Monday, June 19, 2017

Trickster continuity (Following folktales around the world 30. - Barbados)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Because I could not find a book of folktales for Barbados, I once again turned to folklore articles for appropriate reading. 

Barbados Folklore
Elsie Clews Parsons
The Journal of American Folklore, 38/148 (1925), pp. 267-292.

Exploring the Folk Culture of Barbados through the Medium of the Folk Tale
Linden Lewis
Caribbean Studies, 23/3 (1990), pp. 85-94.

The first article contains fifteen folktales, and more than a hundred riddles. It was written by the same author that wrote Folk-lore of the Antilles, but her collection of Barbados folktales was published here separately. The presentation is the same: The stories are written phonetically, in dialect, and sometimes you have to read them out loud to understand what is going on. The second article contains more "modern stories," anecdotes and later versions of folktales, embedded in a study of Barbados folklore. The stories in it focus on two main themes - thievery and necromancy (obeah) -, but other beliefs and folk creatures also make an appearance.

Highlights

There was a great version in the first article for the Brave Little Tailor - and accompanying it another, shorter one, which I especially loved, because the tailor spoke in his sleep and revealed that "seven at a whack" was actually seven flies, and both princess and king got really angry at him for that. When I was little, I always thought it was stupid that no one asked him "sever what?!", so I really appreciated the practicality.
There was an interesting tale in the second article about a boy who stole pumpkins, and his community cursed him with a ritual so that he grew up to be a kleptomaniac. He eventually was caught because he stole a wet dish rag, and his pants soaked through...
I also found a creature called the bacco quite fascinating. It is kept in a bottle or in a blanket, feed it bananas and milk, and it can be both useful and harmful, depending on its owner. The only way to get rid of it is to throw it in water. All cultures in the region blame someone else for it: Barbados people say they came from Guyana, Guyana people say they came from Suriname, and in Suriname, they say the Dutch sailors brought them in...




Connections


In "Trickster seeks trouble", this time Anansi (Brer Nancy) teaches Brer Rabbit what trouble is, by setting him up to be eaten by Tiger - but in the end, he also saves his fellow trickster, which is pretty nice. Rabbit, in turn, does what he does in the Uncle Remus tales, and rides Monkey like a horse, pretending to be sick. There was, of course, the classic mock plea story, where the captured Rabbit begs not to be thrown into the bushes - and then he is, he gets away laughing. I also found a Magic Flight tale - this type appears to be one of the most common I have encountered in this journey so far.

Where to next?
Saint Lucia!

Monday, June 12, 2017

King Rufus gambles with the Devil (Following folktales around the world 29. - St. Vincent and the Grenadines)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!


Folk-lore of the Antilles, French and English I.
Elsie Clews Parsons - Gladys A. Reichard
American Folk-lore Society, 1933.

For those small Caribbean countries where I could not find an individual book of folktales, I'll be reading chapters from this collection. Folk-lore of the Antilles is a three-volume opus that contains hundreds of folktales in French and English, organized by island. The Saint Vincent chapter contained ten tales, collected from four storytellers whose cultural backgrounds were diverse, to say the least - they were a mix of German, Portuguese, Carib, African, Cuban, and "sailor." The youngest (and the fountain of Anansi stories) was only 14 years old. All 10 tales had been recorded in English.

Highlights

The best tale out of the ten was the one titled King Rufus gambles with the Devil. In it, Prince Rufus the Second decided to learn a trade - and he picked gambling. He was not very good at it, though, because he promptly lost all his belongings to Don Pedro, the Devil, along with his own life. After the game, he set out to meet Don Pedro at the seven gates of Hell by the River of Ever Ever of Crystal. He was pointed in the right direction by three consecutive old women who all combed coffee and sugar from their hair. In Hell, he encountered the three foster-daughters of Don Pedro (Roses of Night, Moonlight of Night, Sunlight of Day). From this point on, it was a Master Maid story, with the exception that in the end, Rufus made a mistake and ended up in Hell anyway...

There was also a lovely story about the doctor bird (story and teller came from Jamaica where the bird is very popular). In it, a pregnant woman sent the bird to tell her husband she was in labor - then rewarded the helpful animal with a pretty velvet cap it still wears today.


Connections

Of course there are no trickster - especially Anansi - stories without the classics: The tar baby, the cheating of execution, the deadly rock, the tricking of other animals (Shark and Lion), and the tug-o-war between Elephant and Whale. Note: I don't know if it happened because of the place, or the era of collection, but Anansi was not always his usual spider-self - he was named as a cat and a wolf too, among others.
There was also a fun version of the Magic tablecloth story - the last gift in the lineup was a bottle full of fairies. If someone opened the bottle, the fairies came out; in the end, the thieves who had stolen the previous magic items from the poor man got their asses handed to them by a jarful of fairies...
 
Where to next?
Barbados!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Susan and the Sesame (Following folktales around the world 28. - Grenada)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!


Folk-lore of the Antilles, French and English I.
Elsie Clews Parsons - Gladys A. Reichard
American Folk-lore Society, 1933.

For those small Caribbean countries where I could not find an individual book of folktales, I'll be reading chapters from this collection. Folk-lore of the Antilles is a three-volume opus that contains hundreds of folktales in French and English, organized by island. The Grenada chapter contained 32 tales, most of them in English and some in French with English variants. All texts were transcribed phonetically, which made reading a little hard sometimes. Especially interesting was the list of informants: Most of them were between 13 and 18 years old, and the oldest was 35.

Highlights

My favorite story from the collection was from the island of Carriacou, and told about a girl who knew all the Nancy stories ("Nancy story" or Anansi story is the generic term used for folktales and especially trickster tales). In this tale, the girl wanted to marry a man who could tell her a story with a meaning she could not understand. A boy, whose mother was trying to kill him, managed to recount a series of adventures that baffled the girl in the end.
Another tiny but deep story was Cat and Rat bathe together. In this, a young kitten and a young rat were friends and went bathing together every day until their parents told them they were supposed to be natural enemies. The story had a very clear point to make, about hate being a learned behavior...

