Sunday, November 30, 2008

Quote of the Day

What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce.
Mark Twain.

An Old Folk-Tale from Jutland

Oudrup Hede, Jutland

Folk Tales
The real folk-tales have existed for thousands of years, only for the last two hundred years some of these treasures have been collected by folklorists before they were completely forgotten.
The folklorist Evald Tang Kristensen (1843-1929) was the most important Danish collector of folk-tales. He was a school teacher, but at that time a school teacher got a lousy pay, so in summer he had to take care of his little farm too. Only in winter he spent his time walking on foot from place to place in all kinds of weather, mile after mile across the heath in rain and mud, overnighting by the peasants. He was able to make shy people open up and tell him their stories.

For more than 50 years he collected folk-tales, ballads, fairy-tales, legends, history and biographies from about 6.500 informants, mainly from the poor. The result were many books , in the first many years financed by himself and printed in small impression. The interest for folklore was limited at that time, but later it became highly treasured and still is. We owe him a lot. In 1888 he got some aid from the Danish State, and he gave up his job as a school teacher devoting his life to folklore collection. This little folk-tale is told to him by a peasant woman Inger Olesdatter from Øster Ørum near Horsens. It is from the book "Eventyr fra Jylland II".

Girl with sheep, Heather Hill

Once upon a time was a little girl, named Virp, and people called her Tiny-Virp. When she had to go out to work, she got a job in the vicarage. She had to take care of the sheep out into the heath. The first day she came out there she saw a silver ram, when she sat down to eat her food, it stood upon a hill. She drove the sheep together and then she run up and took the silver ram and ran home to the vicarage with it. When she came into the yard, they closed and shuttered the gate, while Tiny-Virp went singing in the yard.
Clump, clump,clump! The big troll came to the gate and said:
"Listen, little Virp! did you take my silver ram?"
"Yes, I did!"
"Will you come more often?"
"You never can tell," she said.
Then they let a canonshot sound through the gate. Clump, clump, clump! then the big troll ran.
The next day, when she came out into the heath with her sheep, she sat upon the hill to eat her food. Then she saw a golden ram, it stood upon the hill. Virp drove the sheep together, took the golden ram and ran home to the vicarage with it. And they closed and shuttered the gate, while Tiny-Virp went singing in the yard.
Clump,clump,clump! then the big troll came.
"Listen little Virp! Did you take my silver ram and my golden ram?"
"Yes, I did."
"Will you come more often?"
"You never can tell" said Tiny-Virp.
Then they let a canonshot sound through the gate. Clump, clump, clump! then the big troll ran.
The third day, when she came out upon the heath with her sheep, it rained cats and dogs. When she sat down to eat her food, she saw that the big troll's old mother was out by the well to fetch some water, and she wore a light cape, and it repelled water, and it shone so that it was light all around. Then Tiny-Virp run and pushed the old woman down into the well, but she took the light cap and wore it, and then she run home to the vicarage, after she had driven the sheep together. They closed and locked the gate and Tiny-Virp went singing in the yard.
Clump, clump, clump! then the big troll came.
"Listen, little Virp! did you take my silver ram and my golden ram and my light cape and pushed my mother into the well?"
"Yes I did," said Tiny-Virp.
"Will you come more often?"
"You never can tell."
Clump, clump, clump! then the big troll ran, when they fired a canonshot out through the gate.
The fourth day when she came out into the heath with the sheep, the weather was fine, and the troll's window was open. In the windowsill was a jingle stick, he jingled it when he summoned all the big trolls. She took it when she sat down to eat her food. She drove the sheep together and run home to the vicarage with the jingle stick. They both closed and shuttered the gate and then Tiny-Virp went singing in the yard.
Clump, clump, clump! then the big troll came running.
"Listen little Virp! Did you take my silver ram and my golden ram and my light cape and pushed my mother into the well and now took my jingle stick?"
"Yes I did," said Tiny-Virp.
"Will you come more often?"
"You never can tell," she said, and then they let a canonshot sound through the gate. Then the big troll got scared, and clump, clump, clump! he ran again.
