Saturday, December 31, 2011

In which we celebrate the Gift of Stories with a Norwegian tale

The Boy Who Went to the North Wind (Norway)
Once upon a time, an old widow sent her only son out to the barn to fetch some meal.

Just as the lad was walking out of the barn with it, the North Wind blew up fierce and wild. Huffing and puffing, the North Wind caught up the meal from the lad's arms, and off it blew, far, far away.

The lad turned around and walked back into the barn. Once more he walked outside, carrying his bowl of meal. Again the North Wind came along, and with a huff and a puff, it carried off the second bowl full.

The lad shrugged and returned to the barn a third time. Once more the North Wind made off with the meal. Now, the lad stomped his feet.

"I'll go off and speak to him about his thievery," he said to himself. And so he did. The lad walked and walked, and finally, after the sun had set and the moon began to rise, he came to the house of the North Wind.

"Good evening, North Wind," he said politely.

"Good evening," said the North Wind. "What do you want?"

The lad politely asked the North Wind if he might return the stolen meal. He explained that he and his mother were very hungry, and very poor.

At last, the North Wind answered the lad. "I do not have your meal," said he, "but since you seem to be in need and you have traveled so far, I will reward you for your trouble. I shall give you a cloth that will fetch you any food you wish. All you have to do is say, 'Cloth, spread yourself,' and the cloth will serve up delicious food to eat."

The lad was well pleased, and he thanked the North Wind and set off for his long journey home. At last he grew weary, and spotted an inn at the side of the road.

"I shall rest here tonight," he said, and walked inside.

"Welcome," said the innkeeper, "but I'm afraid we do not have enough food to share with you."

"Never mind that," said the lad, "and he laid his cloth on the table and said to it, "Cloth, spread yourself."

A moment later, the table was filled with such a feast as you have never seen before, and everyone ate as much as they wanted to eat.

But that night, when everyone was fast asleep, the innkeeper sneaked into the boy's room and stole the magical cloth. He replaced it with an ordinary cloth.

Next morning the lad set off, carrying with him his cloth. When he returned home, he told his mother all about his meeting with the generous North Wind.

Then he spread out the cloth and said, "Cloth, spread yourself."

Nothing happened. The lad's mother just shook her head, but the boy smiled and said,

"I must return to the North Wind and discover what has happened to the cloth. I am sure he did not mean to cheat us." And off he went.

He arrived at the North Wind's house late in the day. "Please, North Wind," said the lad, "this cloth is worth nothing, for it worked only once. I'd like my meal back."

The North Wind said, "I told you, I have no meal. But I see that you have again traveled far," he said kindly. "For your trouble, I shall give you the cow that stands over there in the pen. This is a special cow. She produces gold coins from his mouth as soon as you say, 'Cow, make money.' "

The boy was pleased with this. Off he went once more, leading the cow behind him.

Once again he stopped at the inn. When the boy saw all the people gathered there, he could not help but show off his good fortune.

That night the innkeeper once more stole the lad’s good fortune.  This time, he exchanged an ordinary cow for the cow that made the gold coins. In the morning, the lad hastened home to his mother, leading the cow behind him.

"Watch this, mother," he said delightedly. "Cow, make money," he cried. The cow stood very still and stared at the lad. "Cow, make money," the boy repeated.

Alas, the cow produced nothing at all.

And so again the lad hastened to the home of the North Wind. This time, he demanded his meal.

"I do not have any meal," sighed the North Wind, "and all I have to give you now is this old wooden stick. Now, if you say to this stick, 'Stick, lay on,' it will flap and flail and fly after anyone you wish, and it will not stop until you say, 'Stop, stick, stop now'."

The lad went off carrying his magical stick. Once again, he stopped at the inn.

When he saw the innkeeper, he squinted his eyes, for by this time he had grown suspicious. That night, the lad lay in his bed, but he only pretended to sleep.

Now, the landlord had spied the stick and he thought it must be magical as the cloth and the cow had been.

He tiptoed to the corner and reached for the stick, but just as he was about to take it, the boy sat up on his bed and cried,

"Stick, lay on." The stick began to flail and fly about the ears of the startled innkeeper 

"Your stick means to hurt me," cried the innkeeper. "Make it stop."

"What will you do for me?" asked the lad.

"I will give you back your cloth, and your cow too," said the innkeeper.

