Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Oschdre (Where Color Comes From; Origin of the Distelfink)

-------------- PREFACE --------------

Rob had only heard parts of this when he was younger, mostly from relatives or friends of relatives from the stretch between Ashfield and Bowmanstown (version A), PA but also from the Berwick area (version B).  In 2012, Rob asked around the two areas and got leads on some people who may know about the story, and he ended up with 10 new informants for a total of 17. Other informants were familiar with one or two points of the story but not enough to make a significant contribution. More than half of the informants came from farther south, in a stretch from Orwigsburg to New Ringgold (version C). Their versions of the story bore more information and some distinct contrasts with those of the two northern areas. Thus, this particular myth has undergone some reconstruction using as a base the information that the informants provided. The more important variations are noted with footnotes below.

It should also be mentioned that only four informants (all of whom self-identified as knowing Braucherei or Hexerei), looked at any aspect of this as being anything beyond a metaphor. Informant #11 specifically referred to the three Ladies as "goddesses"; #8 referred to Oschdra as a "helpful entity";  #13 and #15 referred to the sisters as "helpful spirits." Therefore, it cannot be said that this was a widespread myth with religious significance historically, but it is applicable to the modern perspectives of Urglaawe.

It is also by no means certain that this is of any particular antiquity; it may be a story that arose in the foothills since the settlement. Thus, it is prudent to encourage readers to look at this as a new myth or a reconstruction or a retelling of a regional folk tale while allowing individuals or kindreds to view it as they will.

Michelle A. Jones and Robert L. Schreiwer

-------------- DIE OSCHDRE --------------

Three sisters, Helling, Nacht, and Oschdra,1 gathered together at a point on the world they called East,2 Each sister wore a cloak of transformative power. Helling wore a cloak of light; Nacht, a cloak of darkness; and Oschdra wore a cloak that could not been seen. They decided to meet at this moment because they were bored with the blandness of existence and wished to make it all appear more interesting and exciting.

Nacht stepped forward first and as She did so, Her cloak covered the world and everything beneath Her and it became black. Oschdra, seeing what happened when Her sister progressed, moved forward next. Only this time, Oschdra’s cloak seemingly had no effect on the world below. Next Helling walked forward, and as She did, the world below Her and Her cloak was cast in white. Most amazingly, as Helling’s white touched Nacht’s black under where Oschdra stood, Oschdra's cloak and everything below Her transformed and could now been seen in a new shade She called "gray."

Oschdra then called upon a pair of Finches,3 Distelfresser and Himmelflucht,4 to fly from Her right hand, a place She called North, to Her left hand, a place She called South. As they would make their flight, everything in their path would be washed in gray.

Distelfresser and Himmelflucht agreed, but asked Oschdra to grant them a simple request: Himmelflucht’s eggs shall also be gray so that she could see them regardless of Helling or Nacht being above them. Oschdra happily granted their request, and the Finches began their flight.

The three Sisters continued their walk around the world. Nacht providing the black hue, Helling, the white, and Oschdra, gray. After nine days, Oschdra became restless once again. She was unhappy that she could only create a tint on the world by standing between Her sisters. She wanted to provide Her very own hue. She looked upon Her cloak and closed Her eyes. She imagined one side of the cloak afire with a varied warm glow and She called it red, orange, and yellow. She imagined the other side luminescent with a cool iridescence and She called it green, blue, and violet.

Oschdra opened Her eyes, and now Her cloak bore all these hues which she called “Farewe,” but in Her own tongue.5 Now as Oschdra walked from the East to the West,6 the skies radiated with the new colors. Her sisters saw the change, and they admired Oschdra’s craft.

