Monday, October 31, 2016

Witches: Salem, 1692

I've been reading the book The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff. I came in knowing virtually nothing about witch trials other than this scene from Monty Python (which, sadly, isn't really an exaggeration at all):

Reading about any witch hunts/trials/executions is a pretty tragic, maddening experience. It's a sad look into how fears, superstitions, ignorance and prejudices can lead to cruelty and death. From a fairy tale perspective, it's interesting to note that, while not all cultures or individuals believed in witches, in different time periods belief in such supernatural forces was widespread. So, while people told stories about Hansel and Gretel or Baba Yaga, while they may not have taken the events of the tales themselves to be fact, they lived in a world in which such things were possible. 

The fairy tale connection was not lost on Schiff, either, who writes: "Rich in shape-shifting humans, fantastical flights, rash wishes, beleaguered servants, evil stepmothers, bewitched hay, and enchanted apples, the crisis in Salem resembles another seventeenth-century genre as well: the fairy tale. It took place in the wilderness, the address to which the hunter transports you when instructed to cut out your lungs and liver, where wolves follow you home. Salem touches on what is unreal but by no means untrue; at its heart are unfulfilled wishes and unexpressed anxieties, rippling sexual undercurrents and raw terror...Many charges had a fairy-tale aspect to them: spinning more wool than was possible without supernatural assistance, completing housework in record time, enchanting animals, inquiring too solicitously about a neighbor's illness, proffering poisoned treats." The world of Salem really did seem to overlap the world of fairy tales in the experience of those who lived there.
And while it can seem hard to believe for us, looking back, blaming things on witchcraft was often just people's attempts at explaining the many mysterious occurrences in life. For towns such as Salem, they were isolated-news that reached them was little and often unreliable; science was primitive, and there were darkness and dangers all around them in many forms. 

The events in Salem started when a group of young girls began to exhibit unusual and frightening symptoms that might look to us to be insanity, and is now generally agreed to have been mass hysteria (although there are other medical theories out there). It's a condition that tends to manifest itself under very oppressive cultures, such as the religious extremism of the Puritans. Most suffocated of all were the young females, who were expected to be completely obedient to their parents, their masters/mistresses, and eventually to their husbands. It was even a common practice for children to live with other families as apprentices or maids from as young as 6, to train them in obedience and work. There was no such thing as playtime or recreational time for Puritan children, and sadly many of the girls would have been exposed to physical and sexual abuse in their stations. These Cinderellas had no hope of ever escaping such a life, since it was all condoned by their culture (except the sexual abuse) and their adult lives were destined for constant work, absolute obedience, and the heartache and pain of bearing but probably losing many children.

What makes Salem different from other witch hunts (as far as I'm aware) is the fact that the central characters, who were initially inflicted by witchcraft (or so it was believed) and contained all the power to accuse and take lives-were young, unmarried girls. Their testimony was taken to be absolute fact, despite lack of proof. Although, according to the records we have (which are scanty and unreliable to begin with), there was really weird stuff going on there-the girls would claim that they were being bitten/struck, and then teeth marks or welts would appear on their skin, or they would produce pins from their bodies! All in the presence of witnesses.

The first people the girls claimed were tormenting them were all women of the older generation, which strikes me as echoing the classic conflict of most fairy tales that feature young women-the younger verses the older generation; the younger and more beautiful triumphing over the now irrelevant mothers, grandmothers, and widows. The accused had virtually no chance of pleading their case, for their guilt was assumed, and the testimony of the bewitched was all the proof that was considered needed. Although most insisted they were innocent, a few offered very colorful confessions of their satanic ceremonies, broomstick flying, and pledging themselves to the devil. Yet, accusations kept building to include more and more people-some men were tried as witches, even a five year old girl (the daughter of one of the original women).
Cotton Mather's contemporary account of the trials