The fitfth day when she came out into the heath with her sheep, the big troll's window was open, and a gold harmonica lay inside. Now she reached out for it, but she was cheated, for the big troll stood inside and took her hand and drew her inside. Now he had caught her and he wanted to slaughter her as a punishment, because she had taken all those things from him. But he thought she was to skinny for slaughtering, she had to be fed up. So he put her into a dark room, and there she had to live from prunes and raisins and black sausage, then he thought she would be fat. When some days had passed by, she had to put a finger out through a hole he had drilled in the door, then he would prick it with a needle, so he could see the blood, if she then was fat enough. But she wrapped sausage skin around her finger so that the blood could not come out, and it did not come out, no matter how much he pricked.
Finally he decided that she had to be slaughtered. He asked his wife to light a fire in the oven and fry Tiny-Virp there, while he went around to summon the big trolls for a feast. He had to do it now since Tiny-Virp had taken his jingle stick.
The wife began to light a fire in the oven, and she fired much more than when she was baking. Then she asked little Virp if it was hot enough.
"No it is not at all hot enough," said Tiny-Virp.
Then she fired much more.
Yes, it was not hot enough yet, but now it had to do. Then Tiny-Virp had to go into the oven, but she did not understand, she said, how to do it. If just the woman would show her. Then the woman had to show her. She sat down upon the baking spade and told her how to sit. But then Tiny-Virp took hold of the baking spade, pushed the woman into the oven and closed the oven door.
Then she ran home to the vicarage and said that they had to bring all the carriages they had, in order to get hold of the big troll's gold and silver, before he came home. For now no one was at home in the hill. Then they came with eight carriages, seven pair of horses and a pair of bullocks for the eighth carriage. Then they took all the goods, the big troll had. And at last Tiny-Virp took the wife's night cap and filled it with hay, and she put it in the bed and pulled the duvet over it, so that only the top was to see, and it looked as if it was the wife who was in the bed. Then they drove home to the vicarage and put shutters for the gate doors.
Soon after the big troll came home, but he could not find his wife. Finally he thought that he saw her lying in the bed for he could see the tip of her night cap.
"Now I am here," the big troll shouted. She did not answer.
"Did you fry Tiny-Virp?" No, she did not answer.
Then he hooted louder:
"Did you fry Tiny-Virp?" No, there was no answer.
"If you do not answer me then you shall get a slap in the head!" But it did not help at all.
Then he slapped the night cap so that the hay fell out all over the floor, for now he was angry.
But if it was not wrong before then it became wrong now, for he could see that there was some madness about it. He ran to take a look at the oven. There he found his wife who was completely fried.
Clump, clump, clump! then he ran to the vicarage. Then Tiny-Virp went singing in the yard.
"Listen Tiny-Virp! Did you take my silver ram and my golden ram and my light cape and pushed my mother into the well and took my jingle stick and stole all my silver and gold and pushed my wife into the oven?"
"Yes I did," Tiny Virp said.
"Will you come more often?"
"There is nothing more to come for," she said, and then they fired a canonshot through the gate, so that the big troll got scared. Clump, clump, clump! it said, and then he ran home.

Source: Evald Tang Kristensen "Eventyr fra Jylland II" (edited & published 1998)
(This folk-tale Tiny-Virp (Danish title : Bitte-Virp) is translated by Grethe Bachmann for this blog)

photo 2007 & 2008: grethe bachmann, Heather Hill, Zealand

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Quote of the Day

photo: grethe bachmann

There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.

Johan Sebastian Bach

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cleaning the Indoor Air with Houseplants
A really good idea

The house is filled with computers and TVs and other polluting things, but plants can help us to improve the air in our home.

Plants provide a natural, cost effective way to clean indoor air and combat "sick-building syndrome". In a 24-hour period a spider plant can remove 80% of formaldehyde pollutants from an enclosed room. So cleaning the air in the house can be as simple as buying a few houseplants - and almost all plants are powerful air cleaners. The plant acts as a filter by removing pollutants from the air and replacing the air with oxygen in a more pure form. Pollotuin in the home can give burning eyes, itchy throat or other respiratory problems .The three harmful pollutants commonly found in today's homes are benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene (TCE). 15 to 20 houseplants can purify the interior of an 1,800 square foot house.