Connections

After Ecuador I once again encountered a "Trickster asks for a boon" type tale (of African origins). Rabbit asked God for wits, and had to bring various things (lion's teeth, large snake) to prove that he was worthy. There were also other classic trickster tale types, such as swapping places before an execution, the deadly rock (a.k.a. Anansi and the Moss-covered rock), and Trickster looks for trouble, which I have also read from Trinidad last week.
I also found a Grenadian Hansel and Gretel, a "Mother killed me, father ate me" fairy tale, and a version of the Haitian tale of Tayzanne about the friendship (or maybe love) of a girl and a fish. Also from Haiti (or rather, from Diane Wolkstein's Haitian story collection) I knew the story of Filomena, where the cruelty of a stepmother comes back to destroy her own children - this one showed up in the Suriname collection as well. Here, the stepchild was called Crocodile.
I chuckled a lot at a tale where thieves could open a door with a magic word - but instead of "Open, Sesame!" the call was "Open, Susan!" I wonder how that happened...

Where to next?
In the logical line of succession: St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Road of the Warriors - Archaeology Day storytelling, 2017.

Once again, I just got back to Hungary in time for Archaeology Day (the last weekend of May). Following the tradition of the past two years, I was invited to the Damjanich János Museum in Szolnok, to participate in their weekend events with a brand new storytelling program tailored to this year's theme. After Sarmatians in 2015, and Gepids and Goths last year, 2017 was the year of the nomadic cultures of the steppe - Scythians, Sarmatians, Huns, Avars, Hungarians, Cumans, and the Jász people. 

I love dressing up for museum gigs, and this one was no exception (after the past 2 years, I felt kind of obligated to keep up the trend). Luckily, I already had a Hungarian conquest era (9th century) outfit lying around with all the necessary accessories (from my days as a traditional archery reenactor). I left the bow and arrows at home, but the final appearance was pretty complete anyway. The belt ornaments, pouch decorations, and the braid disc in my hair were all replicas of actual conquest era archaeological finds. The traditional belt pouch was also great for storing such authentic items as my cellphone, room keys, and lipstick. 

After last year's scramble to find Gepid stories, this year I had the opposite problem: I had a wealth of folktales, legends, and traditions to pick from. I made sure that I had at least one story for every culture listed above - while some were easier than others, I still ended up with a colorful and rich lineup of tales to tell (and once again, I had tons of fun with the month-long research). There were two sets of storytelling on Saturday afternoon, one for younger kids and families, and one for adults and older children. 

The first set was titled Treasure of Griffins. I filled it out with traditional Hungarian folktales that preserved a lot of the motifs and symbols of our pre-Christian, shamanistic world view and traditions. I told the story of the Winged Wolf (one of my all-time Hungarian favorites), the tale of the Seven-legged Horse (this one has a female protagonist that rescues the Sun, Moon, and Stars from the Dragon King), and the story of Csorha János, a folktale hero from the Jász region of our country, who has magic powers and uses them to hide from a princess who can see everything. It was great to see how these old, formulaic stories work wonders in live telling with an audience - especially with children. There was a little boy in the front row who kept muttering out what will happen next in the story, and then nodded sagely when he turned out to be right... Event the adults rewarded certain plot twists with laughter or gasps. 

I was happy to see that several people returned for the second set as well. This one bore the title Footprints on the Road of the Warriors (the Road being our name for the Milky Way), and it was my chance to tell the longer, more complex historical legends of my repertoire. In chronological order, I started with the Scythians, telling the tale of Arsakomas and his blood brothers from Lucian of Samosata's Toxaris, or Friendhsip. It is a story of adventure, where a Scythian warrior proves that friends are more valuable than money or land, and his two blood brothers help him elope with his love, and win a war. It was tons of fun to tell. Next up came the Huns. For them, I told my version of Attila and the Comedians, a tale that I crafted and fleshed out from a medieval chronicle. It was both familiar and new for a Hungarian audience, and got great reactions from them (we do love our King Attila). For the Avars, I told the legend of the Csörsz ditch (Csörsz-árok), a system of Roman era fortifications that people later made up stories about. Since it is very close to Szolnok, it played well with the local audience. In the end, since I had time left over, I added the Ossetian Nart legend of Alimbeg's daughter to the lineup - one of my favorite Nart sagas, and also a story that features intriguing representations of gender.
This second set was especially lovely. People stayed and listened, allowing me to take my time fleshing out and delivering each story without a hurry. Some of them specifically showed up to the event for the storytelling, and they stayed to talk afterwards. I also loved the fact that I was telling these stories inside the museum, surrounded by archaeologists knowledgeable of all these cultures, and artifacts that represented them. If there was ever a perfect setting for telling these age-old tales, this was definitely it.

I am looking forward to what next year's Archaeology Day may bring!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Wise crabs, sweet crabs, grumpy crabs (Following folktales around the world 27. - Trinidad and Tobago)

Today I continue new blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Today we begin our Caribbean cruise!

Crick-Crack!
Trinidad and Tobago Folk Tales
Eaulin Ashtine
U.W.I. Extra-Mural Department, 1966.

The book contains nine folktales, all collected and re-told by a local author who wanted to help the children of Trinidad and Tobago become familiar with the stories of their own cultural tradition, rather than just reading fairy tales from Europe. The tales show a lot of similarities with African and South American traditions, and even some European connections, reflecting the cultural diversity of the islands. They were a very enjoyable read, and it clearly shows that they would be even more entertaining in spoken word.

Highlights
Frigate bird
One of my favorite tales in the book was How Pelican got his beak. It featured several local birds such as the Booby, the Frigate Bird, and of course the Pelican, and described how a group of them managed to trick the haughty Frigate Bird into giving up his very practical beak to Pelican. (It was good to see a frigate bird again, after several tales about them from Oceania).
The powerful story of Young Nelson and Old Nelson was about a great old bull who ruled the pastures in tyranny, killing all young bull calves. The forest animals helped a pregnant cow get away, so that a young bull could grow up, and take revenge on the tyrant.
On a lighter note, How Agouti lost its tale told about Dog who tried to infiltrate a party reserved for horned animals only (by wearing fake horns), and how he was outed by Agouti.

Connections

How Tortoise's shell was cracked was familiar from some South American cultures. It featured Tortoise who wanted to be a bird, and flew up to the sky wearing feathers, to join a party - but was kicked out when he proved to be rude and greedy. In Madam Crab loses her head, an old witch captured a girl, and would only let her go if she guessed her name - which she did, with the help of Old Madam Crab (similar to the Rumpelstiltskin stories, except the name here was En-Bois-Chinan).
Crabs also featured into my favorite story from the book, How crab's shell got cracked. This was basically a Frau Holle story, except instead of girls there was a kind crab (Mamselle Sweet) and an unkind crab (Mamselle Sour). I really loved this one.
The local trickster is Compare Rabbit, who usually tricks Compare Tigercat. In one story, he managed to make Tiger believe that he could wither animals simply by looking at them. Talk about a superpower.

