Mother Holle

Once upon a time, there was a wicked old woman, a widow, who lived with her two daughters, one of whom was noble and good, the other being lazy and indolent.

The wicked woman, naturally, doted on her lazy daughter, as this was her natural daughter, and not simply the daughter of her late husband from a previous marriage.

Every day the wicked stepmother made the poor girl go out to fetch the water, do all the chores, and spin flax to boot. One morning, when the daughter was gone to fetch the water, she, quite by accident, managed to drop her spinner into the well. At this, the girl ran home crying. But, do you expect she got any sympathy for her plight? Not a bit of it.

“You ignoramus!” spat the cruel stepmother (at least, she spat something that approximated this), “now you must go and jump in the well and retrieve your spinner!” And the stepmother put her arm out and pointed out the door; and, weeping the young miss went to do as she was told.

Terrified, she jumped in the dark, dank well. However, she was amazed and astounded when, much to her surprise, she didn’t drown in the bottom of the well, but instead fell until she fell down upon the side of a hillock in a strange, upside-down land.

“Oh, where am I?” she asked herself, rubbing her bruised bottom as she crept carefully through the meadow, which was quite beautiful and covered with thousands of bright flowers.

Soon, she came to a huge oven, wherein the loaves of bread cried out to her, “Oh, mercy, take us out of here, for we have been baked long enough!” And so, carefully taking up the bread shovel, the young maiden took the loaves out of the oven, setting them in a careful pile.

She was then on her way. She soon came to an apple tree, the likes of which was bursting with tremendous apples larger than any she had ever before seen. The apples cried out, “Oh! pluck us! For we have hung here long enough, and are ready to burst!”

So, taking pity upon the apples, she carefully began to pluck them one by one from the branches, until she had before her a pile she could set aside. Then, tired, but too curious to rest, she was once again on her way.

After a short amount of time she came to a strange cottage. Knocking at the door, she was terrified to see the ugliest old woman she had ever seen in her life come to the door. The woman had tremendous tusk-like teeth, and the poor young maiden was so terrified she almost ran away. She could tell by the kindly look in the old woman’s eyes though, that she was not going to hurt her.

“Well, miss, it seems that fate has brought you to my door step. Now, you may stay here as long as you like, if you will simply do your chores. Also, make sure you shake the feathers out of my pillow every morning, as then it will be sure to snow. Got that?”

And she nodded yes. Well, this good, honest, hardworking girl worked hard, and cleaned, and cooked, and took care of Mother Holle, and turned down the covers, and scrubbed the tub, and cleaned out the oven, and baked the bread, and shook the feathers out of the pillows, so that it would snow.

And she was most content to do it all, as Mother Holle, despite her odd appearance, was very kind, and treated her to a sumptuous feast and all the fun she could handle.

Well, things went on like this for awhile, until, one day the girl, looking out on the lonely forest wherein Mother Holle resided, began to feel homesick.

Mother Holle, sensing this, said, “Child, I suppose it is high time you had better be sent home. But, before you go, I want to give you your reward for being such a good and faithful servant.”

And Mother Holle pushed her out the door. But, before she could go, she covered her with a bucket of gold dust, so that she was completely covered in the valuable stuff. Then she sent her on her way, closing the door in an instant.

The gold-covered girl wandered out of the magical forest, buck up the mouth of the old well, and home again. As she approached, the hens began to sing and cluck, “Cock-a-doodle-doo, your golden girl has come back to you!”

When her stepmother at first saw her she was very frightened, for the girl had been missing a long time and was presumed dead. Then, when she saw the fine gold flakes stuck to her skin, she became envious.

She told her lazy, stupid daughter, “Go to this Mother Holle, who lives down the mouth of the old well, and see if you can be her servant for a time. Then, thou shalt have thine own reward like unto thy sister!”

So the stupid, lazy girl did just that. She went to the old well, and pricked her finger exactly as her sister had done on the spinner. Then, she let a few drops of blood fall into the water, and dove down the mouth of the well.