Together the three Sisters of the East, thenceforth known as the Oschdre, decided to do more. Helling added white to the colors and Nacht added black. Oschdra’s palette grew and the Sisters loved their work.7 The colors appeared in the sky but not elsewhere in the world. Oschdra and Her Sisters wished for the whole world to emerge with the colors of their work so they sought the assistance of the most prolific of the animal world to help them with their work. They found Haas8 and asked him to transform the world wherever his tail went by saturating everything in its path with the colors of the Ladies' craft. Haas agreed but asked in return that all of his descendents would inherit his role as the bearer of color.

The Oschdre Sisters agreed. While Helling and Nacht stood opposite one another, Oschdra sent Haas forth. Haas was directed to begin at the nest of the Finches, who, having completed their journey, were now flying South to North. Oschdra declared to Himmelflucht, “With Haas' colors, your eggs will always be in your sight.”

Just as Hare painted the last of the eggs,9 Distelfresser landed in the nest to check on them and he was pleased. Haas' tail brushed against him as Haas was leaving and Distelfresser’s plumage transformed to vibrant yellow, blue, green, and red.10

Haas continued on his way, and to this day, wherever Haas goes, color follows his tail.11

-------------- NOTES --------------

1 Only two informants (#13 and #15, both of the New Ringgold area; version C) had names for all three of the ladies: Helling ("Daylight"), Nacht ("Night"), Oschdra ("of the East"). The northern versions (A, B) only listed one individual, the Lady of the East, Oschdra, rather than three. Others in the southern stretch (C) knew one name or another or simply referred to them as "Schweschdere" (sisters).

2 Informant #10 referred to the Lady's home as "Mariyeland" (sometimes spelled "Maryeland"), which could be influenced by the Deitsch name for Morgenland (Lehigh County) and literally means "Tomorrow Land," referring to the East.

3 There is a distinct difference in versions here. Version A refers to a goose while version C refers to a pair of finches. Version B makes no mention of this at all. Rob initially went with the goose route because that was the version he was most acquainted with. However, the goldfinch has as many informants and all of the informants from the area of version C indicated some knowledge (albeit in some cases passive) of the finches being part of the story.

4 Informant #13 (version C) was the sole provider of the names of the finches, and she had stammered significantly on the male's name as she tried to remember what her father had related to her. She ultimately provided Distelfresser ("Thistle-Eater") and Himmelflucht ("Heaven-Flight") as the name of the female. As these were the only names provided, we used them.

5 Whatever word a goddess would use in the language of the Hohegegend (the realm of deity) that would be the equivalent of Farewe ("colors").

6 Almost every informant in versions A and C reported this "walk" from the East to the West. Version B was more simple in a reference to the dawn bringing the colors.

7 Version A included mixing them together to form the earth color brown.

8 Haas ("Hare"). It should be noted that the purpose of the story as related in version B by informant #7 was to explain where the Easter Bunny came from, and the colors were more a secondary tale. In version C, it was the opposite; the purpose of the story was to explain where colors, including those of the Distelfink, came from. Version A fell somewhere in between with more focus on the origination of the colors of the world.

9 This is where the difficulty with version C comes in as the most typical reflections of eggs at Oschdre/Easter are goose eggs and chicken eggs. The only relatively widespread association with smaller bird eggs are those of Robins, who are announcers of springtime in Deitsch lore. The variety of colors and shades among house finch eggs, though, is not to be dismissed. And, also, sometimes a metaphor is just a metaphor.

10 There was some disagreement among the version C informants of this segment. Two informants stated yellow and called it Distelfink.. two stated yellow and red and called it Distelfink... and three related yellow, blue, green, red and called it by both Distelfink and Bird of Paradise. It is anyone's guess whether any of these was the original version or any/all were an alteration to the story to reflect the artistic concepts of the Distelfink/Bird of Paradise depictions. The one conclusion we do draw from this particular tale, though, is that Distelfink got its colors from Haas on his mission to paint the world. Stressing again: It is also by no means certain that this is of any particular antiquity; it may be a story that arose in the foothills since the settlement.

11 This is probably the most widespread portion that people in general remember, even if vaguely, outside of the informants on the list.

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