"Stop, stick, stop now," said the boy, and the stick fell to the ground and lay at his feet. At once, the innkeeper returned with the North Wind's gifts to the boy, and he went back home singing all the way, eager to share his good fortune with his dear mother.

Friday, December 30, 2011

In which we celebrate the Gift of Stories with a funny old tale

What His Father Did (Ukraine)
A large fellow went to an inn and demanded a meal.

“No money, no food,” said the innkeeper.

The fellow pounded the table, and stamped his feet and shouted, “If I don’t get something to eat, I’m going to do what my father did!”

The innkeeper got scared, and brought soup, bread and ale for the stranger.

The big fellow ate his fill, and then smiled peacefully and said “Thank you.” 

Seeing that he was calmer after the meal, the curious innkeeper approached the man, and timidly asked, “Sir, please, if you don’t mind telling me, when your father did not get something to eat, what exactly did he do?

“What else could he do?” asked the traveler.  “Why, he went to sleep hungry, of course!”

Thursday, December 29, 2011

In which we celebrate the Gift of Stories with a Welsh fairy tale

The Fairy Reward (Wales)
A man once lived by himself in a cottage on a hillside. One cold and windy night after he had gone to bed he heard a noise outside the door of the house. He opened his window and said, "Who is there? And what do you want?"

He was answered by a small silvery voice, "It is room and a warm place and water we want, to dress our children."

The man went down and opened the door: a dozen small beings entered carrying tiny babies in their arm; they remained in the cottage for some hours, washing the infants and themselves. Just before daybreak, they went away, leaving some money on the hearth as a reward for the kindness they had received.

After this, the man would to keep his fire banked and burning all night long. He would leave a vessel of water on the hearth, and bread on the table, taking care also to remove everything made of iron before going to bed.

The fairies often visited his cottage at night, and after each visit he found money left for him on the hearth.  The man gave up working, and lived very comfortably on the money which he received in return for his hospitality from the Good Neighbors. His income from this source was more than enough to keep himself in comfort, so in time, he married a wife.

The wife did not bother about the way in which he got his money before she married him, but after the knot had been tied she became very curious.

The man refused to tell her, and this of course made her more inquisitive than ever. "I don't believe you get it honestly," she said.  The man denied by wood, field and mountain that there was anything dishonest about his means of livelihood.

She gave him no peace, however. "Nine shames on you," she said, "for having a bad secret from your own dear wife."

"But," he said to her, "if I tell you the secret, I'll never get any more money."

"Ah," she said (she had already had her doubts about his nightly preparations of fire and hot water), "then it's the fairies."

"Drato," said he, "yes,the fairies it is."

With that he thrust his hands down in his breeches pocket in a sullen manner and left the house. He had seven shillings in his pockets up to that minute, but after telling his secret, he found they were gone. In place of them were some pieces of paper, no good even to light his pipe.

From that day the fairies brought him no more money, and he had once more to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, which is a more scriptural but less pleasant method of earning a living than gathering up fairy money.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In which we celebrate the Gift of Stories with another fire tale

The Firebird (Whullemooch People, Puget Sound)
Very long ago the people had no fire. They had heard of fire but they had never seen it. They ate all their food raw, and on cold days sat shivering and unhappy. They had no pleasant lodge fire to gather around on wet nights.

It happened one day, while the people were sitting on the grass eating raw meat,  a beautiful red bird suddenly flew above their heads. It had shining feathers, and bright eyes like jewels, and its long, waving tail gave out rays like the Sun.

The bird hovered over the heads of the people, and flew in circles around and around.

"Bird, what do you want?" said the people.

"I come," replied the bird, "from a beautiful country far away. I am the Firebird, and I bring you the blessing of fire. The rays you see shining about my tail are tongues of flame."

"Oh, pretty Bird," cried the people, "give us the fire, so that we may cook our food and warm ourselves!"

"If you wish the fire," said the bird, "you must earn it. I cannot give it to anyone who has done a bad deed or a mean action.

“Today let each of you get ready some pitch pine. Tomorrow I will return, and then you shall see who will get the fire." So saying, the bird flew away.

The next day it returned. "Have you the pitch pine ready?" asked the bird.

"Yes! Yes!" said all the people.

"Very well," said the bird. "Here I go! Catch me if you can. Whoever puts some pitch pine on my tail shall get the fire to warm himself by, and cook his meals on, and to be a blessing to the people forever."

