Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cinderella #132 The Wonderful Birch

The mother had been
transformed into a black sheep.
Once upon a time, in Finland, there lived a little girl.  She lived withe her mother and her father in the woods.  One day, "one of their sheep went astray, and they set out to look for it, and searched, and searched, each in a different part of the wood." That is why no one was with the mother when she met a troll woman among the trees.  This creature chanted a spell: "Spit into my knife-sheath, Pass between my legs, Turn into a black sheep." And when she had done saying those words, the mother had been transformed into a black sheep, and the troll took over the mother's form. So the troll called, "I've found the sheep." and the man and the daughter and the wicked troll all went back to their cottage.  Now the troll told the father to kill the sheep, as it had caused so much trouble.  But the little girl, who was very clever, had walked next to the black sheep all the way home.  She knew it was her mother.  When she ran out to the barnyard, she clung to the black sheep and cried.  It spoke to her in her mother's voice, saying, "Well then, do not eat the meat or broth, but only gather all my bones and bury them by the edge of the field."  And when the troll butchered the sheep and made soup of it, and set a bowl before the child, she would not taste it.  Instead, she did as her mother had asked, and gathered the bones, and buried them.  "And from the bones there sprang up a tree."  The years passed, and the troll-mother bore her own child.  Now her dislike of her stepdaughter increased.  When the king announced that he was going to give a festival, and that everyone was invited, "even the most poor and wretched" the two girls were excited.  But the troll would not her stepdaughter go. Instead, she "threw a bowl of barley grains among the cinders and said, 'If you have not picked every grain of barley out of the ashes, and put it back into the bowl before nightfall, I shall eat you up!" When she was alone, the girl tried and tried to gather all the barley, but it was an impossible task.  At last, she sat down to cry.  That's when she heard her mother's voice saying, "Why do you weep, little daughter?" And when the girl explained, the mother said, "Do not weep. Break off a branch from the birch tree, strike the hearth with it crosswise, and all will be put right."  That is just what the girl did, and immediately "the barley flew into the bowl and the hearth was clean. Then she went back to the tree and laid the branch upon the grave.  Then her mother's voice bade her to bathe on one side of the tree, dry herself on the other, then put on the clothes she found within the tree trunk.  And after the girl had done this, she became so lovely that no one on earth could rival her."  Then, out from the birch tree sprung a horse.  It was a splendid animal, made partly of silver, partly of gold, and partly "of something more precious still".  Then she rode to the palace as swiftly as the wind.  When she got there, the prince himself attended to her horse.  He danced with her all evening, and at dinner time, sat beside her.  But the troll's daughter was under the table with a joint of meat, and "was noisily gnawing the bones.  The prince heard the sound, and, thinking it was a dog under the table, he kicked her, and the blow broke the arm of the troll's daughter."  When it began to grow late, the girl realized that she had better get home, but when she left, some of the guests followed behind her.  Now she "took off her ring and threw it behind her, and while they were all looking for it, she got up on her horse and rode away from the castle."  At home, she left the horse and the gown by the birch tree and went inside, to sit before the fire. When her father and the troll came back, the troll yelled at her, "Oh! You miserable wretch. You don't know what fine times we've had at the palace. The prince carried my daughter about.  But the poor thing fell, and broke her arm." The banquet continued the next day.  The troll wife told her husband to go on ahead with their daughter, while she laid out work for his girl.  Then "she threw a bowl of flax seeds among the ashes and said, "If you do not get this sorted out and all the seed back into the bow, I shall eat you!"  Again the girl went to her mother's grave, and again the spirit advised her to take a branch and strike the ashes, crosswise on the hearth.  She did this, and "instantly, all the seeds flew into the bowl".  Then she went to one side of the tree and washed, the other to dry, and looked into the trunk. A luxurious gown was there, and the marvelous horse sprang out.  Again she rode to the palace, and again the prince danced with her.  The troll's daughter could not resist the meat, and took some under the table to eat.  And the prince thought there was a dog under the table, so "he gave a kick and broke her leg," The man's daughter sat quietly, making no notice.  Again, she left early, returned the dress and horse to the tree and was sitting on the warm bricks beside the fire when her family got home. For the third night of the feasting, the troll woman decided to give a task that she was sure the girl could never do. She "poured a bowl of milk on the ashes, saying, 'If you do not get all the milk into the dish again before we get home, I will eat you up!" What was the girl to do? She tried and tried to gather the milk but it had soaked into the ashes.  Screaming with fright she ran to her mother's grave. Again the mother soothed her child and told her to use a birch branch to make the sign of the cross on the hearth.  The moment the girl did this, the bowl of milk was full again.  Back to the tree she went, washing on one side, drying on the other, the putting her hand into the trunk to see what came forth. This time it was "a splendid gown and gold shoes".  