Benzene is a commonly-used solvent and is found in tobacco smoke, gasoline, inks, oils, paint, plastic, and rubber. It's also used in the manufacture of detergents, pharmaceuticals, and dyes. Exposure to benzene can cause dizziness, nervousness, headaches, and anemia; and it irritates both the eyes and skin.Plants that remove benzene are: Gerbera Daisy, Chrysanthemum, Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily), Chamaedorea sefritzii (Bamboo Palm), Dracaena 'Warneckei', Hedera helix (English ivy), and Sansevieria (Snake Plant).

Formaldehyde is found in virtually in all indoor environments. Major sources include insulation, particleboard, and paper products. Many cleaning products also contain formaldehyde. Formaldehyde irritates the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory system and can increase risk of asthma. Plants that remove formaldehyde are: Chamaedorea sefritzii (Bamboo Palm), Dracaena 'Janet Craig', Sansevieria (Snake Plant), Dracaena Marginata, Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily), Chlorophytum (Spider Plant), Epipiremnum aureum (Golden Pothos), and Philodendron scandens `oxycardium' (Heartleaf Philodendron).

Trichloroethylene has a wide variety of industrial uses. It is used in inks, paints, varnishes, and adhesives.Plants that remove trichloroethylene are: Gerbera daisy, Chrysanthemum, Dracaena Marginata, Spathiphyllum (Peace lily), Dracaena 'Janet Craig', and Chamaedorea (Bamboo palm).

Most of the plants listed below evolved in tropical or sub-tropical forests, where they received only light filtered through the taller trees. Over time these air-cleaning plants adapted to lower light conditions, so most of them are perfectly suited to the light conditions we can offer them in our homes.

Aglaonema modestum (Chinese evergreen) : One of the easiest houseplants to grow and tolerates low light. Water thoroughly and let the soil dry out between watering.

Chamaedorea sefritzii (Bamboo Palm) Thrives in medium to bright light and likes average room temperatures with lots of humidity. From Spring to Fall, water well and then moderately during Winter.

Chrysantemum: Keep them cool and moist. If in bud, fertilize every two weeks.

Chlorophytum comosum (Spider Plant)(Væddeløber):Likes average temperatures with bright light, but can tolerate medium light. Water thoroughly and let the soil dry out between watering.

Dracaena 'Janet Craig' (Corn Plant), Dracaena `Warneckii' (Striped Dracaena):Prefers bright light, but not direct sun. Water thoroughly Spring through Winter and let the soil dry out between watering.

Dracaena marginata (Red-edged Dracaena):Easy to grow in bright to medium light, average home temperatures.

Epipiremnum aureum (Golden Pothos) (Guldranke):Climbing or trailing vine. An excellent choice for less than optimum conditions because it tolerates low light and infrequent watering.

Gerbera Daisy: Indoors requires bright light to flower. Keep soil slightly moist.

Hedera helix (English Ivy) (Vedbend):Prefers temperatures from 18.5°C in the day to 7°C at night.Water thoroughly and let the soil dry out between watering

Philodendron scandens 'oxycardium' (Heartleaf Philodendron):Easy to grow, happy in home temperatures and humidity. Good for low light situations. Let soil dry out between watering.

Sansevieria trifasciata (Snake Plant) (Svigermors skarpe tunge): This plant tolerates almost any amount of neglect, but with a little attention can be lovely. Does well in all light situations. Do not over-water.

Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily) (Fredslilje): Easy to grow. Tolerates low light conditions and blooms in medium light conditions. Keep soil slightly moist.

Source:The Best Houseplants for a Healthy Home, By Editorial Team

photo:grethe bachmann

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Christ's Month/Kristmåned
Superstitions and Omens

Now we are soon in the tvelwth and last month of the year, but in ancient times while the Julian calendar ruled it was the tenth month of the year. Decem means ten in Latin. The medieval Danish name was Kristmåned (Christ's Month), the month where you celebrate the birth of Christ.

