*Yes, I have posts by others of you, but they have the potential to be controversial and since I’ll still be mostly out of pocket today and tomorrow, I don’t want to post those. (Yesterday’s, btw, should have come with a note that it was written as I was contemplating coming out of the political closet and what it might mean about what was going on in my life at the moment. I never expected it to become an argument on faith and religion. Don’t you guys know already where you stand and that you’re each as stubborn as … the most stubborn thing on Earth [ Probably youngest son, really.] For the record when I said if nothing existed after death what I did today wouldn’t matter I meant WOULDN’T MATTER TO ME. I’m a nervibore and the condemnation I’m most afraid of is always my own. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t care about the people who come after me. I have kids. I might have grandkids. AND I think you should behave as if you’re going to live forever anyway. Anyway — floors to wax (yes, the infinite painting is done, except for the stairs to the basement) and things to do. Sarah out.*
Universal Stories or: Were the Brothers Grimm Jungians? – by Alma Boykin
Many years ago, shortly after the planet cooled, when I was in Junior High and the Dead Sea was only sick, I found a book of folk tales and fairy tales from Vietnam, Korea, and China. I was fascinated to discover that Cinderella, the Little Goose Girl, Sleeping Beauty, and other stories had Asian parallels, and in some case almost identical stories, down to the wicked stepmother and evil stepsisters. Gee, maybe there was something to this idea that all people really are identical under the skin.
Well, once you start reading more widely (I typed “wisely.” Interesting, that) you discover that despite major similarities, there are also enormous differences, particularly in the unexpurgated versions. And in what gets left out. Sarah the Beautiful but Evil Space Princess has talked about Portuguese tales and what is missing, and some of the tales that strike modern, north-of-the-Alps or Across-the-Pond readers as brutal, misogynist, or just flat bizarre. Some things do linger though, like the power of a supernatural force to punish the unjust or badly behaved.
If you visit the main square in Klagenfurt, Austria, down almost on the Slovene and Italian border, you will find the statue of a dwarf. He has a large keg under one arm, and raises his other hand in warning. According to regional legend, he is responsible for the creation of the Wörthersee, the large, narrow lake just south of Klagenfurt that is beloved of Austrian vacationers (and gamblers). According to the stories, once upon a time, the people of the valley enjoyed all the blessings of soft rains, good weather, and fertile soil. They prospered, and the lords of the valley had a large, rich hall where people gathered to celebrate. The people began to ignore what had made them so prosperous. They continued to celebrate during the days before Easter, dancing and enjoying rich meals and fine music.
The dwarf appeared in the hall and warned them to stop dancing and to prepare for the feast of Easter. But the people ignored him, instead laughing and inviting him to dance. He vanished. He appeared a second time, and the third time, this last time with a cask under his arm. The dancers again refused to listen, instead insulting and teasing the dwarf. “You have been warned,” he said, turning the tap on the cask. Water poured out of the cask, unending streams of water, as a storm broke over the hall. When the sun rose on Easter day, nothing could be seen but a lake where once the rich hall and prosperous fields stood.
Now, if you replace Wörthersee with Bala, and the dwarf with a bard, and failing to heed the laws of religion with failing to heed the laws of hospitality, you have the story of Lake Bala in Wales. Add another twist and you have the Lost City of Ys off the coast of Brittany (or Cornwall). It’s easy to see where Carl Jung and other folk-tale and fairy-tale researchers came up with the idea of a group unconscious and archetypes. That some researchers then proceeded to dive off the deep end, and I’m glaring at you, Bruno Bettelheim, is also understandable. I had a phase where I thought Frazier’s Golden Bough explained Shakespeare, especially King Lear, and wrote a lengthy English lit paper about the fertility imagery in King Lear, using Medieval animal and botanical symbology. Yes, I got an A+ on the paper.
As an aside, Katherine Kurtz used Jungian ideas beautifully in her Adept series. The protagonist (and his mother *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*) is an adept in a magic system that uses past-life regressions and initiations, along with other forms of magical practice. He is also a psychiatrist, as is his mother. She studied with Jung, and he’s a Jungian. Kurtz did a magnificent job with her world-building and magic system, which makes room for a number of esoteric traditions as well as Christianity.
Back on the main topic, what catches my eyes now are the differences between fairy tales and folk tales, not the similarities. Sarah mentioned that there are no fairies or spirits in Portuguese tales, but that the saints intervene instead. To my surprise, the stories I read from Carinthia and Styria are full of mountain spirits, vengeful dwarves, water spirits, and other creatures. The devil, the Virgin, and a few angels also appear, but usually in disguise. Quite often, when someone tries to get out of a bargain with the devil, it is “an uncanny old woman” or “a mysterious stranger” who provides the clue as to how to outwit Old Scratch. None of the creatures are called fairies, and there is no unified fairy realm like the Irish (and Welsh and Scottish) stories describe. I would have thought that I’d find more saints’ stories, like all the tales I read from New Mexican folklore, and Italian. But no, mountain spirits and ghosts predominate. The Wild Hunt also appears, especially around St. John’s Eve (the summer solstice) and the twelve nights of Christmas (an especially uncanny time to be out after dark.)
Now this area is a mining region and has been since, well, at least the early Bronze Age. I have not come across anything yet like the tommyknockers, the little warning spirits that helped miners and warned of pending disaster. Instead there is the mountain king, all in grey, who insists on proper moral conduct by the miners and puts limits on what they will find. And mountain spirits that must be appeased (usually by good behavior and humility) or they allow scalding water into the mines, or collapse the mountain. St. Barbara and other overtly Christian figures don’t play any role in those stories.
I’m sure someone will say that this is because the stories long predate Christianity, and what remains are the pagan gods converted into mountain and water spirits. It is certainly possible. It could also be that by the time these were collected (late 1800s), people didn’t want to mention church things in folk tales. And the miners, mine-managers, and others, had been among the first to convert to Protestantism (Lutherans). Most of the miners had left, along with the regional nobility, when the Ferdinand III of Inner Austria terminated the edict of toleration, terminating a large chunk of his tax revenue in the process. It took over a century before the regional economy recovered, if then. Much of the area remains rural and lightly settled, looking back to the golden years of 1300-1550s. It could well be that the Protestants jettisoned the saints for mountain spirits. Or “yes.”
The other interesting thing is the lack of earthquake stories. I say this, because the region has been hit several times in the last 1000 years by massive quakes. You are hard pressed to find large walls that predate the 1360 quake, and others in the 1600s knocked down buildings farther north. But very few stories try to explain earthquakes, aside from very local tales about a specific mine, or a particular meadow (alp/alm) that was buried in debris because of someone’s misdeeds and greed. Did the presence of the Church prevent the development of earthquake folklore that lasted long enough to be collected? Or perhaps later disasters (the Turkish raids in the mid-1400s, the exodus of the 1500s and the woes of the 1600s) overshadowed the quakes.
Folk tales are fascinating things. I grew up reading them, and I enjoy authors who can take fairy tales and turn them into longer stories, if done well. They are a vast field to mine for ideas and world-building material, as well as to read for pleasure.