The horse jumped out, the glorious girl rode forth, and soon, they were at the palace. Again the greedy stepsister chewed bones under the table.  Tonight the prince gave her such a kick that one of her eyes fell out. And again, when the girl tried to slip out unseen, the people followed her.  She threw her golden necklace behind her, and the crowd fought to pick it up.  By the time they remembered the girl, she was long gone. But, one of her golden shoes had fallen off.  When her troll mother and her father got home, the mother bragged about how the prince had carried her daughter all night.  But had dropped her, knocking out one eye. The next day, there was a royal announcement: the prince had found a ring , a necklace, and a shoe and was looking for the girl who could wear them.  That one would become his bride. When the troll woman heard this, she decided to patch up her daughter and send her over.  She "tied a wooden washing bat in place of her foot, a pancake roller in place of her arm, and a piece of horse-dung in place of her eye." When they got to the palace, and the troll saw how small the jewelry and the shoe were, she 
"cut and filed her daughter's head, and finger, and foot, until they fit. And so the prince was forced to take the unseemly girl as his bride." And when the prince and his "horrid bride" passed by the girl, she rushed over and whispered to him, " Dear prince, do not rob me of my silver and gold." So he took her along too, because her recognized her as his dancing partner.  When he got partway down the road, with both of the girls, he saw a river.  That's when he "threw the troll's daughter across it as a bridge, and there she remained, unable to move." So the prince and the "cinder lass" went to the wonderful birch tree, and her mother left gifts for them there: "three sacks of gold, and as much silver. And they went to live in the palace, and soon a son was born." Now, the troll mother, in her foolishness, really believed that her chopped up, hideous daughter had married the prince.  So when she heard that the prince's wife had a child, she assumed that it was her daughter's babe.  Off she went to the palace.  But on the way, she came to a river.  There was a bridge over it, and a "golden reed" grew over the walkway.  The troll started to cut this reed, as a gift for her grandson when she heard a voice.  It said, "Alas, mother, do not cut me." And when the troll called out her daughter's name, a voice answered, saying "They threw me across the river to make a bridge of me!" and then then troll broke the spell, and the bridge became a girl again.  At the palace, the troll mother 
chanted: "Spit into my knife-sheath, Bewitch my knife-blade, Become a reindeer." and at that instant, "the poor queen was transformed instantly into a reindeer, and the troll used her magic to make her own daughter take on the form and shape of the queen.  But the baby prince missed its own mother's care and cried without ceasing." So the prince begged advice from a wise woman, who looked carefully at the child and said, "I'll take him with me tomorrow when I drive the cows to the wood.  I will make a rustling among the leaves and a trembling among the aspens.  Perhaps the boy will quiet when he hears it." And the prince agreed.  In the morning, the wise woman gently wrapped the baby boy, and carried him on her back as she walked along. And when "she came to the edge of a marsh, and, seeing a herd of reindeer, she began at once to sing a magical song, and immediately one of the reindeer came and nursed the child and cared for it all day long." In this way, the wise woman learned the truth. The next day, the prince and his baby son both came to the woods with her, and there they "built a fire by the edge of the marsh.  The reindeer came as before and began to nurse the child.  'Take off your reindeer skin.' said the woman, 'and I will comb your hair for you.'  So the reindeer shed it's skin as the prince hid and watched." As the wise woman combed the creature's hair, the prince dashed out and threw the reindeer skin into the fire. Before his eyes, he saw his wife become a spinning wheel, then a spindle, and many other things. "But the prince smashed each one, until his own wife stood before him again, and he brought her home to the castle." When they got their, the prince gave some orders.  He commanded that a bath kettle be hoisted over the fire, and filled with tar instead of water.  When the tar boiled, he threw a blue cloth over it to give the appearance of water. Then he called for the troll woman and her daughter, inviting them to enjoy a hot bath. "They fell into the hot tar and perished.  But before they vanished forever, the troll screamed, 'May worms come upon the earth, and insects fill the air, for the torment of all humankind."
From The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series: Cinderlla. Sierra, J. Cinderella (The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series) Notes: This is clearly a very ancient story.  Elizabeth Wayland Barber, author of Women's Work, the First 20,000 Years,(Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times) says, "The Slavic women of Eastern Europe preserved memory of a pagan goddess, Mokosh, or Mokusha, who walked at night, spinning wool, and to whom one might pray for help both with spinning and with doing the laundry.  If sheep were losing their wool, the saying was: Mokosh has sheared the sheep."( p. 247) Such female spirits could be good, or evil.  The fact that the spirit of the mother advises that the sign of the cross be made in the ashes, as means of completing the task, seems  to me a clear display of the superimposition of Christianity over many traditional fairy tales. 
Montessori Connection: Literature of Finland
1. Read this story, then find Finland on the globe.
2. Read some famous children's stories from Finland:Finn Family MoomintrollComet in MoominlandMoominsummer Madness (Moomintrolls)