Ploughed field, Fulden.

The farmer had to finish his ploughing in the first days of December. After this he brought liquid manure to the winter rye and fetched thorn and staves for building and repairing the fences. If the meadows and the moors were frozen, he cut willow twigs for his furlong fences -and if he had no longstraw for his roof repair, he fetched reed in the frozen meadows and marshes.
He also had to repair the watermills and the sluices. Indoor the farmer family was concentrated around the Christmas preparations, but the whole family helped each other to repair tools and make twine and ropes. There was no time for laziness in the farmer's family.

Weather omens were serious matters then, not just something to make fun about. If an omen said that a cold and snowy December promised a fertile year and a good summer, then the farmer wanted cold and snow. A mild month with rain and fog made him worried. But else the weather omens were few in December, although three unlucky days kept people inside the house - the 6th, 11th and 18th of December. The 6th of December was Sct. Nicolai's Day, and if the weather was good it would be good the rest of the month. If the 8th of December (Sct. Anna's Day) came with thaw the whole winter would be mild.

The night between 12th and 13th December (Sct. Lucia) was a dangerous night. Before people went inside in the evening the whole year's work had to be finished and all crops be under cover, or else they would be destroyed by de underjordiske/the underground people (trolls, pixies etc.) It was an exciting night for the young girls on the farm. It was possible for the girl to see her future fiancé, if she held a lit candle in each hand and looked into a mirror while she spoke a verse:

Luci du blide
skal lade mig vide:
hvis dug jeg skal brede,
hvis seng jeg skal rede,
hvis kærest' jeg skal være,
hvis barn jeg skal bære,
i hvis arm jeg skal sove.

Luci you gentle one,
let me know,
whose table cloth I shall spread,
whose bed I shall make,
whose sweetheart I shall be,
whose child I shall bear,
in whose arm I shall sleep.

The night before Christmas the stables were cleaned extra thoroughly and the livestock had plenty of clean bedding and extra fodder. The superstition said that the animals found their tongue on Christmas Eve, and if everything wasn't quite allright then they would speak evil about their master and his house.

The family also had to consider "the underground people", and it was necessary to do a lot of preparations in order to prevent their destructive power. The farmer had to put steel above the stable door, and the teeth of the cattle had to be rubbed in salt and soot, (poor cattle!) to prevent the underground people from harming the animals. Plough, harrow and other tools had to be indoor, when Jerusalems shoemaker - the Wandering Jew - was out walking that night. If he rested upon a forgotten implement, then nothing was able to grow in that field the following year.

All things made of iron had a great power, and besides the steel above the stable door the farmer had to put a solid scythe into the corn pile, an axe into the dunghill and a big knife into the eaves.
Overall were dangerous creatures at work, numerous tales were told about helhesten(a ghost horse with three legs), trolls, witches, evil minded pixies, vætter (elves) and other dangerous underground people, who were the cause of misfortune to people who did not take precautions against them.

The farmer's wife and the farm girls had to see to that all clothes had been washed and dried before Christmas Eve - all clothes had to be indoor. The saying was: Den der klæder gærder i julen skal klæde lig inden året er omme. /He who dresses the fence in clothes during Christmas must dress a dead body before the end of the year.

The Christmas dinner went on and on - and on. Many believed that he who first stopped eating would die before the end of the coming year. This must really have been a hard nut to crack. They had to stop eating at the same time!

Often people put an extra, lit candle in the window. It had to show all wayfarers where the farm was , but it also had to lead the departed of the family, when they visited their home this night. Some put an extra setting on the Christmas table.

Many of our Christmas dishes come from the pagan solstitial celebrations. The special tradition where the farmer puts porridge upon the loft for the Christmas pixy is probably even older than this - probably from bondestenalderen (4000 bc) . In this period porridge was offered to friendly gods who lived by the settlement.

The Christmas pork roast is an old tradition too, way back to the pagan sacrificial celebrations before Christ, when the biggest hog (gilded orne) was sacrificed to the fertility god Frej, (Frodi) so that he would bring "year and peace" to the farm.