Where to next?
To Grenada! (Which is not the same as Granada, and also not the same as St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which will be the next stop after)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Enter Anansi! (Following folktales around the world 26. - Suriname)

Today I continue new blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

It's Anansi time!!!


Suriname folk-lore
Melville J. Herskovits - Frances S. Herskovits
Ams Press, 1969.

This book was first published in 1936, and it definitely carries the signs of its time ("Notes on the culture of the Paramaribo Negroes"). It is quite heavy, being almost 800 pages long. The upside is that it is a folklore publication, which managed to dodge the judgmental tone, reporting facts and observations instead, about the culture, beliefs, and customs of the black population (of African descent) of Paramaribo and its region. The folktale chapter contains almost 150 stories in mirror translation, along with ample footnotes (including sources for other variations of each tale), an introduction to the storytellers, and multiple versions of certain stories collected and published side by side.
The introduction chapter on folklore and folk belief was just as fascinating. There was an entire section on the meanings of head kerchiefs tied in different ways, and the stories they told by each variation. I also read about such intriguing things as the mati (a birthday party organized to celebrate lesbian relationships), the trefu (individual food-related taboos that people inherited from their parents), the various souls each person has, and the personal gods that regulated their life and their worship (which, interestingly, could be of African descent, but also local indigenous gods). In the back of the book, there are chapters of dreams, riddles, sayings, and musical notes for the songs inserted into the folktales.

Highlights


With this book, we arrive to the home turf of Anansi the Spider! More than half of the tales were Anansi stories, and the entire folktale chapter was traditionally labeled as Anansi-tori (Anansi stories), a common name for tales in general.
I was very excited to find several Anansi stories that I have not encountered before. For example, Lies hurt more than a wound featured Anansi proving the title proverb by (quite literally) smearing a king's reputation. In Monkey's urine is sweet, he tricked Tiger into drinking monkey pee repeatedly (poor monkey did not fare well in the process). There was a fun story where Anansi competed in eating hot peppers to win a princess' hand, and another one where his wife enchanted kitchenware so that it would run away from her greedy husband. I especially loved the story where Anansi pretended to be American, putting on a hilarious fake accent, in order to be welcomed as a special guest to a feast. In another story, he pretended to be an angel. Spider-angels for the win.
If course there were also cool stories that did not feature Anansi. For example, in Plot to Cook Goat, Tiger and Dog captured a goat for dinner - but Dog felt sorry for it, and helped it get away. In Animal Gratitude and Human Duplicity, a hunter rescued a Rat, a Snake, and a Human Being. Guess which one betrayed him, and who saved him, in the end...

Connections


Orlando Jones as (an amazing) Anansi
in Starz's new American Gods show
Most of the well-known, classic trickster tales appeared in the book, many of them in several variations. Of course we had the Tar Baby, the tug-o-war between Elephant and Whale, the Magic Rock, Riding Tiger and Escape by Switching Places (see also: Br'er Rabbit in the Uncle Remus tales), Eating Tiger's intestines (as opposed to balls or tail, in other versions), and the Feast of Anansi and Tortoise, where they mutually tricked each other.
Of course, once again, we had a race-running tale (Tortoise vs Deer), and also the Contest of the Birds about who can fly the highest (won by Hummingbird hitching a ride on Eagle's back). There was also a version of King Midas' ears, featuring Anansi and the unusual beard of a Pharaoh, and a version of the fairy tale known as Filomena from Haiti, where the cruelty of a stepmother comes back to harm her own children.
The second half of the tale collection featured a lot of classic fairy tale types. I found a close variation on the story that I know as Marie Jolie from J. J. Reneaux's Cajun folktales. There were also local variants for Cinderella, the Magic Flight, the Extraordinary Companions, Beauty and the Beast, Rumpelstiltskin (Akantiudu), the Marks of the Princess, and even the tale I know as the Canary Prince from Italy.

Where to next?
Next week, we are entering the Caribbean! Starting with Trinidad and Tobago.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Speak Story Series, Shepherdstown, WV

I could not have asked for a more perfect goodbye performance for my American experience.

Four days before leaving the USA, and after six years spent studying, traveling, and performing in this vast and fascinating country, I was invited to tell stories in the Speak Story Series of Shepherdstown, WV, courtesy of Adam Booth. I said yes, and I am glad I did. As far as gigs go, this one was pretty close to ideal.

I flew to West Virginia from Ohio; Adam drove me from the Baltimore airport to Shepherdstown. It was a beautiful drive, and I happily immersed myself one last time in Appalachia. Shepherdstown itself is an enchanting place, with a pretty, historic main street, a university, good food, and lots of extremely friendly people. They are used to storytellers visiting, and that makes them great hosts - and an even better audience.

Both of my performances happened on the same day. In the morning I visited the Morgan Academy, a small local school where seventy children, from the ages of five to fourteen, piled into the building's main room to hear my stories. It was an interesting system for a performance: After the first story, the little ones left, and after the second, the next youngest group left too, until I was left with the older kids, whose attention span was longer. I told Hungarian folktales - Princess Hide-and-Seek, Kingdoms of Ice and Fire, Bird with the beautiful voice - because they are fit for wider age groups (for the last one, I asked if a scary story was okay, to which they all yelled YEEES!). The kids had a lot of great questions, and seemed to enjoy the stories; the biggest compliment, however, was that they asked for an encore. One little girl wanted to know what the most popular folktale was in Hungary, and after I tried to shorthand-explain Son of the White Horse, I eventually just asked if they wanted to hear it. The answer was a resounding YES, so I told a fourth story, and had great fun with it. Bonus point: This folktale type also exists as an Appalachian Jack tale. I was told by the teachers that the kids have never asked for an extra story before. This is the best kind of compliment.
(I also loved that the school had its own ducklings and chickens, hatched and raised by the students right there in the hallway.)

The evening concert took place on a theater stage downtown, and was attended by more than a hundred people. I was happy to discover that there were several people in the audience who were Hungarian, or of Hungarian descent. It is a treat to be far away from home, and yet telling to people who have a personal connection to the culture I come from. My set consisted of all Hungarian folktales - stories from my upcoming book, Dancing on Blades, told a hundred years ago by Transcarpathian storyteller Pályuk Anna. I selected my favorites. I told Three princesses and a ring, which is a funny and lovely tale about a king who is too willing to give his daughters away for treasure; then I told the Cheerful Prince, which was Anica's kinder, more feminist telling of Rumpelstiltskin (with a good mother-in-law). Next, I decided to tell Mistress Tuberose, because my hosts told me they had an upcoming Garden Tour event, and I assumed I had a audience of gardeners. I did. The story worked like a charm, and at the moment where the cruel father tears up the flowers his daughter has planted, the entire audience gasped in horror as one.
I ended my set with Pályuk's version of The twelve dancing princesses. It is my favorite telling of that tale, and one that is kinder to the princesses than all others I have read. When I have time to tell it fully and comfortably, it is a fantastic experience.
This audience also had a lot of questions. I spend almost another half an hour on stage, answering them one by one; once they ran out, and I was presented a gift basket by the organizers, I still stayed for a long time, signing books and talking to friendly, curious people.

