Friday, May 17, 2013

Frau Holle- downloadable PDF

In keeping with the Frau Holle theme from the last post, here is a link to an excellent paper exploring the origins of Frau Holle. The author explores research by Erika Timm not covered in the book I just reviewed in the prior post.

The paper, From Fairytale to Goddess: Frau Holle And The Scholars That Try To Reveal Her Origins by Cat Heath, is available as a downloadable PDF.

It's well worth the read. 

Book Review: Goddess Holle

Title: Goddess Holle, In Search of a Germanic Goddess
Author: GardenStone
ISBN: 978-3-8423-7391-4

This is a book that I wanted to love. It came very close.

There are parts of this book- much of it, in fact- that make me very grateful to have it. Then there are some others that, well... I'm left with a love-hate thing for it.

Let's start off with the positives. There is so little attention paid to Frau Holle in American Heathenry. I went in with high hopes that this book would be a useful resource in getting to know more about her. In that, the book is successful. 

The majority of the book is a collection of fairy tales, folk tales, plant lore, local customs, and descriptions of local sites associated with Frau Holle. The book is quite detailed in the range of extremely similar lore and customs over a wide area, and the various names associated with the regional variances of this goddess. 

From these stories, we see not only the wide land range that Frau Holle was known, but also the wide scope of this goddess. The tales show her to be, at the very least, related to Frigg, Freyja, Frija, Hertha, Holda, Perchta, Berchta, and probably a dozen other names, all with strikingly similar, and in several cases exactly the same, lore associated with them. Frau Holle is shown to be a mother, queen, and wife of Woden. She is connected to birth, death, wells, water, storms, mountains, deceased children, magic, rewards and punishment, elves, bees, apples, and of course, spinning. She leads the Wild Hunt, is often called "the white lady" (both for a connection to brightness and shining, but also to her white dress), and causes snow by shaking her bedding. 

Most of all, she is shown to be involved with the lives of individual people. This is in contrast to much of what is known about other Heathen gods and goddesses. In Frau Holle, we see (at least, this was my ultimate takeaway) the survival of a much older goddess who interacts and takes an interest in every day people. She changes their fate, by sending messages in dreams, helping the downtrodden locate their fortunes. She leaves gifts of small, natural items (like stones, and wood shavings) that later turn to gold. Frau Holle can both comfort and instill fear. 

The one theme that seems to spread through the various fairy tales and folk lore shared in this book, is that she rewards kindness and diligence, while punishing the cruel and the lazy. Being kind to each other stands out as something Frau Holle values, as evidenced by those she showered in gold. And while she's capable of stirring up a swirling storm, it's expressions of kindness, appreciation, and gratitude that seem to please her the most. 

There are other sections of the book with ideas for recipes that may have a connection to Frau Holle, as well as scholarly opinions on Frau Holle, and whether or not she's merely a late figure in German folk lore, or if she actually is a goddess. The author never registers his own opinion on the matter. 

Now, for the not so good/not so bad.

This book was translated from German into English. The translation is a bit awkward, and there are plenty of errors. On the other hand, I appreciate the fact that it was translated at all. There are also large sections of the book that are taken out of other sources, and quoted directly. Those sections do not have the translation errors, and are easier to read. 

The photos inside the book are black and white. The resolution is poor. They leave a lot to be desired. But, this appears to be a self-published book. Any photos are better than none. 

Finally, for the rather irritating.

As I've said, the majority of this book is rich with fairy tales, folk lore, and accounts of local places, plants, and customs associated with Frau Holle, as well as connecting her over large areas and time frames. But, the author pipes in to make little comments about how all of this is, "outdated" and should just be dismissed. He makes allusions to "new research" that makes all of this "outdated" research just all filler. At the beginning of the 7th chapter, The Way of Research, which focuses on some of the varying scholarly views on the origins of Frau Holle, the author states that everything before this was meant as "background and explanation in passing."

Background and explanation in passing? By this point, the reader is now in 165 pages worth of fairy tales, folk lore, plant lore, and poetry, out of 223 pages worth of text (not including end notes and references). I'm sorry, but 165 pages of 223 pages worth of text is not just "in passing". That's the bulk of the book! It's far more accurate to say that the chapter on presenting the various scholarly takes on the origin of Frau Holle, as well as the following 8th chapter, The Way of Theory, are presented "in passing".

If this was really all just background, then the preceding sections on fairy tales and folk tales could arguably have been severely reduced. There would have been no need to list every version of every tale. There are so many similar tales with similar themes, that it started to get a bit monotonous. However, what such a redundancy says to me is that these were known far and wide, and they persisted through time. 

The question remains, however, who is Frau Holle? Is she really a goddess, or is she a late figure, perhaps maybe a forest or water spirit? Is she the forerunner of Frigg and Freyja, or the survival of Nerthus?  While all the tales presented through the bulk of the book indicate the answer is "yes", the author chimes in along the way calling these connections "wrong".

It's fine to say something is "outdated" and "wrong". However, show me. Show me the new information. Show me the new research. Where are the citations for the information that demonstrates the bulk of the book, in essence, "wrong"? When I got to chapter 7, I thought I would finally get this answer. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

In chapter 7 (the scholarly research chapter), the argument is put forth that because there wasn't a static "germanic religion" over a united mass of people over time, and that the Germanic people were actually far more tribal than a unified people (which is correct), that this precludes Frau Holle from being the same as other goddesses, like Frigg, Freyja, Frija, Perchta, and so on. The "outdated" research, mostly by Grimm and his contemporaries, viewed all of Germanic religion as something that was more universal over time and distance. 

I would contend that time and distance do not preclude Frau Holle from being the survival of a much older goddess. It's true that the Germanic people were not one unified, static culture. The similarities of the tales, however, are overwhelming. The same stories are being told over a very large area, in a place where the tradition was an oral one. Imagine how much time it would take word of mouth to spread the details of these fairy and folk tales! But, we're not talking mildly similar stories. We're talking about nearly exactly the same stories.

Keeping that in mind, I think it's very likely that the difference in names are regional variations, but still referring to the same being. Do I think that each of these variants are interchangeable, no. Is Frau Holle a survival of a pre-Christian Germanic goddess, or is she a much later figure? The takeaway for me after reading this book, is that she is- whether or not the author agrees.

My final beef with the book is that the author punts and states that such papers of newer, more modern (ergo, better) research are languishing, hidden away in universities because not enough people are interested in them. I'm sure these sources are listed in the bibliography, However, it would be nice if the author included it in the content of the chapters, as he did with all the research he ultimately dismisses as just "background". 

Fine. Maybe there doesn't seem enough interest. But, please include the article, paper, or book that was used to come to this determination that all the other scholars, including Lotte Motz, were wrong. Maybe it would generate enough interest that they would be published after all. 

In summary, I'm glad I have the book. It's a fabulous collection of information on Frau Holle. The translation issues and the black and white photos are an irritation, but minor ones. The author's position that there is research that apparently no one but him and a handful of academic people are interested in reading, sells his readers short. Hey, if we slugged through reading the poor translation because we are interested in the subject matter, we're probably going to slug our way through dry, academic works as well. 

I would recommend it for people who want a convenient collection of Frau Holle lore in one place, with the caveats to be prepared for less than stellar translation and photos, and some contradictory commentary by the author.