For all that is known about the Salem Witch Trials, so much remains a mystery. To what extent were the young girls responsible for sending twenty people to death, any many more to months in a jail (in which the conditions were horrible)? Why did some of the accused witches confess (their confessions sometimes contradicted each other), and how could a relatively intelligent council of college-educated men have taken such testimonies as the only source of truth? Even if you accept the possibility of witchcraft, couldn't a clever witch cause a victim to have  a vision of an innocent person torturing them? It was believed the Devil could only use someone's form with their permission, but one of the accusers even later admitted that the Devil had tricked her into accusing innocent people.
Joseph E. Baker's 1892 lithograph of the trials

By the way, if you're interested in reading more, I (and many other readers) would probably recommend that you choose a different book on the topic-this book, while informative, has many flaws (reviews on Goodreads or Amazon can explain why in more detail). Overall, it's a fascinating but very sad topic to read about, but at least it makes me grateful that our justice system-despite its imperfections-is far, far better than that of Salem's in 1692.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Scary Fairy Tales: The Lover's Ghost

Here's a creepy Hungarian tale, The Lover's Ghost. (There are also other similar tales in the Specter Bridegrooms section of D. L. Ashliman's page if you like this one!)


There were two young lovers who were on the verge of their wedding when war broke out, and the groom was called away to go fight. He promised that he would be back to wed his beloved after three years, and she promised to wait for him.

The war ended after two years, and the bride, Judith, was overjoyed. She often went out to the road to see when her John would return, but a year passed, and then another, and still no news. She became impatient and went to her godmother, who was also a witch.

Her godmother instructed her to get a human skull from the gravedigger at the cemetery. The godmother put the skull, along with some millet, in a large pot and brought them to a boil. Suddenly a huge bubble popped, and let off a loud sound like a musket firing. The skull was balanced on the rim of a pot, and it said in a vicious tone, "He has started."
Images-Cauldron and Skull

The pot let off two musket sounds, and the skull informed her that he was halfway there; after three, he was in the yard. She saw John, clothed all in white. He asked her to come with him to the country in which he dwelt, and she agreed.

She mounted the saddle with him and they began their journey, which John assured her would not take long. Three times he asked her,
  "How beautifully shines the moon, the moon,
   How beautifully march past the dead.
   Are you afraid, my love, my little Judith?"

Judith each time replied that she was not afraid as long as she could see her lover. They finally arrived at an old burial ground, enclosed by a black wall. The house Jack had promised her was an open coffin, and he told Judith to get in.

She replied, "You had better go first, my love. You know the way."

As soon as John descended into the grave, Judith started running away. He attempted to overtake her, but could not. She finally found a mansion, but all the doors were locked, except for one that led to a corridor with a man's corpse laid in a coffin. Judith hid in the corner.

John got to the door and knocked, saying, "Dead man, open the door to a fellow dead man." The corpse in the coffin complied, and together he and John agreed to tear Judith in pieces. They approached her, but just as they did, the cock began to crow, and as it was daybreak, the two ghosts disappeared.

The owner of the mansion was very grateful to Judith. The man in the coffin was his brother; he had attempted 365 times to bury him, but each time he returned. He offered to marry Judith, and she agreed.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Scary Fairy Tales: The Child Phantom

A Swedish tale, The Child Phantom


 "Many years ago there died on the estate of Sundshult, in the parish of Nafverstad, a child of illegitimate birth, which, because of this, was not christened and could not be accorded Christian burial, or a place in heaven, and whose spirit, therefore, was left to wander the earth, disturbing the rest and making night uncomfortable for the people of the neighborhood.

 "One time, just before Christmas, the parish shoemaker, on his rounds, was detained at the house of a patron, and, having much work before him, he was still sewing late into the night, when he was unexpectedly startled from his employment by a little child appearing before him, which said, "Why do you sit there? Move aside."
 "For what?" asked the shoemaker.
 "Because I wish to dance," said the specter.
 "Dance away, then!" said the shoemaker.