She soon found herself in the upside-down enchanted land, wandering through the strange, dark forest, until she came to the ovens wherein the helpless bread screamed, “Oh, mercy, take us out of here, for we have baked long enough!”

And the lazy girl would have been only too happy to oblige. Except it seemed like an awful lot of work to bend over and take the brad from the ovens, and might make her frightfully hot and dirty to boot. So she simply passed on by, and listened to the dying screams of the bread loaves as they were baked to a crisp.

Next she came to the apple tree, where the overripe apples were hanging from their stems. The apples cried out to her, “Oh, pluck us! For we have hung here long enough, and are ready to burst!”

And the lazy, stupid girl would have obliged, except, well…plucking the apples so high up in the tree seemed like quite an awful lot of work, and she might fall and hurt herself, and become dirty and tired to boot. So she simply walked past the tree, listening to the apples scream as they burst from becoming too ripe.

Soon, she came to the strange cottage of Mother Holle. At first she was frightened when Mother Holle opened the door, as she had never seen anyone with teeth quite so big. But then she remembered that Mother Holle was supposed to be very kind, and this allayed her fears.

“Well, missy, it seems that fate has brought you to my door step. Now, you may stay here as long as you like, if you will simply do your chores. Also, make sure you shake the feathers out of my pillow every morning, as then it will be sure to snow. Got that?”

And the lazy, stupid girl agreed to do it all.

At first, she was careful to do her chores exactly as Mother Holle had said, and she worked diligently at everything. It was not long, however, before the lazy, stupid nature began to reassert itself, and she started slacking off work, disobeying, and not doing what she was told.

Soon, Mother Holle tired of this. She said to her, “Now, I am going to send you back home, as you must be very homesick by now!”

“Oh yes,” cried the lazy, stupid girl. “But, what about my reward?”

And Mother Holle said, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll get exactly what is coming to you!”

And with that, she shoved her out the door, but before she could go, she emptied a bucket of pitch over her head, and laughed. Mother Holle said, “That is your reward, dearie! Wear it well! Wear it well! It really suits you!”

And she slammed the door and never came out again.

Well, the stupid, lazy girl, who was now quite covered with pitch, found her way back to her own home from out the magic portal. And, at her coming, the hens began to cluck, saying:

“Cock-a-doodle-doo, your pitchy girl’s come back to you!”

And, no matter how hard they scrubbed, they could not got the layer of pitch off of the lazy daughter, who was forced to go abotu that way until the day she died.



Once upon a time, in the Long Ago, there was a brave soldier returned from the war. Finding himself poor and alone, he went to his brothers and begged them to let him stay with them.

They refused, saying that he was of no use to them, as all he knew was soldiering and had no skill with which he could earn his keep. Thus, he was condemned to wander through the forest, hungry and alone.

Lamenting his fate, the aggrieved soldier sat down upon a log near the trail, and considered what to do. Soon, a shadow fell across his face, and he realized he was joined by a strange man in a green coat.

“My dear fellow,” said he, “Why art thou weeping so?”

To which the soldier replied, “Because the war is over, and I am out of money, and will surely die of starvation in this cruel forest.”

At this the man threw back his head in laughter, and exclaimed, “Nonsense! Thou wilt not surely die! Come, I will strike a deal with thee!”

And the soldier, having guessed the identity of the man (due, in large part, to the cloven hoof exposed beneath the heavy green coat of the stranger), said “As long as it does not endanger my salvation, state thy bargain.”

At this the man (or rather the Devil), rubbed his hands (we imagine the nails were long and sharp) together and said, “Thou must wander the earth for seven long years, and thou mayest not wash thy body, or cut thy hair, or nails, or clean thy face or clothing, or even sleep in a bed. Look–”

And the Devil pointed in the distance. Instantly, a huge black bear came charging through the brush. Panicked, the Soldier lifted his rifle and said, “I’ll tickle thy nose for thee!” He fired, killing the bear instantly.

The Devil stepped forward, grabbed handfuls of the dead bear’s flesh, and ripped off its skin. This he tied around the soldier’s neck for a cloak.

