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Who Gets the House?

There once was a farmer who had three sons named Michel, Jackel, and Hansel. One day the old farmer said to his sons: "Who will bring me a ram gets the inheritance. But he cannot buy it, but it must be stolen."

The two sons answered, "Oh, we'll bring you one, but not with Hansel, for he could spoil the whole catch."

Hansel was very angry at the insult and thought: "Wait, we will see."

Hansel heard where his brothers wanted to og and steal a ram, and ran ahead and told the owner: "Today thieves will try to steal a ram from you. Give me a ram and a hammer, and I will see to it that they do not come back soon."

No sooner said than done. Hansel took his hammer and took it into the ram stall, sat down before the opening, and waited for the thieves. At midnight his brothers came. Michel said of Jackel: "You go in, and I'll wait out here while you take the ram!"

The Jackel crawled into the opening, but no sooner had he stuck his head into the hole when he received a blow on his head. "Alas," he cried, "Michel, Michel, help me back out, or the ram will maim my head!"

Michel gave him a nudge and whispered: "Be quiet, or I'll cut you out, you worthless fool! Let me og inside instead."

However, Michel fared no better, and they had to get away from there empty-handed. But Hansel returned with a ram and thus had inherited the house.

But his brothers let their father have no peace till he gave them another task, namely stealing the finest goose bringing home. The brothers said: "We cannot take Hansel with us."

However, Hansel knew where they wanted to steal the goose. He ran ahead and told the owner of the soose: "Hey, today geese thieves are coming. Give me a big pair of pliers and a goose. Then I'll keep the thieves at bay for you."

The farmer gave Hansel what he asked for, and then Hansel went into the barn. In the evening his brothers came. Michel was first. But no sooner had he put his head in, than Hansel pinched Michel's nose with the tongs so that he cried aloud for help. This time, however, Jackel did not creep in next, but ran away head over heals. So Michel and Jackel came home empty-handed, while Hansel came with a plump goose.

The brothers did not cease to ask the father for a third task. At last he gave in and said, "He who brings home the most money, he will be my heir."

This time the brothers took Hansel with them. Each one took something with him. Michel took a bucket full of water, Jackel a bag full of small stones, and Hansel was dragging a heavy iron door.

When they came into the forest it was already dark. They were afraid of wild animals and climbed up a tall oak. Hansel was at bottom.

At midnight three witches came flying through the air on their broomsticks. They carried big money bags under their arms and sat down under the oak to count the money. Michel, beside himself with fear, happened to let the water in the bucket down on the witches. They believed it rained.

Jackel now thought that the water had betrayed them as they sat up in the treee, and began to throw stones at witches. They said: "Today it hails awfully."

Suddenly Hansel's grip on the the heavy iron slipped, and the door fell on the witches and killed all three. And because Hansel sat at the lowest, he was on the ground with a jump, took all the money and ran home to his father, who gave him the whole estate. Thus Hans got happy and rich, and that was a lot.



The Snake

In the old times, when there still was a castle up there on the hill, a count and his wife lived there. They had goods in abundance and could have been the happiest couple if they have not been wanting a child and domestic peace. From early morning till late at night the count and countess were squabbling and wrangling, and he never spoke of his wife other than by "the snake".

It went on like that for many long years, and the count became even worse, till his wife finally became pregnant. Then the cruel count turned friendly and happy at the thought of a future heir. This went on for many weeks, but when his wife finally gave birth, it was to a slippery snake.

The hopes of the count were crushed. He raged like a wild beast and scolded vehemently and much. His wife was a wicked witch, he growled; he called here a beast who was allied with the devil. He also wanted to kill the snake at once, but the countess begged so long and fervently that he let the baby live. But he was cruel and gruff ever since, and did not care for his wife or child, and went his way.

The countess, however, loved the snake as if it were the most beautiful boy, and was day and night by the cradle. The snake grew and grew, and the countess still held him dear and nursed him. This went on for twenty years, and the snake never came out of her chamber.

When he was twenty years old and the countess was sitting in the chamber with him one evening, he suddenly opened its mouth and began to speak.