 "When the child had danced some time, it disappeared, but returned soon and said, "I will dance again, and I'll dance your light out for you."
 "No," said the shoemaker, "let the light alone. But who are you that you are here in this manner?"
 "I live under the lower stone of the steps to the porch."
"Who put you there?" asked the shoemaker.
 "Watch when it dawns, and you will see my mother coming, wearing a red cap. But help me out of this, and I'll never dance again."

 "This the shoemaker promised to do, and the specter vanished. The next day a servant girl from the neighboring estate came, who wore upon her head a red handkerchief. Digging was begun under the designated step, and in time the skeleton of a child was found, encased in a wooden tub. The body was that day taken to the churchyard, and the mother, who had destroyed her child, turned over to the authorities. Since then the child specter has danced no more."

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Scary Fairy Tales: Castle of Murder

This isn't a ghost story like the others in this series, but still spooky enough. I was already surprised to find that the Grimms had a Bluebeard story in their first edition of tales (besides Fitcher's Bride), one which I much prefer to the Perrault version anyway. In addition to their tale "Bluebeard" they have another version, "The Castle of Murder," which also was eliminated from later editions of their collection.

Other than having the more exciting title, "Castle of Murder" is more clumsily written. I'm not finding a translation of the text online (correct me if I'm wrong?). It's very similar to the classic Bluebeard plot: a daughter of a shoemaker is courted by a well-dressed nobleman and agrees to marry him (but no blue beard or strange feature to tip her off that something is wrong). As they go to his castle on their wedding night, he asks her if she's having any doubts. She claims she doesn't, although she is starting to feel uneasy.

The next day he had to go take care of some business so left her alone with all the keys-and didn't warn her against using any of them. She comes to the cellar to find an old woman scraping out intestines, and she tells the new bride that the next day, she will be scraping out her intestines. In her terror, the bride dropped her key into a basin of blood, which wouldn't come off, and therefore the master would know she had been in the forbidden cellar.

Although I like that, with the lack of a warning, the focus isn't on the bride's "transgressions" and there's really no way to blame her, it makes less sense that entering a non-forbidden cellar would lead to her death (not that serial killing is logical, but for the sake of the story, it's unsatisfying). Also, the narrator throws in the fact that her sisters had met their fate the same way, when we weren't even aware that her sisters were missing-or had married the same man!

Yet the old woman, for some reason, covers for this new bride, claiming she's already killed her, allowing the bride to escape and reveal the goings on of the Castle of Murder. Fortunately her story is believed even though she has no proof (usually in stories where she reveals her murderous husband's goings on, she has a finger or ring from another victim to back it up).

Illustrations- A. H. Watson (first two), John B. Gruelle

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Scary Fairy Tales: The Silver Saucer and the Transparent Apple

In an earlier post in this series, Ozfan95 mentioned this Russian tale in the comments, and also pointed out that you could consider "Juniper Tree" a ghost story, as the murdered boy's spirit takes the form of a bird. It got me thinking about all the other well-known fairy tales in which there might be ghosts, even if we don't think of them as ghosts, and the first thing that popped into my head was "Cinderella." With the exception of Perrault's Fairy Godmother, it's almost always the spirit of Cinderella's dead mother who helps her-in the form of a tree, a fish, a doll, etc.

Anyway, the story of "The Silver Saucer and the Transparent Apple" is an interesting combination of a Cinderella tale with "The Singing Bone." It begins with the classic scene in which a father offers to buy gifts for his daughters; the eldest request dresses and jewels, and the youngest has a more unusual request. This youngest daughter is, of course, the most beautiful, and we are told over and over that she is good and she does all of the chores. She is called "Little Stupid" by her sisters (and even her father!)-sometimes we're so used to the name Cinderella we forget that name was also supposed to be an insult, more along the lines of "Dirty Ella."