The trip only took three days, but I'll treasure the memory for a long time. I hope I will be back one day, and visit Shepherdstown again. Every storyteller dreams of performances like this.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Of Women and Jaguars (Following folktales around the world 25. - Guyana)

Today I continue new blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!


Guyana legends
Folk tales of the indigenous Amerindians
Odeen Ishmael
Xlibris Corporation, 2011.

This book contains 50 tales from the oral traditions of Guyana's indigenous peoples (who make up about 10% of the population). It is a well-selected collection; no story is too long, too short, or too convoluted to enjoy, and the fifty of them together show the diversity of the country not only culturally, but also in terms of natural habitats, from mountain to seashore, from savannas to rainforests. I was a little disappointed that the stories were not tagged with the name of the peoples they belonged to, and that the black-and-white photos were of very low quality. Still, it was good to get visual aid for the various animals, objects, and landmarks mentioned in the tales. The book also has a very useful glossary at the end.

Highlights

My favorite story in the book was the simple yet powerful legend of Bat Mountain, in which an old woman defeated a giant, man-eating bat, and at the expense of her own life saved everyone else.
I also loved the tale of The girl who was once a monkey. It started out as a classic animal bride story - up to the point where the husband began mistreating his wife, and she ran away with her child. Fleeing, she came to a river she could not cross, and called out to her people - the monkeys on the other side all worked together to bend a tree down over the river, and help her return to them. A similarly powerful message to women was the legend of The woman who defeated two tigers (and it was very typical how no one believed her heroic deed when she returned home).
I found the story of Kororomanna and the Hebus amusing. Hebus are forest spirits, usually nocturnal; in this case they were small, hairy, noisy, and had eyebrows so bushy that if they wanted to look up, they had to stand on their heads. Most often they were hostile to people, but they were occasionally known to help those in need.
From a folkloristic standpoint, the legend of the Haiarri root was fascinating. The root was originally a boy, whose power was to stand in water, and make the fish faint and float to the surface. The plant has the same power now - fishermen use it for a better catch. I also appreciated the fact that I found the first, lovely albeit sad legend about the birth of the manatee of my journey in this book.

Connections

I found many similarities to the tales in last week's Venezuelan collection - no wonder, since several tribes whose traditions are included actually exist on both sides of the border. I found familiar tales about people descending from the sky (and a pregnant woman getting stuck); the World Tree that bore all kinds of fruit; two girls rescuing the Sun; a water goddess marrying a fisherman; the birth of the Victoria Regia flower; and there was, as usual, a flood myth too. I especially liked the stories about the World Tree - they spoke volumes about the sharing of resources, the importance of life, and the disastrous consequences that can occur when some greedy person chops the tree down for personal gain (great themes for environmental storytelling).
I was reminded of North American indigenous myths by two stories that involved stealing fire. In one, Hummingbird stole it from the jaws of Caiman, while in the other a boy managed to snatch some embers from a mountain spirit's fire, and pass them on to his friends. I also recognized other indigenous motifs in Tiger's yellow eyes flying out of his head, and the story in which Possum and Tortoise had a fasting contest (Possum lost by dying of hunger). This latter one reminded me of tales from the Andes where Condor and Fox have a contest in who can last longer in the cold.
Once again, there is no folktale collection without a race between animals. This time, it was Tiger (Jaguar) versus Tortoise. The fun part is, they also had a hunting contest (which Tortoise won with a trap), and a body-painting contest which Tortoise simply won because he painted Jaguar's coat so beautifully.
The local trickster (with several stories) is Koneso, the rabbit.

Where to next?
Suriname!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

We are all weird sometimes (A to Z Challenge reflections)

This was by far my most successful A to Z Challenge yet! My blog hit an all-time high in visits (more than 8,000 hits over any other month before), and people left over 500 comments on my posts! I also gained new followers, both on the blog and on the Following folktales around the world Facebook page. My three most popular posts were Lobsters Mistaken for Norwegians (this one won by a huge margin), Person transformed into anthill, and Poisonous white hair in eyebrow. In terms of blog traffic, this month was definitely a win.
(Find all 26 posts here)

This was the first year we did the Challenge without a list. As a co-host, I found this very comfortable. I liked posting my link every day, and writing witty (heh) one-liners to lure people in. I also enjoyed others doing the same, and it was good to know that if someone posted a link, their blog was definitely active. It seemed like the new system inspired people to not only link, but also promote and "pitch" their daily posts, which in turn made me want to go and read more of them.



As for the theme itself: I really enjoyed working my way through the Motif Index. I think every storyteller should do it at least once. Apart from the motifs I chose for my posts, and the runner-ups, I also ended up looking up various other stories, and expanding my storytelling repertoire.
Here are some things I learned:

1. The Motif Index is far from perfect. I found various mistakes in references, as well as misinterpretations of motifs, and even the occasional mistranslation or two. Thompson tended to look at stories through a particular lens, and sometimes the names he gave to motifs do not reflect the meaning of the story at all. Which takes me to my second realization:

2. Things that sound weird out of context actually make sense within the story. It is easy to read a motif title and go "Whaaaaaat the...?!" - but that is mostly due to Thompson's whimsical titles. Once you go and read the actual tale, more often than not the WTF element makes perfect sense, and reveals its actual meaning. Which leads to:

3. The same motif can mean very different things in different cultures. This is one of the big limitations of Thompson's index: He tends to put things under the same number, even if (like in the mouse story) they have very different meanings or messages in context. Which also reveals another problem:

4. The motif index needs to be expanded to include cultures Thompson did not explore. While the sources of the original index are very diverse, they by no means include all cultures or all stories in the world. When folklorists publish indexes (such as this one), they often have to expand on Thompson's numbers, since some of them are too vague, and some are too specific, to be universal.
(A good update on the index, for practicing storytellers, is Margaret Read MacDonald's Storyteller's Sourcebook.)