"Dear mother," he said, "I am now twenty years old and want to get married, so I ask you to get me a bride."

The countess was surprised when she heard her child speak, and even more surprised about what he said. She promised to fulfill his wish, and searched for a bride for her snake. But to find a willing one was not easily done. The snake kept asking for his bride each day, and the countess looked more and more anxiously for a bride for her child, but could not find any.

Then she came to think of the girl who herded their hens. It was a very sweet, obedient child. The countess thought the girl would agree to become a countess, but the hen girl said she would rather remain a poor hen girl and eat dark bread than to live in wealth with a snake for her husband. She did not like the idea of that.

When the countess heard this, she was angry with the girl and said: "If you don't want to be a success, I'll find another."

But every time the countess sought a bride for her snake son, she was disappointed. Then she turned again to the dear, pious hen maid with beautiful, sweet words. "Do not be so stupid that you stand in the way of your happiness," she said to her. "If you marry my child, you will be a countess and wil be provided for all your life. But what do you have to look forward to if you remain a hen shepherd? Then you will have to feed the hens and will always be the lowest servant. But if you take my advice, honour and riches will play laughingly with you."

Thus the countess talked and urged till the poor child did not know what to do. And when the countess saw that the girl was swayed in her helplessness, she pressed on, till the child asked for three days to think things over. The countess was pleased and left the child that day.

Next day she came back, however, and asked what the girl had decided. The second day she did the same thing. Then the child did not know what to do, and thought, "If heaven is not giving me good advice, I do not know what to do. If I do not marry the snake, then I will get no peace because the countess is so pushy, and I have no wish to marry the snake."

With these doubts in her mind she went up to the castle and into the hall. In one corner there was a pretty image of the Madonna. The pious girl said her Hail Mary in front of it, and prayed for advice on what to do in this case.

After some time the painting spoke up: "Marry the child of the countess, for you may redeem it. The sinful life of his parents made their child be born a snake, but you can help it to become a human. Listen, then. On the wedding night when you are alone with the snake in the bridal chamber, he will say: 'Take off your clothes!" Then you must say: 'You undress first!" The snake will then shed his skin. Then he will say again: "Take off your clothes!" And then you have to reply again: 'You undress first!" Then the snake will shed his skin again. This should be done seven times, and when you have said for the seventh time: 'You undress first!" the snake will shed his seventh skin, and will stand before you as a beautiful young man."

When all this had been said, the madonna was silent again. A stone was lifted from the heart of the girl, and she felt light and calm. She thanked heaven for the help and then went to the countess and told her that she wanted to marry the snake.

The countess was delighted and called the hen girl her dear daughter, and then she went with her to her child and presented her as his bride. And because the countess was afraid the girl might change her mind, she would have the couple married the same day. She gave the hen girl jewelry and clothes, and when the girl had washed, clothed and decorated herself, the countess fetched the priest, who wed the couple.

The countess was happy with the outcome and wished the couple good luck. The snake was also merry, and fondled his bride a lot. Evening came, and with it, the stars in the sky. The countess said goodbye to the couple, and left them alone.

When the serpent and his bride were alone in the room, he said, "Take off your clothes!" And the bride answered: "You get undressed first out!"

The snake seemed to be happy about this response, and straightway peeled off his skin. Then she spoke again: "Take off your clothes!" The bride answered: "You get undressed first out," and the snake removed another skin. Then he spoke again: "Take off your clothes", and the bride answered as she had done the first two times. This went on seven times. Then, as the snake took off his seventh and final skin, a wonderful young man was in front of her instead of the snake. She had never seen a more beautiful knight. He hurried to her, hugged her and hugged her and called her his dear, dear bride and redeemer. Then they went to bed together and slept blissfully till morning dawned and the courtyard resounded with many sounds.

When day had broken and the happy couple came out of the chamber, the countess was standing at the door, for she was very curious about what had passed on the wedding night. When she saw a beautiful man instead of the ugly serpent she was astonished and could not believe their eyes. But when the handsome knight called her mother and kissed her hand, she understood it was her son, and so her joy knew no bounds.