Little Stupid requested a silver saucer and a transparent apple. No one else understands why, and they attribute the desire to her stupidity, but once she gets the items and spins the apple in the saucer, she is able to see anything she wants to, all over the world, in it. Her sisters become jealous, take Little Stupid into the woods, and kill her with an ax.
image-Patricia Ludlow-(Thanks Ozfan95!)

That spring, a reed is growing in the forest where the dead sister lay, and a shepherd comes by and uses it to make a flute. The flute begins singing all by itself, and tells him the story of how she was murdered. The flute is eventually taken to the girls' father, and he finds his daughter's body, and is able to bring her back to life with holy water from the Tsar. After that follows a more unsatisfactory ending (in my opinion) where she marries the Tsar and forgives her family, although the shepherd who originally found the reed is in love with her and I was rooting for him. In fact, the children who are being told the story felt the same way I did, and the narrator, Old Peter, explains that it was actually good because if he had married Little Stupid, he would have had to live with her whole nasty family. So...that's one way to look at it?

The Grimms' "Singing Bone" is a much shorter tale; a man is murdered by his brothers and his bone tells the story. Only in this one, the ending is more bittersweet, because while the bone allows the murdered man justice and his brothers are punished, he is not brought back to life. He is, however, given a proper burial. This tale somehow seems more satisfying to me; the ending of the other tale seems a bit forced. I normally don't mind too much the versions where Cinderella forgives her sisters (depending on how that part is worded), but at least they don't usually try to kill her! It hardly seems like a happy ending for her to live with her abusive family forever while the poor shepherd who actually rescued her doesn't get the girl. In fact, in none of the other related Singing Bone tales on Ashliman's site does the murdered person come back to life (although it does happen in other tales-see the comments for more discussion!), or are the murderers forgiven (although sometimes the remains don't sing, but bleed-it was widely believed in Medieval Europe that a murdered corpse would bleed in the presence of its murderer.)


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Grimms Influenced Frankenstein?

I came across a rumor that the Grimms were somehow connected with the creation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. You may have come across sites like this one that claim:

"The brothers Grimm actually told this story to the step mother of Mary Shelley, and in later years Mary Shelley visited the Frankenstein castle. She eventually used the story as the basis for her world-famous novel Frankenstein." Of course, that site also states that in addition to the castle, Frankenstein's monster itself also really existed (it's a site on haunted castles).
Frankenstein Castle, Darmstadt, Germany

In all my reading on the Grimms and their tales, I've never come across anything like this, or a version of Frankenstein they recorded.

For a more detailed explanation of why this castle most likely had no influence whatsoever on Mary Shelley, you can read this article, by Michael Mueller. Shelley's book doesn't take place in Hesse, or even in a castle. It is very unlikely Shelley would have had a chance to see the castle, as many claim.
Mary Shelley

Some say Mary Shelley could have had indirect contact with Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. The Frankenstein enthusiasts claim that Mary Jane Clairmont, Mary Shelley's stepmother, was one of the translators of their tales-but there is no evidence of her translating their tales. Although there was supposedly a letter from Jakob to Mary Jane that included a horror story never published, there is no evidence of this either (and why wouldn't they have published such a great story in their collection of legends?)

However, one thing that IS true is that the Grimms were familiar with the Castle. The Frankenstein Castle is located in Hesse, Germany-the same region the brothers Grimm came from. One of their legends, "The Lindworm at the Well," involves a knight of Frankenstein-but no scientist or monster. The name is common enough that Shelley choosing the same one was likely a coincidence.

So, a bummer for anyone who would like to believe that the story of Frankenstein was based on real events. Frankly, it's such a sad story I wouldn't want this one to be true. There are enough bizarre and scary things in the world as it is...

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Scary Fairy Tales: White Cap

Here is an Icelandic tale, White Cap:


"A certain boy and girl, whose names this tale telleth not, once lived near a church. The boy being mischievously inclined, was in the habit of trying to frighten the girl in a variety of ways, till she became at last so accustomed to his tricks, that she ceased to care for anything whatever, putting down everything strange that she saw and heard to the boy's mischief.