And finally, but most importantly:

5. The folktales of the world are a lot more diverse, varied, colorful, and rich, than most people would ever imagine. It is time that we acknowledged that, and looked beyond making blanket statements such as "folktale princesses are always damsels in distress!" or "there are no pregnant woman heroes in folklore" (heard the latter one from a storyteller). Or maybe we should stop re-adapting the same 5 fairy tales over and over and over again?...
There is a story for pretty much everything and anything out there. Of course the oral tradition is an ever changing, ever expanding, living thing, so if there is no story for one particular situation - wait a few generations, and there will be!

I never intended this series to say "Folktales are weird." My goal, which I hope I accomplished, was to say "Folktales are gloriously strange and intriguing and creative, and we should all be more familiar with them!" Our ancestors had wisdom, but they also had a great sense of humor, and they knew how to make a (sometimes sarcastic) point about the world and the human condition - messages that cross temporal and cultural boundaries. Quoting Kevin Kling, one of my favorite American storytellers: "Kindly rely on the strangeness of others!"


And talking about the strangeness of others: 
Here are some of my favorite themes from this year!


Here is a princess on a turtle,
because why not :)
Sara C. Snider's Magical and Medicinal Herbs (I learned a lot from this one!)
Sophie Duncan's Dragon Diaries (I absolutely adored all of her dragon stories!)
Deborah Weber's Pronoia theme (I learned a lot of new, lovely words and concepts)
C. D. Gallant-King's Weird Canadian Facts and History (See, Canadians can be weird too!)
Emily Bloomquist's Life in Ecuador (Ecuadorians can be weird too)
Pamela and Ken's Highland Days of Fun (and the Scottish too)
Sharon Himsl's Female Scientists Before Our Time (which I adored!)

Sarah Zama's Film Noir theme (which I learned a lot from!)
Anna Tan's whimsical Princess Stories (which made me giggle a lot)

There were, of course, many, many others. If you want to go back and read them, you can do so by visiting the comments sections of the posts on the main blog.


Thank you all for making A to Z such a great experience this year! And yes, I already have a theme in mind for 2018... See you all next April!

Sea Above, World Below (Following folktales around the world 24. - Venezuela)

Today I continue new blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!


Kuai-Mare
Mitos aborígenes de Venezuela
Maria Manuela de Cora
Editorial Oceanida, 1957.

A lovely, colorful, eloquent collection of indigenous myths and legends. The book is divided into chapters by culture, and I think it says a lot about it that by the time I finished reading, my copy was full of post-it notes and reminders for the stories I want to go back and read again. The book comes with a bibliography and a glossary, but more importantly, it is full of gorgeous, little known stories.

Highlights


Right in the first chapter I was enchanted by the world image of the Guarauno people: They called the sky the Sea Above, where the blue was the water, and the clouds are mountains and islands above it. People climbed down on ropes from there to feast on the fruits of our world, until a pregnant woman got stuck in the whole they used as an entrance, and no one could go either way anymore... Mirroring the world above is the World Underwater, the realm of the water spirit Nabarao, who rules over the rivers, mangroves, and all their creatures. There was a lovely story about one of his daughters marrying a mortal man, and taking him to visit the strange world under the river. When the girl left her home to live with her husband, she was accompanied by her pet shark in the form of a black dog, and refused to eat any fish, since all of them were her relatives.
I was similarly enchanted by the Taurepan-Arekuna-Kamarakoto myth of the World Tree, which bore all the different kinds of fruit there are at once. There were multiple stories about it, from when it was first found, until the day it fell (most world trees tend to do so). From the same people came one of the best tales in the book, The Two-headed Condor, where a mortal married the daughter of the vulture in the sky. His father-in-law gave him all kinds of classic fairy tale tasks, which he accomplished with the help of various unusual animals: Dragonflies helped him dry a lake, worms to break up a rock, the weaver bird to make a roof, and ants to build a bench.
Similarly awesome was the legend about the Electric Eel's rebellion against the Good Spirit. Humans were created as punishment for the animals that took part in the rebellion; therefore, humans don't eat any of the Good Spirit's helpers, such as toads, vultures, and hawks.

There was a beautiful Chaima legend about the Guácharo caves, where the souls of the deceased exist in the forms of rocks and crystals, keeping company with thousands of oilbirds that don't like the light. Similarly intriguing, but less elegant, was the chapter about the Kanaima, the spirit of vengeance among the Caribes.

Connections

The Guarauno myth about the Lord of the Sun told about a brave girl who stole the sun from a greedy man who kept it hidden. She did not only return the Sun to the sky, but also tied it to a turtle to slow it down... The first part of the story reminded me of North American indigenous stories (Raven steals the light), while the second half was similar to how Maui lassoed the Sun. There was also a tale about Darkness being kept hidden until someone foolishly let it out; I recently read a similar tale from Brazil. Echoed in several stories around the world was The mosquito who turned into a man (who married a woman just to be able to suck her blood in peace). The evil husband was burned in the end, but from his ashes millions of obnoxious insects were born. After Colombia, I found another flood myth here (from the Tamanaco) where humans were recreated from the nuts of the moriche palm. And, of course, there was a legend featuring vagina dentata; this time, like in Paraguay, the reason for the danger was the bunch of tiny piranhas that lived inside the woman's vagina...

Where to next?
Guyana!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Northlands Storytelling Conference 2017. - The highlights

Northlands has been my Midwestern home away from home ever since I first visited the conference in 2008. Now, after 9 years and 5 more conferences, I was painfully aware that 2017 was going to be my last visit for a while. I could not have wished for a better goodbye.
The conference, thanks to the New Voices scholarship, turned into a mini-reunion: I got to meet up with three amazing friends and former classmates from the ETSU Storytelling program - Danielle Bellone, Joshua Sellers, and Ingrid Nixon. The conference had a schedule packed with all kinds of events and happenings, but we still found plenty of time to hang out and talk.

This year's workshops were fascinating, and heavy on the cultural possibilities and responsibilities of storytelling. Jasmin Cardenas' workshop on Theater of the Oppressed was an intense and immersive experience where we got to play a lot of games, and participate in various activities that brought the techniques to life. Robert and Nancy from Eth-Noh-Tec presented a wonderful, discussion-filled workshop on cultural appropriation in storytelling, which is a vital topic for our art form, and very important to keep talking about (even though there are no blanket permissions or decisive conclusions). I did not take part in them, but there was also a panel on Truth and Story (led by Laura Packer, Jeff Doyle, and Loren Niemi), and a workshop on the culturally relevant classroom by Susan O'Halloran. Northlands really made an effort this year to highlight cultural diversity and artistic integrity.
On a lighter note, Ingrid Nixon's Story evolution workshop applied the theory of evolution to oral storytelling, and we had great fun re-telling Little Red Riding Hood in various shapes and forms. I also got a lot out of Bob Kann's three-hour intensive course on the business of storytelling, where he shared minute details about his thirty-three year career as a full-time professional storyteller. We talked honestly about pricing and income (a topic artists tend to be allergic to), as well as promotion and marketing. Bob is a lovely, friendly person, and he offered up a wealth of useful tips.