Then away flew the bird close to the ground. And away went all the people running after it.

At first, they ran laughing and shouting. Some tripped on stones, others caught in bushes and scratched themselves on thorns, and others fell into water-holes. By and by, some of the people went back angrily to their lodges, but the rest kept up the chase.

But no one could catch the Firebird. When one man tried to grasp its tail, the bird cried out, "You are too selfish, you cannot have the fire." To another man it cried, "You are a thief," and to still another, "You tell lies."

At last the bird flew toward a lodge. In the door was a poor woman taking care of a sick old man.

"Pretty Bird! Pretty Bird!" called she. "I cannot follow you now. Will you not come here and give me your fire?"

"What good have you done?" asked the bird.

"I have done no good at all," answered the woman sadly. "I have had no time for that. I must stay here and care for my sick father, and look after my little children."

"Kind woman," said the Firebird, "you do your duty, so you are doing good. Bring some wood and put it on my tail, and take the fire."

The woman hastened to fetch some wood, and when she laid it on the Firebird's tail, the flames blazed up. Then all the other women of the tribe brought wood and got fire from her, and ever after they were able to cook their meat and warm themselves

As for the Firebird, it flew away and they never saw it again.

That is how the people say they got fire.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In which we celebrate the Gift of Stories with a Maori tale

The Origin of Fire (Maori) Fire had disappeared from the world. Mahuika, the mother of fire, lived in the underworld, and each of her fingers was a child of fire. 

Maui the trickster, didn't wish for fire to come back to the world, so he asked Mahuika to give him one of her fingers of fire. When he returned to the world, Maui extinguished the flame by pouring water onto it.

Maui went to Mahuika again and told her that he had lost the first finger. Maui returned to the world again with the second finger and extinguished the flame.

Returning again and again, Maui eventually tricked Mahuika into giving him each of her fingers except for the last one.

Finally, Mahuika realized she had been deceived and threw her last finger into the forest of the world, causing a great fire to spread through the forest. Mahuika pursued Maui into the burning forests.

Fearing for his life, Maui took the form of a forest eagle and prayed to Tawhiri-matea, the god of storms, to bring forth rain, and a great flood fell upon the earth.

Knowing that she would perish if the fire were to be extinguished, Mahuika ran into the world to save her child.

Realizing that she was losing the battle against the great flood, Mahuika hid in the kaikomako tree with her last remaining finger of flame. There she perished while her finger slept.

To this day, Mahika's sleeping child can be woken by rubbing together the dry wood of the tree, bringing forth once again the fire of Mahuika.

Monday, December 26, 2011

In which we celebrate the Gift of Stories with an ancient Greek tale

Hestia (ancient Greece)
Hestia, goddess of fire, had a place of honor in the great Hall of Olympus, but Dionysus, the god of festivals and feasting, had none.  

When a giant came to Greece, the gods could not overcome him, until Dionysus stepped forward with a wineskin that never emptied.  Dionysus and the giant got so drunk together that that, at last, the other gods could capture the giant and throw him into the sea. 

As a reward, Dionysus asked for a seat at the table of the gods, but none wanted to give up their own places, until Hestia stepped forward, and offered her place. 

"I can give you my place,” she said, “for people will always come and bend to worship me.  Long after you are forgotten, people will come with hands clasped before my fires on a cold night.”

When next you sit close to a fire, remember Hestia, who warms your hands. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

In which we celebrate the Gift of Stories : "The Place in the Forest"

The Place in the Forest

Whenever the Jews were threatened with disaster, the Baal Shem Tov, (a great and righteous Rabbi) would go to a certain place in the forest, light a fire, and say a special prayer. Always a miracle would occur, and the disaster would be averted.

In the later times when disaster threatened, his disciple would go to the same place in the forest and say, “Master of the Universe, I do not know how to light the fire, but I can say the prayer.” And again the disaster would be averted.

Still later, the student after him would go to the same place in the forest and say, “Lord of the World, I do not know how to light the fire or say the prayer, but I know the place and that must suffice.” And it always did.

Five generations after the Baal Shem Tov, there was danger.  The Rabbi of the time sat by his kitchen fire and said to heaven, “I do not know the prayer, nor the place, nor the way to light the fire.  I know only how to tell the story, and it must suffice.”    

The story was enough, and the disaster was averted. 

Remember the story, tell it, pass it on.