The Nine Enchanted Stags

The Myth of The Nine Enchanted Stags.

Appearing as a simple parable, this morality tale articulates the consequences of not teaching our children their proper place in society, there is a subtext of generational conflict that hints towards the necessity of Rites of Passage to resolve all these troubling issues. Death leads to transfiguration into a purer state of being. Liminality must be breached by a finality of purpose – the shift must complete as something other.

Perhaps the myth of the nine stags is also an expression of liberation from the constraints of societal impositions upon humankind.

This tragic narrative tale relays the anguish of a father who had taught his nine sons only how to hunt, neglecting their education of the grave world beyond the forest.  While hunting a large and beautiful stag, the brothers travelled deep into the forest, crossing a haunted bridge. Upon reaching the other side, they found themselves transformed into stags. That night they did not return home. Distraught with worry for his sons, the father spends many days searching for them. In the thickets, he spots a group of stags, and lifts his rifle and taking careful aim, prepares to fire. The largest stag who was his eldest son, boldly approaches his father, and reveals who they are.  Overwhelmed at having found them, the father begs his children to come home. Shaking his huge antlered head, the son informs his father that as stags, they must now dwell in the forest forever, they have no means of returning or living in the world beyond the wooded prison he created for them. No doorway shall they ever pass through again, no cup shall they hold, no bed to sleep in, no shirt to wear.

Here is Bartók’s own translation of the text from the third movement:

 Once upon a time there Was an aged man,

he Had nine handsome boys.

Never has he taught them Any handicraft,

he Taught them only how to Hunt in forests dark.

There they roamed, hunted All the year around,

and Changed into stags in Forests dark and wild.

Never will their antlers Enter gates and doors,

but Only woods and shrubs; Never will their bodies

Wear a shirt and coat but Only foliage;

Nevermore their feet will Walk on houses’ floors

but Only in the sward;

Nevermore their mouth will Drink from cups and jugs

but From the clearest springs.[1]

[1] Suchoff, Benjamin (2001). Béla Bartók: Life and Work. Landham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press.

Sourced from within two Romanian colinde from Transylvania, in April 1914, Bartók was inspired to compose his rousing Cantata on the theme of the none enchanted stags.  Colinde are ballads which are traditionally sung during the Wintertide. Moved by the plight of humankind during the Great Depression of the 1930s and a concern for the rising tide of fascism in Europe, some have suggested that the Cantata expresses Bartók’s humanistic ideal of a brotherhood of all people and nations and ultimately of individual freedom.

Illustrated story:

Music :

~ by meanderingsofthemuse on August 31, 2021.

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