This year's keynote speaker for the conference was Antonio Rocha. It was lovely to meet him again in person, and spend time talking about various things. As usual, Sunday morning offered a workshop slot for friendly conversation with the keynote, so that we could ask all our questions and talk about whatever we wanted to talk about with Antonio. It was great fun.

Of course workshops are not the only thing offered at Northlands. There are also showcases on each day of the conference, featuring a variety of stories and storytellers. Especially memorable this year (to me) were Barbara Schutzgruber (who sang her own version of an awesome ballad about a woman tricking her lover), Jean Bolley (who told a chilling and captivating historical story about a family stuck in a lighthouse all winter), Sue Searing (who combined the Boyhood of Fionn Mac Cool with a story from her own life), Jeff Doyle (who told a hilarious personal story about coming to terms with his mother's dating life), Yvonne Healy (who turned a personal story into a horror tale before we notice she was not telling the truth), Pete Griffin (who told about a wild wolf in Alaska, and how people thought they could make friends with it), and, of course, Eth-Noh-Tec, whose hilarious and very timely telling of Kingdom of Fools was followed up by the gorgeous and lyrical tale of the Bird of Happiness, the closing performance of the conference on Sunday.

Next to the official showcases, we also had other performance events. Friday evening featured a one-hour Fairy Tale Swap, where anyone could tell a tale if their name was drawn from the basket. We were so good at keeping with our time limits that every single name got drawn, and more than ten people got to take the stage. I told The Cheerful Prince, a Hungarian version of Rumpelstiltskin from my upcoming book, and people seemed to really enjoy it, mostly for the figure of a kind and clever mother-in-law.
Following the swap, we were treated to a late night Fairy Tales for Adults room concert (a performance that took place in someone's hotel room, with more than thirty people crammed inside and sitting cheerfully on every possible surface, nursing glasses of wine) by Danielle Bellone, Laura Packer, and Loren Niemi. Danielle and Laura are this year's recipients of the J. J. Reneaux Mentorship Grant, and they are a match made in heaven. The concert featured gorgeous re-tellings of classic fairy tales; Laura's version of Jack and the Beanstalk with a female Jack and her connection with the giantess, as well as Danielle's lyrical rendition of the Norwegian folktale of the Lindworm, left me completely breathless.
I also had a chance to present a fringe performance Saturday evening. I brought Roses in the Mountains, my show of medieval German legends of Dwarves and Men, to the conference, and I had the privilege to perform it for an enthusiastic audience of storytellers. This was my second time doing the whole show, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Definitely a keeper.

Since the theme of this year's conference was Storytelling: The other superpower, I got to throw a Superhero Social on Saturday afternoon, for people to play and relax a little before the evening events (I got tagged as the resident expert on the topic, due to my book). People got capes and masks, and I played snippets of superhero-related music they had to guess for prizes. I also brought some Story Cubes, and brave volunteers could roll some dice and invent new superpowers they could pitch to the audience. I love playing improv games with storytellers - they throw themselves into play with full commitment, and come up with the best ideas. The superhero social ended up being a blast, and people were telling me how much fun they had even the day after.

I said a lot of goodbyes at Northlands this year - but even though it was my last visit for a while, I am sure it was not my last one ever. And I know that whenever I return, people will still be just as friendly, and open, and fun, as they have been all these years.

See you all on the road!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Gods and emeralds (Following folktales around the world 23. - Colombia)

Today I continue new blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!


Mitos y leyendas indígenas de Colombia
Javier Ocampo López
P&J, 2013.

A collection of a wide range of myths from the indigenous peoples of Colombia. It contains more than 50 stories (sometimes multiple in one chapter), although we do not get a full re-telling of all of them; some are merely mentioned or summarized. On the plus side, the myths are also explained and contextualized by the author, and they come with footnotes, sources, and direct quotes from medieval chronicles. The author/collector also relates them to similar stories outside of South America.

Highlights

My favorite story in the book was the Salt Merchant, whose wares were washed away by a downpour, and the Chibcha god Bochica helped him "reclaim the salt from the water" by teaching them how to evaporate seawater.
There was a beautiful Muzo myth about the origin of Colombia's famous emeralds. In it, the ancestress of humanity, Fura, cheated on her husband Tena with a stranger with blue eyes and a blonde beard. As revenge, Tena killed her and her lover, and then himself. Husband and wife turned into rocks divided by a river; the painful tears of Fura became the first emeralds, and also the first blue Muzo butterflies.
There was a similarly beautiful legend about the birth of the Victoria Regia flower, from a girl who loved the Moon so much she jumped into the river to reach its reflection.
I found many fascinating figures among the gods and heroes of the indigenous peoples. My favorite was probably the Chibcha Huitaca, the "rebel goddess," who preached a life of delights and pleasures to people - until the civilizing male god, Bochica, turned her into an owl. Another intriguing one was The Son of Thunder, a powerful sorcerer from Paeces mythology, who defeated enemy warriors by summoning snakes and throwing them around their necks. I really enjoyed the idea of the Chibcha Nencatacoa, god of revelry and dancing, because he has been transferred over to Christian tradition as Dancind St. Pascual - on his feast day, people light a bonfire, and if the flames leap high, they believe the god/saint is dancing with them.
Of course there is no book of Colombian legends without the legend of El Dorado, which was featured in detail. There were many other stories from the era of colonization as well; some were bloodier than others. The legend of the Chibcha women was memorable, because they managed to drug Spanish soldiers and get away. There was also Gaitana, female chief of the Yalcones, who, after the Spanish burned her son alive, led a long and bloody resistance against them, taking thousands of people into battle (she reminded me of Boudicca).

