared in a loud voice, “It is a most wonderful palace, but there is something that it lacks!”

“And what may that be?” asked the eldest brother perplexed and a little hurt.

“Why it needs a church, of course!” she replied in answer.

When the three brothers and their sister heard this they all set about with great energy working hard and earning more money which they used to build a church that was as big and splendid as the palace.  When they had finished people came from miles around to see the wonderful palace and the splendid church with their beautiful gardens and wide spacious halls.   Everyone agreed both buildings were the most magnificent they had ever seen.

The Old Man

Then, one day an old man who was visiting and looking around suddenly spoke up saying, “Well, of course both buildings are very beautiful and splendid but it is still lacking.”

“And what is it lacking?” asked the three brothers and their sister together.

“Why it lacks three treasures; a jug full of the water of life, the scent of the flowers from the tree of beauty and the talking bird,” replied the old man.

“And where can we find these three treasures?” they asked him earnestly.

The old man turned and pointed and said,  “Go to Yonder Mountain that is beyond the horizon and you will find what you seek there, but beware of the curse!”   This last alarmed the sister who demanded to know what the curse was.   The old man only smiled, bowed politely, said farewell and began walking home.   Looking back over his shoulder he said, “Mind the curse!”

“Right, I will go to the  Yonder Mountain and bring back the water of life, a flowering branch from the tree of beauty that we can plant and the talking bird,” said the eldest brother.  At this his sister froze and a darkness came into her mind and she looked inside herself for a moment and then said,   “How shall we ever know if you suffer some evil?”  

“Well, I had not thought about that, but you are right,” he replied.

So the three brothers and their sister followed the old man to his home and their sister said to him, “My eldest brother wants to go to Yonder Mountain to bring back the water of life,  a flowering branch from the tree of beauty and the talking bird, to complete the perfection of our palace.  What is the curse you talk of and you tell us how we will know if something evil happens to him?”

The old man took out a knife and gave it to them saying,  “I do not know what the curse is I have never been there but there, but I will give you this.  You must keep this very carefully and when you see the blade is clear then all is good.  Now listen, if you see the blade has turned to a blood red then that is the sign that evil has taken him.”

The Eldest Brother

The brothers and their sister thanked him and promised to keep it safe.  The eldest brother said his goodbyes and set off on his journey Yonder Mountain where he hoped to find all the treasures that their palace lacked.   He walked for many, many days and still the mountain did not seem to be any nearer.   As he was walking along he met a giant and stopped and said, “Please can you tell how much further Yonder Mountain is?”

The giant looked at him sternly and said, “And may I ask why you would want to go all the way their?”

“Why I am seeking the water of life, a branch from the tree of beauty and the talking bird,” replied the eldest.

The giant looked down at him and with all seriousness said,

“Many folk have passed this way seeking those precious treasures and not one has ever returned.  If you want to find them and bring them back you must listen to my words and obey them.  This path, though straight and narrow, will take you all the way to the top of the mountain.  When you arrive at the bottom of the mountain the path will begin to climb upwards and you must continue on and you will pass through stony ground.  As you walk up the path you will see many large stones and boulders all along the way on both sides.  The further you go the more there will be.   You must carry on walking but as you go you will think you hear, laughing, giggling and sniggering coming from all around you.  The further you go the louder and more intense the laughter will become.  It is the stones that are mocking you, but you must not heed them at all.  You must concentrate on walking straight ahead until you reach the top.  If you pay the slightest bit of attention to them, if you heed them at all, you, yourself will become one of them.”

So the eldest thanked the giant for his advice and continued along the path.  He walked many, many, miles before he at last reached the bottom of the mountain.   Following the path up the slopes he began to notice many large stones and boulders strewn all along the way either side of the path.  Nevertheless, he continued along his way and every so often he thought he heard someone snigger, or giggle behind him.  Remembering what the giant had told him he kept his eyes to the path in front and continued along it.  The further he got the louder the giggling and snickering became until it became an uproar of laughter.  Now feeling frightened he stooped to pick up a stone and as he turned to throw it he experienced his arm suddenly stiffen and his body turn completely rigid as he became one of the laughing, giggling stones.