“Here,” he said, “from now on, thy name shall be ‘Bearskin.’ Also, put on my coat. Whenever thou reach into the pocket of this coat, thou wilt find money enough for all thy needs.

“Now,” continued the Devil, “If thou shouldst die in seven years, I own thy soul FOREVER. Otherwise, if thou survive the seven years of wandering, thou shalt have money and happiness beyond thy wildest dreams.”

And with that, the Devil (who smelled quite badly of sulfur) disappeared in a smelly burst of smoke and flame. The Soldier stood dumbfounded, unsure of the bargain he had made, but, reaching into his pocket, found the gold he had been promised, and was at least mollified now that he could afford room and board at the next inn he came to.

So began the “Seven Years of Wandering,” wherein Bearskin wandered East, and West, and North, and South, and up hill, and down hill, and through forest, and over rock and under yawning branches in the sun-dappled evening, and across moats and swamps, and through brambles and thicket-patches, and suchlike wild tarns.

The first year he did not look so frightening, nor smell so terrifically terrible, but by the second year, he looked an awful mess; and, by the end of the third year, he seemed to be an ogre. People often avoided him in fear and revulsion, or ran away outright. One night, when the rain was pouring hard against the ragged tatters of his clothing, and the immense bearskin was dripping wet against his form, he stopped by an inn for shelter, determined to, at the very least, spread the filthy, wet bearskin in front of a roaring fire.

The Innkeeper, upon seeing him, was seriously alarmed, and refused him entry. He even refused to let him sleep in the stables, for he feared, “A man with such a monstrous appearance as thou hast would surely upset the horses.”

Bearskin reached into the pocket of his green coat and produces a handful of ducats. The Innkeeper softened somewhat.

“Alright! If thou so desires it, thou shalt sleep thy sleep in the privy!”
And so Bearskin went to the outhouse to sleep, cursing his fate that he should be reduced so low. Curiously, though, he found that the stinking outhouse was already occupied by a weeping man.

“Sir,” began Bearskin, “Permit me to ask thee: why art thou weeping?”

The old man began, “Because I have lost all of my money, and my three daughters and I shall surely be turned out of house and home, and now, I do not even have the money to pay the innkeeper. Surely he will have me cast into prison!”

Upon hearing this, Bearskin felt so bad for the old man that he reached into his pocket and pulled out a fist full of the gold ducats. The old man’s face suddenly broke into a bright beam of happiness, and he exclaimed, “Oh, sir! Thou art too kind! Why, in thy hand is more than enough money to pay the innkeeper, and all my debts beside. I shall not fear being cast into prison now!”
And the old man went to pay the innkeeper. Upon returning, he said, “Come! I have three lovely daughters, and for thy kindness, thou shall have one for thy wife!”
And the old man took Bearskin by the (now admittedly long and dirty fingers), and lead him to his home, which was a small cottage set far back amidst a stand of trees.
Upon entering the home, the man introduced Bearskin to his daughters. His appearance was so frightening however that, immediately, the eldest ran away with her apron thrown over her head. The other looked at Bearskin with a look of disgust on her face, and crossing her arms over her chest in an insolent manner, refused to speak to him or even look at him.

The third daughter, the youngest, exclaimed, “Oh father, if thou didst promise this man the hand of thy daughter in marriage, because of his good deed to thee, then this thing must surely come to pass!”

And with that, she promised she would become Bearskin’s wife. She donned a black dress, becoming quite solemn and downcast, but realizing all the while that, since her sisters would not do it, it fell to her to fulfill her father’s wishes.

But Bearskin replied, “I must first wander a pace before I become thy husband. Here–”

And with that, he took her ring from her finger, and, breaking it in half, gave one half to her to keep, and kept the other half safe with himself. Then he tearfully bid her adieu, and went to finish the rest of his wanderings, as per his agreement with the Devil.

Thus after seven long, weary years, when Bearskin now resembled a great shaggy beast more than a man, he came to the same spot in the forest where, years before, the Devil had accosted him and struck his bargain. Sure enough, the Author of Evil was waiting there patiently, smoking his pipe, leaning against a log. He seemed not to have aged a day.