Connections

I was reminded of Romeo and Juliet by the legend of Pacanchique and Azay, where a chief tried to steal the bride of a young warrior away. The groom and his father gave the girl a potion that made her appear dead; then they stole her body and revived her. While the plan worked, sadly the story still did not have a happy ending...
There were multiple flood myths in the collection. A Muisca tradition blamed the god Chibchacum for the diluge, and he was forced by Bochica to, like Atlas, carry the world on his shoulder as punishment (when he gets tired and shifts to the other shoulder, earthquakes happen). In another myth from the Orinonco, the only human couple that survived the flood recreated people from the fruits of the moriche palm ("the tree of life").
There was also a fascinating legend about the Son of the Sun, the prophet Goranchacha, who was foretold to be born from a virgin girl impregnated by the rays of the sun. Two daughters of a chief went up to the mountain every day to lie naked before the rising sun, until one of them got pregnant... Apart from the obvious Christian comparison, I was also reminded of the myth of Danae, and the Italian folktale Daughter of the Sun.

Where to next?
Venezuela!

Z25. Fly forgets her name (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Z, the last word on the list, obvious stands for Miscellaneous Motifs. It is kind of a catch-all for everything that did not fit elsewhere, including chain-tales and endless tales, most of which do not make much sense in the end, but are great entertainment for little kids (of endless frustration, depending on what kind of a kid you are). Here is one of them:

Z25. Fly forgets her name

This is a folktale from India, conveniently called The fly who forgot her name. I'm just going to copy and paste the beginning, because.

A fly having plastered her house with cow-dung forgot her name. Seeing a wood-cutter pass with an axe in his hand she addressed him thus:
"Oh wood-cutter, wood-cutter, what is my name?"
"I do not know your name. Ask the axe which is in my hand."
"Oh axe, axe, what is my name?"
"I don't know you name. Ask the tree which comes to be felled down by the axe."
"Oh tree, tree, what is my name?..."

You get the idea. It goes from the tree to the bird who sits on the tree, from the bird to the water the bird drinks, from the water to the moss that grows in the water, from the moss to the fish that eats the moss, from the fish to the fisherman, from the fisherman to the fishwoman, from the fishwoman to the cook who buys the fish, from the cook to the maid who prepares the dishes, from the maid to the master who eats the meal, from the master to the horse he rides, and from the horse to the foal in the horse's belly. Finally, the horse says: "Is not your name a fly?"

"In surprise, the fly put her finger on her nose and went her way."

(Find the book here.)

And with that, I'm also putting my finger on my nose, and going my way. It has been amazing, A to Z people! Thank you all for the visits and the comments and the wonderful blogs to read! I'll see you all for Reflections on May 8th! :)

Runner-ups
Z15. Tale avoiding all pronouns
Z21.1. Origin of chess
Z33.2. The fat cat.
Z41.4.1. Mouse bursts open when crossing a stream
Z61.4. “He struck him such a blow that he remembered the milk he drank on the sixth day after he was born.”
Z71.1.13. Three persons who spoke immediately after birth
Z71.1.18. Three bad stories of the saints of Ireland
Z71.6.2. Nine whirlpools of the world
Z71.16.1.4. Eight unprofitable types of fasting
Z115.1. Man takes case against wind for damages
Z181. Nudity as sign of anger

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Why canaries are yellow (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Y is the third and final letter that has been excluded from the Motif Index. Once more, I searched for words that start with Y, and someone on Twitter suggested Yellow. I was not disappointed.

A2391.1 Why canary's eggs are yellow

First off: This is another one of Thompson's misnomers. The story actually explains why canary's feathers are yellow. It is a Flemish legend.

This one looks a little hung over
According to the story, canaries used to be white. One day, however, they went out to celebrate on a feast day, and got a little too much to drink. Instead of sitting on their eggs, they were out late into the night. When they returned home, the male canary fell into the nest and broke the eggs; his feathers were stained golden yellow from them. The female fell in too, but since the male had already soaked up most of the yolk, she did not get the same bright color.


I feel like this story was supposed to teach us something.

(Story in German here.)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

X11. Red pepper for the slow ass (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

X in the Motif Index stands for Humor. You would think it would be an endless chapter, but actually it is not all that long. It includes jokes, lies, Münchhausen tales, and the favorite practical jokes of various tricksters ("X34. - Use of itch-producing ointment"). Among them I found a story that my grandfather used to tell... as if it happened to him.

(You know you grew up in the oral tradition when you read folktales and go "But... Grandpa told me he did that!!!")

X11. Red pepper for the slow ass

To my endless surprise, this is originally a Nasreddin Hodja story (I always knew Grandpa was a professional trickster). 

The Hodja has a very stubborn donkey. He goes out to cut firewood, but the donkey refuses to move on the way home. A man rides by on a very vigorously prancing donkey, and the Hodja asks him how he made the animal move so quickly. For a small fee, the man agrees to tell the Hodja his secret.


"Once you are done loading up the firewood, buy some red pepper, and smear it on the donkey's butt. Then you'll see how fast he goes."

The Hodja does just that. The moment the red pepper starts burning, the donkey shoots down the road, running towards home. The Hodja realizes he can't keep up... so he decides to use the same trick on himself. Lo and behold, it works. The Hodja runs so fast that he overtakes the donkey, and gets home first. His wife is in the doorway, and she hears him yelling as he runs past:

"The donkey is right behind me! Please unload him while I run a couple of times around the village..."

(To be clear, my Grandpa claimed to be the other guy, not the Hodja.)

(Found the story in English here, in German here, and in Hungarian here.)

Runner-ups
X31.2. Pig licks sleeping man’s lips: man thinks he is being kissed
X142.1. Dwarf king falls into porridge-pot at court of human king
X222. Tailor always associated with goat
X351. Music teacher charges double for those who have taken music before
X372.3. Eyedrops prescribed for stomach ache so that patient can see what he eats
X372.4.1. Man with cheeks stuffed with food operated on to remove swellings
X413. One-eyed parson in dimly lighted church joins the wrong couples
X435.3. Parson: Where was Christ when he was neither in heaven nor on earth?--He was in the willow-grove looking for a stick to beat those who ask foolish questions
X651. Battle between lice of Strassburg and of Hungary
X1280.1.1. Bumblebees imported to rout mosquitoes; the two insects crossbreed and have stingers on both ends

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

W111.2.5. Boy to see whether there is fire in the house: feels cat to see if she is warm (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

W is for Traits of Character, both favorable and unfavorable. Folktales are full of nice and less nice characters, and their personalities are represented through various actions - some more peculiar than others. Tales depicting extraordinary laziness (W111) are especially entertaining. Observe:

W111.2.5. Boy to see whether there is fire in the house: feels cat to see if she is warm 

This story, commonly known and shared around Europe in the Middle Ages, features an extraordinarily lazy servant. When his lord tells him to get up and see if it rained, the servant calls in the dog instead, to see if it is wet. When asked whether there is enough fire in the house, the servant, instead of checking the fireplace, calls in the cat and pets it, to see if it is warm. When his lord asks why the door has been open all night, the servant answers: "I knew you would ask me to open it in the morning, so I left it open the night before to save myself the trouble."