Christmas Day was a very important time. The farmer was dependent on the weather like the farmer has always been and still is. He had to imagine the weather in the year to come. In the morning the farmer cut twelve grooves (for the twelve days of Christmas) in a beam in the ceiling, and around every groove he made a chalk circle. Every day he wrote signs in a circle - if it was raining he wrote dots, if it was storming he wrote stripes and so on. He marked every circle with a sign which he himself knew the meaning of and which he had learned from his father. When Christmas was over he could easily see how the weather would be in the next twelve months. Actually a long-term forecast of that time. Today our long-term forecasts on TV are somewhat more advanced, but this doesn't mean they are more reliable. When I remember my umbrella the sun starts to shine and when I forget my umbrella it rains cats and dogs.

On this first day of Christmas it was not allowed to walk about in the farm. Fodder for the livestock were ready for several days. The farmer had to keep away from the grindstone, his wife had to keep away from the spinning wheel. Sewing and knitting were also forbidden, both this day and the rest of the Christmas days. If people crossed this line they were almost sure to get swellen fingers the next year. On every one of the twelve Christmas days it was widely forbidden to make practical and useful things, except when it was necessary to supply the fodder for the livestock and other necessary things.

Most omens were taken the night before the festival and the farmer was very interested in the weather on the last day of the year. If it was raining on exactly this day (Sylvesterdag) the harvest would be a difficult one. Furthermore he took a slice of bred on New Year's Eve, smeared lard on and cut it in four. Those four pieces were put on the floor. The chained dog was brought into the room and held back while the farmer pointed at the bread slices one by one and told the dog: "This is my rye, this is my oat, this is my wheat and this is my barley". The dog was loosened and the bread slice he eat first told the farmer which kind of corn would bring the best yield in the following season. And the next slices the dog eat were also put in order in the farmer's mind. So if the omen later showed to be wrong it wasn't his fault. Maybe he thought it was the dog's fault!

The young farm girls played fortunetellers. One girl went outside the room, and the girl who wanted to know about her future took four little bowls. The first one was placed over a tiny bunch of soil , the other above a ring, the third above a comb and the fourth above nothing. Then the girl outside was called upon and she pointed on one of the four bowls. The soil meant death, the ring meant early betrothal, the comb was marriage - and the empty bowl meant that nothing would change in the coming year.

Shortly before twelve according to the custom people started making a terrible noise with pots and pans in order to chase away evil spirits, but at twelve there was silence for a short moment, and then everyone wished one another a Happy New Year. We still make some noise but we don't believe in evil spirits - do we? We still wish each other a Happy New Year, and I wonder how old that tradition is.

Some people back then even believed that if they on New year's night at twelve stood in the middle of a crossroad and called out three times for a dear departed, then he or she would show and answer three questions.

Whatever! A new year began, and people way back then were dependent on so many things and afraid of so many things that it is impossible to imagine for us today. But if you have ever been out in the country on a completely dark night then you might catch an ancient feeling of fear. No moon, no stars, no street lights. You cannot even see your own hand. On a Christmas holiday by my grandmother, when I was about ten years, I had to fetch milk for her on a farm nearby on such a dark night. I was terribly scared and couldn't find my way in some critical moments. And in the old days, in the Middle Ages and long before, way back in time people really believed that out in the dark were evil spirits, the ghost horse, trolls, witches, pixies, elves and many more dangerous creatures.

Source: Ruth Gunnarsen: Familiens Højtider i gamle dage.

photo/mostly from Hjerl Hede Open Air Museum, Jutland: grethe bachmann

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Mushrooms in Autumn

In the autumn are lots of mushrooms in the forest. Some of them look fine and tempting, but it is necessary to know which are edible and which poisonous. If you are out gathering mushrooms for the first time it is a good idea to be in the company of an experienced mushroom hunter - even experts are sometimes in doubt. Fortunately there are some mushrooms which are easy to recognize, some you won't mistake for poisonous or bad tasting mushrooms.

I haven't written the names of the mushrooms here. I'm no expert and I'm only a photo hunter!

photo by Silkeborg October 2008: grethe bachmann