Faraway back at the palace his sister was pacing up and down worrying about her brother and hoping he was on his way home.  Suddenly a terrible feeling of dread came over her and a darkness filled her mind and for a second she froze.  Recovering herself, she quickly she went to the knife and to her horror saw the blade had turned blood red and she cried out calling her brothers to her.  They clustered around and seeing the blade knew something evil had happened to their brother.  The next eldest then stepped forward resolutely and said,  “It is my duty to go an find our brother and bring him back if I can, along with the three treasures!”  

The Next Eldest Brother

Although his sister protested he left home and walked along the same path his brother had taken heading for the mountain.  He walked for many, many days but the mountain did not appear to be any nearer.  At last he met a giant and he asked him if he had seen his brother and told him of his quest.

“Yes, I have seen him pass this way.  He went along the path to Yonder Mountain but I have not seen him return.  I am afraid he must have got caught in the spell,”  replied the giant and explained about the curse that lay along the mountain path.

“If that is so, what is there that I can do to release him from the spell and bring back the water of life, a branch from the tree of beauty and the talking bird?”  asked the second eldest.

The giant looked down at him sternly and then said,

This path will take you all the way to the top of the mountain.  When you arrive at the bottom of the mountain the path will begin to climb upwards and you must continue on.  As you walk you pass through stony ground and will see many large stones and boulders all along the way on both sides.  The further you go the more there will be.   You must carry on walking but as you go you will think you hear, laughing, giggling and sniggering coming from all around you.  The further you go the louder and more intense the laughter will become.  It is the stones that are mocking you but you must not heed them at all.  You must concentrate on walking straight ahead until you reach the top. Do not turn, do not look, do not listen!  If you pay the slightest bit of attention to them, if you heed them at all, you, yourself will become one of them.  If you do not heed them you will reach the top and attain your heart’s desire.”

Thanking the giant for his advice the second eldest brother set out along the path to the mountain.   He walked for many, many miles until he came to the foot of the mountain.  He looked along the path and he saw it winding upwards around the mountain so he followed on.  As he followed the path upwards he noticed there were many large stones and boulders strewn on both sides of the path, but continued on his way.  Every now and then he thought he heard a snigger and someone giggling but he set his mind on his task and carried on trying to ignore it.  The further he went the louder the giggling became and soon all around him the  stones rang with raucous laughter so loud he could barely stand it but he heeded what the giant said and carried on.  As he passed the place where his brother had reached he thought he heard his voice mixed in with all the giggling and chuckling and he turned to see if he was there and instantly became one of the stones.

As this happened his sister had been pacing up and down in the palace with a growing feeling of dread and her mind filled with darkness and for a second she froze.  Then taking back control of herself she ran to the knife to see what the blade told her.  To her shock and horror it appeared blood red and she called out to her remaining brother who ran to see what was the matter.   When he saw the blood red blade he said, “I must go and find my brothers and bring back the treasures!”

The Youngest Brother

His sister protested many times but he would not be held back  and leaving his her alone he started out and walked for many, many days towards Yonder Mountain which never seemed to get any nearer.  Along the way he met a giant and stopped to ask him if he had seen anything of his brothers and told him of the quest for the treasures.

“Yes, I have seen them pass by and they have never yet returned.  I fear the spell of the mountain has taken them!” the giant told him.

“How can I set them free and bring back the water of life, a branch from the tree of beauty and the talking bird?” asked the youngest brother.

The giant looked down sternly and said,

This path will take you all the way to the top of the mountain.  When you arrive at the bottom of the mountain the path will begin to climb upwards and you must continue on.  As you walk you will pass through stony ground and will see many large stones and boulders all along the way on both sides.  The further you go the more there will be. You must carry on walking but as you go you will think you hear, laughing, giggling and sniggering coming from all around you.  The further you go the louder and more intense the laughter will become.  It is the stones that are mocking you but you must not heed them at all.  You must concentrate on walking straight ahead until you reach the top. Do not turn, do not look, do not listen!  If you pay the slightest bit of attention to them, if you heed them at all, you, yourself will become one of them.  If you do not heed them you will reach the top and find your heart’s desire.”

So the youngest brother thanked the giant for his advice and continued along the path until he reached the foot of the mountain.  He looked up the steep winding way and saw lots of large stones and boulders strewn either side of the path.  Remembering the giant’s warning he walked steadfastly up the path.   The further he walked the more stones he saw and as he walked he thought he heard whispering and then sniggering and giggling. Ignoring the sounds he walked on and on.  The further he went the louder the laughter and mocking became but he continued on passing the place where his eldest brother had reached and then beyond where the second eldest brother had reached.  He passed beyond that place and just as he thought he would reach the top of the mountain a crescendo of laughter peeled from all around.  Thinking he heard his brothers laughing behind him he turned expecting to them and the spell took him and he joined them as one of the stones.

