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Judith Kutney: Revitalizing the Compassionate Heart

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Spirit in the Bottle background

Spirit in the Bottle

Brothers Grimm

There was once a poor woodcutter who worked from early morning till late at night. When he had finally saved a little money, he said to his son, “You are my only child. I have made a little money by the sweat of my brow, and I am going to spend it on your education. If you learn some decent trade, you will be able to keep me in my old age, when my limbs are stiff and I must sit at home.” The boy went away to the university and studied hard. The teachers praised him and he stayed for a while. When he had almost completed his courses, his father’s meager savings were finished and he had to return home. “It’s a shame,” said his father sadly. “ I have no more to give you, and in these hard times I can barely earn what’s needed for Our Daily Bread.” “ dear father,” said the son, “ do not worry, I will get used to this life and maybe I will be the better for it in the end.”
As the father was preparing to go out and earn more money cutting and piling firewood, the son said, “ I will come along and help you.” “ I don’t know,” said the father.” It might be hard on you, you are not used to heavy work. I doubt if you could stand it. Besides, I have only one axe and no money to buy another” “ Go and ask our neighbor,” said the son. “ He will let you have an axe until I have earned enough to buy one.”
The father borrowed an axe from the neighbor, and the next morning they went to the forest together. The young fellow helped his father and was as cheerful as could be. When the sun was high in the sky, the father said, “ Let us rest a while now and have something to eat.” The son took his bread and said: “ You rest father, I am not tired. I’m going to take a little walk. “ Do not be a fool,” said the father.” What’s the good of running around? Afterward you will be too tired to move. Stay here and sit down.”
But the son went deeper into the forest and ate his bread. He felt light and gay and looked up into the green branches, to see if he could find a nest. Back and forth he walked and at last came to a big angry looking oak tree, that must have been hundreds of years old and was so thick that five men could not have girdled it with their arms. He stopped, looked at the tree and thought: “ Lots of birds must have built their nests in that tree!” Suddenly, he heard someone calling. A muffled voice was crying: “ let me out, let me out!” When he looked around, he could not see anything, but he thought that the voice came out of the ground. “ Where are you?” He cried. The voice answered,” I am in among the roots of the oak tree, let me out, let me out!”
The young man cleared away the dead leaves and looked among the roots until he finally uncovered a small hollow and in it he found a glass bottle. When he held the bottle up to the light, he saw something that was shaped like a frog, jumping up and down inside the bottle. “ let me out, let me out,” it kept crying. Suspecting no harm, the student pulled the cork off the bottle. In a flash, a spirit slipped out and began to grow, and it grew so fast that in seconds a monstrous fellow, half as big as the tree, was standing there.
In a thundering voice, he said: “ Do you know what your reward will be for letting me out?” “no,” said the young man fearlessly, “how could I?” “Then I will tell you!” cried the spirit, “I am going to break your neck.” “You should have told me that before,” said the student. “ I would have left you in the bottle. But I will keep my head on my shoulders all the same. You will have to consult a few more people before I let you tamper with my neck” “More people indeed”, said the spirit. “ You have earned your reward and you shall have it. Do you think they have kept me shut up in here all this time out of kindness? They did it to punish me. I am the mighty Mercurius, and when somebody sets me free, it is my duty to break his neck.” “Not so fast”, said the student, “First, I have got to know that you really were in that bottle, then I will believe that you are truly the mighty Mercurius.” “ Nothing could be more simple,” the spirit replied haughtily. Whereupon, he pulled himself in and made himself as thin and small as he had been before and crawled right through the bottleneck. No sooner was he inside, then the student shoved the cork back in place and tossed the bottle in its old place among the roots of the oak tree. The spirit had been outsmarted.
The young man started back to his father, but the spirit cried pitifully: “Oh please Let me out! Oh please Let me out!” “No!” cried the young man, “ you cannot fool me twice. When I catch somebody who has threatened my life, I do not let them go so easily.” “ If you set me free,” said the spirit, “I will give you enough to last you as long as you live.” “No”, said the student again, “you’ll only cheat me again.” “ You’re turning your back on good fortune,” said the spirit, “I won’t hurt you, you will be richly rewarded.”
The young man thought to himself, “ I’ll take my chance, maybe he will keep his word.” So he pulled out the cork and the spirit came out as he had the first time and stretched and spread until he was as big as a giant. He handed the student a piece of cloth very much like a poultice and he said: “This is your reward. If you put one end of it on a wound, the wound will be healed, and if you rub iron or steel with the other end, it will turn to silver.”
“I will have to try that,” said the student. He went to a tree, gashed the bark with his axe and rubbed the gash with the cloth. The bark grew together and the wound was healed. “It’s alright,” said the man. “Now we can part.” The spirit thanked him for setting him free, and the student thanked Mercurius for the gift and went back to his father. “Where have you been all this time?” asked the father. “ You have forgotten all about your work. I told you you would not get anything done.” “Do not worry, father, I’ll catch up.” “Catch up?” said the father indignantly, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“ Just watch me, father, I will have that tree felled before you know it.” He took his axe and rubbed it with a poultice and struck a powerful blow. But the iron had turned to silver and the blade had bent. “Father, look at this wretched axe you’ve given me. It’s all bent.” The father was horrified, “Now I’ll have to pay for the axe, and where will I get the money?” “Don’t be angry with me,” said the son. “I’ll pay for the axe.” “With what?” asked the father. “Can you tell me that? You may be full of book learning, but you certainly don’t know anything about cutting down trees.”
Later on, they returned home together and the father said to his son,” Go and sell that ruined axe. See what you can get for it. I will have to earn the rest so that we can pay our neighbor.” The son took the axe to town and brought it to a Goldsmith who tested it and exclaimed: “ This axe is worth four hundred talers!” the Goldsmith gave him four hundred talers right there. The student went home and said “Father, I have got the money. Go and ask our neighbor how much he wants for the axe.” “I know already,” said the father. “One taler and six groschen.”
“Look, father,” said the young man, “I’ve got more money than we need.” He gave his father one hundred talers and said: “ From now on you shall live at your ease and never want for anything.” “Good Lord!” exclaimed his father.” How did you come by all that money?” The student told him exactly what had happened and what a prize he had won by trusting his luck. With the rest of the money he returned to the university and continued his studies. He was able to heal all kinds of wounds with his poultice, and he became the most famous doctor in the world.