Let's face it, we all know that person (like someone who asks the phone if it's raining instead of looking out the window). Also, most of us have been that person, from time to time. I know from experience that you sometimes only notice it's raining when the dog comes in soaking wet...

(Read the French version of the story here, the German version of the story here, and the Yiddish version of the story here.)

Runner-ups
W11.9. Prince donates all including a tooth
W11.16. Generous king gives away his only eye
W28.4. Saint threatens to take place of homicide in hell unless soul is released.
W111.1.1.1. Man is burned to death because he is too lazy to put out spark
W111.5.13. Man weeds garden from cushioned rocking chair, using fire tongs to reach weeds
W116.7. Use of strange language to show one’s high education
W128.3. Dissatisfied rivers complain against sea
W152.3. Stingy dead woman raises her head to correct account of laundress, who is overcharging her daughter
W152.7. Spider in stingy woman‘s house grows thin
W152.12.2. Stingy farmer encourages help by promise of hot lunch. The servant discovers that the hot lunch is a mustard sandwich.
W152.14.2. Man saves sausage skins, sends them back for refilling
W212.1. Eager warriors go through tent wall

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

V49.1. Werewolves hold mass (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

V in the Index stands for Religion. It includes tales and motifs that have to do with worship and sacrifices, sins, prayers, funerals, religious festivals, saints, angels, etc., as well as some fairly familiar people: "V211. - Christ," "V250. - The Virgin Mary," and "V294. - The Pope." On a more supernatural note, there is also:

V49.1. Werewolves hold mass

Which is a legend from Gascogne in France.

According to Gascon belief, even though they don't have souls, wolves hold midnight mass every year on New Year's Eve (the night before the feast of St. Sylvester). The mass is performed by a Priest Wolf; there are also Bishop Wolves, Archbishop Wolves, and even a Pope Wolf, allegedly, but no one talks much about them.
Legend says that once there was a wheelwright, who moved away from his home town of Mauvezin when he got married. One year, seven days before the feast of St. Sylvester, a messenger came to him, bringing news that his father was gravely ill. Being too far away to travel fast, the wheelwright went to a seer and asked for help. The seer told him that the only thing that could cure his father was eating the tail of a Priest Wolf - hair, skin, bones, marrow, and all.
In order to acquire the tail, the wheelwright agreed to be turned into a wolf. He spent a week with the other wolves, roaming the woods, killing sheep, and doing other wolf things. On the night of the new year, they all gathered in the woods for the mass. The Priest Wolf was in need of a helper, so the wheelwright-turned-wolf volunteered, and helped him perform the mass from start to finish.
After the mass, the wheelwright stayed behind to help the Priest Wolf undress - and as he did, he bit off its tail and ran away back home. When he got to the seer, he was changed back to a man... except he still had wolf ears (and he was still holding the bloody tail in his mouth). The seer tore the wolf ears off, and a pair of "Christian ears" grew in their place.

I am not entirely sure why Thompson tagged this as "werewolves" - the story just calls them wolves, although they are quite sentient. They even have a Pope.

(Find the original text - in French - here.)

Runner-ups
V1.10.1. Man worships a cake which from time to time he eats
V5.2. Negligent priests buried under bags filled with words omitted from service
V5.3. Devils cause monk to perspire and stay away from church service
V30.1.1. Flesh of Artemis eaten as quail or bear
V34.2. Princess sick because toad has swallowed her consecrated wafer
V41.1. Imprisoned miner kept alive by masses performed by his wife
V61.3.0.3. Man buried upright beneath kitchen stairway in order that he may watch his family
V143. Saint’s bones for lack of worship remove themselves from church
V211.1.6. A “crown of thorns” among gifts given by the shepherds to Joseph, husband of Virgin Mary.
V211.1.8.2. Christ in form of an infant fondled by nuns
V224.4. Performing fox accidentally killed miraculously replaced for saint
V229.2.2. Saintly babe disgorges unclean food
V229.2.3.1. Saint as baby refuses to take mother’s breast on Wednesdays and Fridays.
V229.14. Saint in anger shows strength: wall broken by his kick
V261.2. Virgin pardons man who repented for cheating in election
V346. Skeptic kicked by sacrificial animal
V523. The only king ever saved in spite of himself

Monday, April 24, 2017

U114. Mountain in labor brings forth a mouse (WTF - Weird Things in Folktales)

Welcome to my A to Z Challenge blog series titled WTF - Weird Things in Folktales! Find the introduction post (explaining the theme) here. Find all other participating blogs in the comments of each day's post on the main blog! You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

U in the Motif Index stands for the (rather short) category of The Nature of Life. It includes stories about injustices and inequalities, and wisdoms about how life is. It includes such entertaining tidbits as "U115. - The skeleton in the closet," or

U114. Mountain in labor brings forth a mouse 

This fable from Aesop is so short, I'm just going to copy and paste it.

"One day people noticed a Mountain in labor; smoke coming out of its summit, the earth quaking at their feet, trees crashing, and huge rocks tumbling. They felt sure something horrible was going to happen. They all gathered together to see what terrible thing this could be. They waited and they waited, but nothing came. Suddenly there was a still more violent earthquake, and a huge gap appeared in the side of the Mountain. The people all fell down upon their knees and waited. At last, a teeny mouse poked its little head and bristles out of the gap and came running down towards them."

Moral of the story: "Don't make much ado about nothing."
Moral of the story according to Phaedrus: "Some people make loud threats but don't deliver."

Read a bunch of versions of the Aseop's fable here. Read the Phaedrus translation here.

Runner-ups
U11.1.1.1. Animals confess sins to lion holding court
U11.2. He who steals much called king; he who steals little called robber
U15.0.1. Dwarf king (fairy) laughs at the absurdities he sees about him
U21.1. Hen complains that man eats her, but she eats ant
U67. Jester takes cow and tells king people have plenty of milk, for “he who is warm thinks everyone else is.”
U68. Optimist becomes pessimist when his money is stolen
U112. Beard on she-goats do not make a male
U119.5. Stories to show that one’s name does not alter his condition
U137. Mill horse when taken to war keeps going in a circle, as he has learned in the mill