Upon seeing Bearskin however, his arrogant, grinning countenance turned very, very ugly. He spat and snarled, and stomped his feet, and gnashed his teeth, and shook his fist at Heaven, and shook his fist at Hell, and his eyes flamed and his hair stood on end, and he said, “Curse thee, thou stinkard! Get thee hence, and trouble me not with thy loathsome appearance!”

Bearskin realized that he had actually won the Devil’s bargain, and was determined to make the old monster abide by what he had promised. But, first, he demanded that the Arch-Fiend shave him and give him a bath.

This the Devil grudgingly did, sitting Bearskin down on an old log, humiliated by being reduced to the role of a humble barber! Then, Bearskin, now as polished and handsome as he had been seven years earlier, demanded a new suit of clothing. This the Devil speedily obtained, producing the clothes as if by magic.

Finally, Bearskin demanded the wealth that had been promised him, and the Devil told him his wishes would soon be fulfilled. However, first he must go and claim his bride.

So the Soldier (we can no longer really refer to him as “Bearskin,” can we?) set out for the village. When he arrived there, he asked about the whereabouts of the man and his family, and was directed to a great house on a hill, at the edge of town.

Perplexed, the Soldier rode out to the location he had been directed to, and hitching his horse, went up to peer through the large window overlooking the great hall.

Inside, a dinner party was being held for a seemingly bored group of young women. At first, he did not recognize them in their beautiful finery, but after a few moments, he recognized them as the two sisters who had refused to marry him when his identity had been that of “Bearskin.” And, coming through the doorway, he recognized the youngest daughter, whom he was to marry.

He went to the door at once, knocked, and strode confidently in past the perplexed servant. He asked for the master of the house, was told that the man was away on business, but was lead to the dining room, where he was greeted effusively by the now-interested older sisters.

They each spent the night trying to woo his affections, but, to no avail; they never suspected the dashing young soldier was none other than the hideous “Bearskin” whom they had refused to even speak to so many years before.

Finally, as daybreak came, the soldier went to the youngest daughter, and, to her great astonishment, asked her directly if she would immediately marry him!
He then produced his half of the ring, and her face brightened into a look of pure wonder. She held up her half of the golden crescent, and they fell into each other’s arms, kissing passionately as the sun rose above the trees.
They were married later that morning.

(Source: The Brothers Grimm)


Voltaire said, “To find out who rules over you, just ask who you are not allowed to criticize.” He might also have added that, to find out who is most likely telling you the truth, ask yourself: Who is it the system is constantly demonizing? Who is it the media derides? When you find the answer, you’ll know who you should probably be listening to.

California (Is Weeping Tonight)

The Harelip was lying on his bunk, dozing in and out when I came into the room. The lights were off, with only the moon illuminating his physical ugliness from a shaft of light penetrating the grimy window. I was carrying my notebook. He suddenly leaned forward on his pillow as I pattered in. “California is weeping tonight,” he mumbled, incoherently, before the words were drowned out by additional snores. California is weeping tonight, I said to myself. CALIFORNIA…is weeping tonight. What, was there a wild fire? His hypnogogic babbling took on wide, eerie, cryptic significance. I sat down, and in the darkness I wrote: “California is weeping tonight,” in my notebook. And then I wrote: “AND SO AM I.”

From Aesop: “The Belly and the Members”

One fine day it occurred to the Members of the Body that they were doing all the work and the Belly was having all the food. So they held a meeting, and after a long discussion, decided to strike work till the Belly consented to take its proper share of the work. So for a day or two, the Hands refused to take the food, the Mouth refused to receive it, and the Teeth had no work to do. But after a day or two the Members began to find that they themselves were not in a very active condition: the Hands could hardly move, and the Mouth was all parched and dry, while the Legs were unable to support the rest. So thus they found that even the Belly in its dull quiet way was doing necessary work for the Body, and that all must work together or the Body will go to pieces.
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