Now the time had come to celebrate the wedding, but the happiness did not last long. For when the old countess looked at her son and saw how beautiful he was, it occurred to her that he was too good for the hen girl, and she envied her such a fine husband too. In a short time she tried to persuade her son to leave his wife. The young count, however, loved his wife dearly and had no ears for the advice of his mother, and his wife remained loyal. As the old countess pressed him again and was determined to get rid of his wife, he said: "I owe my wife my salvation, and therefore I will remain grateful and loyal to her for ever."

After that speech, the countess did not try to separate them any more and was quite satisfied. The young couple lived a long, long time quite happily.


The Singeing Beard

A rich and beautiful peasant girl was so proud that she turned down any wooer. No one was distinguished and high-ranking enough for her. Then came a hunter - no one knew from where - and made her his own. He looked like a great lord, but his red beard and bright, green coat made angry peasants call him Kingfisher, after the colourful bird. The girl got so annoyed with this that once her lover was asleep beside her, she took a pair of scissors and cut off his beard. Fire flew out of it at the same time and singed her face so that it remained black all her life. But the hunter roared and ran away.

[From Franz Schönwerth. Aus der Oberpfalz. Sitten und Sagen, Band 3 (Augsburg 1859:85-86).]


Spring Water

As early as in the tenth century or earlier still, a farmer from the remote hamlet of Gallmersgarten at some distance from Burgbernheim had a white horse that was so ill and emaciated that he could not use it any more. He did not want to spend time and money on remedies for the horse, and therefore let it loose in the woods to save himself expenses and troubles.

After some time the woodcutters in a remote valley heard the sounds of a horse nearby. When they went to have a closer look, they came upon the lost horse while it was drinking from a spring in the wild wood. The horse was healthy and in good shape.

People soon came to think that the spring water had healed the horse, and when the spring water was given to ill people, they felt the best effects from it.

[From Alexander Schöppner's Sagenbuch der Bayerischen Lande, Band 3. Munich 1853, No. 1154, "Ursprung des Burgbernheimer Wildbads"]


The Two Visiting Wood-Misses

In old forests one can find eight feet long tree moss hanging like a rope from the branches of old trees. This moss is spun by wood-misses. They are very small creatures who also like to find a warm place on top of the stove among humans. People say they are enchanted souls and hunted by the alarming forest-tormentors. Wood-misses get wed to wood-men and have children.

A man and his family were sitting at the table for lunch when they heard a dreadful noise. It was the forest tormentors, barking loudly. As the family hurried to the window and opened it to see what all the noise was about, two wood-misses jumped in through the window, across the large wooden table and onto the top of the stove, so high up that they did not get too warm. They looked like tiny humans and were dressed like folks too, but used clothes of moss instead of wool. They did not come down from the top of the stove as long as there was someone else in the room.

Afterwards, after every meal, the family used to give the little misses something to eat in the bowl, and they ate when there was no one else in the room. In return for the food they cleared the table, and when the family went to their fields to work, the wood misses tidied themselves, the house and fetched water.

Once the family was sitting at the table for dinner, a wood miss on the stove laughed out loud. When she was asked why, she said "We laugh because a limping pixie did not make it to your table, while the others from the rose tree outside did and eat with you to their heart's content at this very moment only you cannot see them. It is when you lay your spoons upside down on the table that a thing like that may happen."

In this way the family was told a bit about how to deal with the unseen people around them.

A couple of years the two wood-misses stayed with the family. They taught them a lot from the secret arts of getting rid of diseases, ward off thieves, and much else. Their little skirts became torn during this time, so the husband saw to it that the two got new, red robes instead, and placed them on the table. When they saw their new clothes, they began to sigh and cry.

"Why cry?" asked the old father.

"Now that we have got our reward we have to go away, and that makes us weep." They took the little shirts and put them on, and the next time people entered the room, the little wood-misses were gone, and never came back. But the family that had learnt so much from them, flourished.

A weaver from Bärnau said he heard this story many times directly from the son of the husband in the family.

[Schönwerth, Sitten und Sagen, Sagen No. 34:9. Retold.]

Folklore beings in the tale: Holzfräulein, "wood miss, forest miss". Holzhätzer, "forest-tormentors".



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