Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Virgin Mary and the Swallow

The following aitiological tale is of a type that is described thus:

The Virgin Mary's maid once stole from her mistress scissors and a ball of thread, and was transformed to a swallow when she wouldn't confess. The scissors form her tail and the ball her breast, and she must always tell about the theft.

Hodne, Ørnulf. The Types of the Norwegian Folktale. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1984. p. 180

As may be seen however, the tale published by Asbjørnsen and Moe—reproduced below—bears little resemblance to the tale type, perhaps as a result of being composed from several different variants. I cannot but think that they might have done a better job.

The Virgin Mary and the Swallow

Once upon a time, one beautiful summer's day, the Virgin Mary sat sewing, out in the green. She had laid her golden scissors and a ball of red silk beside her; but just as she reached for them, they were gone. She searched and searched, and she asked all the trees and all the animals, both bird and fish, if one of them had taken the thread and the scissors, but they said no, all of them; they had neither seen nor touched them. Straightway the swallow came flying by, twittering

Boys and girls
Boys and girls
Sitting in the barn
Kissing and stroking
I sat and I watched
I sat and I watched.

“It is you who has taken the scissors and the ball of silk,” said the Virgin Mary; “for no one else flits around like you, both high and low, around house and home, under cloud and sky, and in the green meadows.”

The Virgin Mary blames me, blames me
for the scissors and the ball of silk,

said the swallow.

Did I take them?
Did I take them?
It is a lie, it is.
That it is.

If it be true,
I will sink in the sea.
Would that the ball of silk stuck in my gullet
And the scissors in the tail of the one who took them,
Took them.

“You have sentenced yourself,” said the Virgin Mary, “and as you will, shall you have it. Both the ball of silk and scissors you shall bear as a mark; and in the winter you shall lie at the bottom of lakes and tarns. But because you blamed me, even though you lied and stole, you shall build in strife under the roof and gable end, and never light upon a green branch.”

From that day, the swallow flies about with the red patch from the ball of silk on its throat, and with the scissors as a tail. In the autumn, it tumbles among the people who tend the fields, and often shoots right into their midst, as if it would take its leave before setting off on a long journey. But it does not think of travelling southwards; it will descend to the depths, and lie in hibernation in mires and tarns, as the Virgin Mary said; and it does so, too, if it be true as folk tell, that they find it frozen solid at the bottom of the water. But the swallow will not allow anything other than that it travels away with the other birds in the autumn; and the first thing one hears it singing in the spring is:

In the autumn, when I leave,
All the houses are full;
In the spring, when I return,
All the houses are empty,
Every one, every one, every one;
For the women are busy and wile away
In drips and drops and dashes in
Spinning pay, in drip, drop, dash!

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