The Sister seeks her Brothers

All this time his sister had been alone and pacing up and down in the palace praying that her brothers would return safely.  She hoped they would bring back the objects of their quest, but she would have been more than happy just to have them back without them.   As she paced up and down she was suddenly seized by a terrible dread and a darkness entered her mind and she froze for an instant.   Shaking off the fear she took control of herself and ran to the knife and saw to her horror it had turned blood red.  She gritted her teeth and despite her fear and the danger,  said, “Now I will go and find my brothers and bring them all back with the water of life, the branch from the tree of beauty and the talking bird.”

With that she set off along the path to Yonder Mountain.  She walked and walked for many days and still the mountain seemed no nearer.  She came across a giant and stopped and asked him if he had seen her three brothers and explained the quest to him. The giant told her exactly as he had told her brothers,

“This path will take you all the way to the top of the mountain.  When you arrive at the bottom of the mountain the path will begin to climb upwards and you must continue on.  As you walk up the path it will take you through stony ground and you will see many large stones and boulders all along the way on both sides.  The further you go the more there will be.   You must carry on walking but as you go you will think you hear, laughing, giggling and sniggering coming from all around you.  The further you go the louder and more intense the laughter will become.  It is the stones that are mocking you but you must not heed them at all.  You must concentrate on walking straight ahead until you reach the top. Do not turn, do not look, do not list!  If you pay the slightest bit of attention to them, if you heed them at all you, yourself will become one of them.  If you do not heed them you will reach the top and you will attain everything your heart desires.   Remember well what I say!”

Thanking him for his advice she set off along the path to reach the mountain.  When she came to the foot of the mountain she looked up along the winding path.  She saw the many, many, large stones and boulders strewn all alongside it and remembered the giants warning.  Keeping her mind set and her her eyes fixed straight ahead she made her way up the path through the stony ground.   As she walked she heard, whispering, but she kept her mind fixed and walked on.  She heard giggling and sniggering from all around her but she kept looking straight ahead with her mind rigid on her goal and walked on.  She walked past the places where her brothers were turned to stone and a great barrage of mocking laughter echoed all around her.   In that laughter she heard her brothers voices calling.  She clenched her fists and set her mind and kept her eyes fixed straight ahead.  Despite her fear she made it to the top of the mountain and the clamor died away.

The Top of the Mountain

To her disappointment there was no sign of her brothers, nevertheless, she was greatly relieved.  Looking around she saw a jug standing by a small spring of clear water which was the pool of life.  Alongside the pool grew the tree of beauty and on one of its branches sat the talking bird.  At the bottom of the tree was a golden cage.  She took the jug and filled it with water and then managed to coax the talking bird from the tree and into the cage.  Then she broke a flowering branch from the tree of beauty.  With no sign of her brothers and all the items required to make the palace complete now attained she decide it would best for her to  honor them by returning home with the treasures.

There was no laughter now as she walked down the hill.  As she walked carrying her load, drops of the water of life splashed from the jug and fell on some of the stones,  These immediately sprang up turning into young men and women.  They all crowded around her giving her thanks.  Seeing that this had broken their spell she sprinkled water from the jug all over the stones fetching more and more, as more people were freed from the spell of the stones.  Soon there was a great company of young men and maidens following her down the mountain path.  Among them she found her brothers and never was there a more joyful reunion.

The Girl who Broke the Curse

Together again the brothers with their sister walked the long walk back to home carrying all of the items that would make their palace complete.  As soon as they got back they planted the branch from the tree of beauty and watered it with the water of life.  It quickly grew into a flowering tree whose scent filled the gardens and gave everlasting beauty to those who breathed it.  Then they placed the talking bird in its branches and the perfection of their palace was complete.  Once again word of the splendor of their palace spread far and wide.  People traveled from far and wide and many distant lands to see it and enjoy its perfection.  However, mostly they came to see and meet the brave and remarkable girl who had won the three treasures, saved her brothers and broke the Curse of Yonder Mountain.

© 12/07/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright zteve t evans