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In a time well past...or a time yet to come......
There was a young woodsman, who, at harvest time, had just become the proud father of a bouncing son. All had been well then - for that was harvest time and food and work were plentiful; nor was he a foolish man, and he had made sure to put stores away for his family. But Winter had come hard and fast, and by late December he and his kin were wanting, and he had to go farther and farther into the forest.
Which is how he came to be trudging home late one eve - with the stars twinkling crisply overhead and the thick snow crunching loudly beneath his boots. The woodsman's head was bowed against the cutting cold and his arms were laden with the wood he had cut and collected during the day.
He heard something.....or thought he did....something like the baying of hounds?.... Or wolves....?
The woodsman wanted to run but he knew the snow was too deep, and that preternatural baying was nearing swiftly. He dropped his precious wood, chose one stout stick and prepared to fight; though he felt more like praying so eerie was the howling.
A wind as cold as a giant's cruel breath swept over him and he watched in terror as great, black hounds raced past. But these were only the out runners - following them was a sled pulled by similar hounds, and at the reins stood a tall woman, garbed in white fur, with hair of silver, and following this fantastic sled were capering, glowing children and shimmering spirits of the wood. The young woodsman's mouth gaped open, for he knew he was seeing Frau Wode - a guardian of Winter, the Innocent, and the Wood, and he wondered if he would live to see the dawn. The eldritch host swept past him and around him, and the woodsman's heart threatened to burst in terror.
At the end of the train stumbled one glowing little boy, who was tripping over the hem of his gleaming robes. And in that moment the woodsman was no longer afraid - for who could fear such innocence? He pulled off his own belt, and after kneeling before the lad, he said, "Here, let me put this around you....So you can go and play with your fellows."
The innocent soul smiled - the smile from a dream, and lightly touched the man's hand; then, with a peel of chiming laughter, ran after the other spirit children.
All was silent on that crisp night and the woodsman rose from the deep snow....
And found himself looking up at the sled, and at Frau Wode.
Her smile was as beautiful as Hope and her voice like the song of angels when she said, "For your kindness neither you, nor your family, nor your children's children, will ever want...." And once more she urged her sled forward - following her Hounds as they brought Prosperity to any home that would welcome them to a warm hearth.
This story is an original piece and combines several northern traditions; however, this tale is offered to all who wish to tell it.
Throughout the northern lands there were many Winter ladies .....
Bertha, who watched over the spirits of unborn children and the souls of unbaptized babes, was also known to oversee agriculture and spinning. During the twelve nights between Christmas and New Year's she would travel from house to house in order to inspect the state of the spinning therein.
Frau Wode traveled other parts of Germany, leading the Wild Hunt, but unlike her male counterparts she did not herald the cold breath of Death. The baying of her spirit hounds meant Prosperity as they sought any home that would welcome them with hospitality; nor did she gather the souls of the dead on her travels, but let the little souls she protected play in the snow as she traveled the countryside.
She is Huldra in Scandinavia and attended by wood-nymphs, who are called the Huldra Folk; these lovely women were considered to be protectors of the mountain woods, and were said to have beautiful singing voices. The only way to tell if a lovely lass was one of the Huldra Folk was if she accidentally revealed her cow's tail.
Dame Holle is called "Mother Winter" in Germany, and her story was made famous by the Brothers Grimm. It was said that when she shook her quilt the snow would fall, and when she hung her laundry out to dry that the sheets could be seen as fluffy clouds.
Guerber, H. A.. Myths of the Norsemen: From the Eddas and Sagas. New York. Dover Publications, Inc.. 1992.
Matthews, John. The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas.Illinois. Quest Books, Inc.: Theosophical Publishing House. 1998.
Zipes, Jack. The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. New York.
Bantam House. 1987.