 "One washing-day, the girl was sent by her mother to fetch home the linen, which had been spread to dry in the churchyard. When she had nearly filled her basket, she happened to look up, and saw sitting on a tomb near her a figure dressed in white from head to foot, but was not the least alarmed, believing it to be the boy playing her, as usual, a trick. So she ran up to it, and pulling its cap off said, "You shall not frighten me, this time."

 "Then when she had finished collecting the linen she went home. But, to her astonishment -- for he could not have reached home before her without her seeing him -- the boy was the first person who greeted her on her arrival at the cottage. Among the linen, too, when it was sorted, was found a moldy white cap, which appeared to be nobody's property, and which was half full of earth.

 "The next morning the ghost (for it was a ghost that the girl had seen) was found sitting with no cap upon its head, upon the same tombstone as the evening before. And as nobody had the courage to address it, or knew in the least how to get rid of it, they sent into the neighboring village for advice. 

"An old man declared that the only way to avoid some general calamity, was for the little girl to replace on the ghost's head the cap she had seized from it, in the presence of many people, all of whom were to be perfectly silent. So a crowd collected in the churchyard, and the little girl, going forward, half afraid, with the cap, placed it upon the ghost's head, saying, "Are you satisfied now?"

 "But the ghost, raising its hand, gave her a fearful blow, and said, "Yes, but are you now satisfied?" The little girl fell down dead, and at the same instant the ghost sank into the grave upon which it had been sitting, and was no more seen."

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Scary Fairy Tales: The Stolen Pennies

Some folktales can really be classified as ghost stories more so than our traditional idea of fairy tales; I thought for October it would be fun to do a series featuring some of these more chilling fairy tales!

First up, from the Grimms, "The Stolen Pennies" (or Stolen Farthings):


 Once a father was seated at the dinner table with his wife and children. A good friend who had come to visit was eating with them. While they were sitting there the clock struck twelve, and the stranger saw the door open and a very pale little child dressed in snow-white clothes come in. It neither looked around, nor did it speak, but went straight into the next room. Soon afterwards it came back, and just as silently went out the door again.

 On the second and on the third day it came back in exactly the same manner. Then the stranger finally asked the father, whose beautiful child it was that went into the next room every day at noon. 

"I did not see it," he said, adding that he did he know whose child it might be.

 The next day when it again came, the stranger pointed it out to the father, but the latter did not see it, nor did the mother and the children see anything. Then the stranger got up, went to the door of the room, opened it a little, and looked in. There he saw the child sitting on the floor, and busily digging and rooting about in the cracks in the floor. When it saw the stranger, it disappeared.
Shaun Tan

 He now told what he had seen and described the child exactly. Then the mother recognized it, and said, "Oh, it is my dear child who died four weeks ago."

 They ripped up the floor and found two farthings which the child had once received from its mother to give to a poor man. It, however, had thought, "With that money you can buy yourself a piece of zwieback," and had kept the farthings, hiding them in the cracks in the floor.

 Therefore it had had no rest in its grave, and had come every day at noon to look for these farthings. Then the parents gave the money to a poor man, and after that the child was never seen again.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Cinderella's Pumpkin Roundup, Part VII

youtube-DiY DiVA

And a Beauty and the Beast bonus: (I would normally just keep this focused to Cinderella, but this one is pretty creative and with the new live action movie coming out I have an excuse this year?)

And an extra pumpkin bonus! I found this chart of the different pumpkin types. I had no idea the standard carving pumpkin was actually called an "Aladdin!" Or that there was one called the "fairytale pumpkin". Not pictured here, there are also varieties called the Cinderella pumpkin (no surprise there), magic pumpkins, Oz pumpkins, and wizard pumpkins

Links to Previous years: