Myth Monday: The Cat and The Cradle (Dutch Folklore)

Myth Monday: The Cat and The Cradle (Dutch Folklore)

By Kara Newcastle

You know the Netherlands—you’ve seen the pictures of the bright tulips, the churning windmills, the sharply peaked and tightly nestled houses along the canals. This is a bright and cheery country.

It wasn’t always that way.

There was a time when the Netherlands was pagan and wild. This was long before people tamed the land with the canals and dykes, so nature struck whenever it pleased, frequently flooding the farms and forests, drowning cattle and annihilating crops and orchards. It was one such flood that carried off a baby girl named Honig-je (Little Honey), and the cat that saved her.

Whenever her parents were away, Honig-je was kept company by a beautiful cat with luxurious long, thick fur. This cat raised her kittens alongside Honig-je, and when those kittens grew and moved on, the mother cat would dote on Honig-je like she was one of her own babies. The cat was so affectionate to the little girl that people began to call the cat Dub-belt-je, or Little Double, because she was showered twice as much love on Honig-je as she did on anyone else.

One day while the men were out hunting and the women were gathering crops, Honig-je slept soundly in her cradle with Dub-belt-je snuggled on top of her like the warmest, fluffiest blanket. For days storms had raged, swelling the rivers with rainfall until the waters swamped the banks. A horrific flood roared through the village, tearing through the longhouses there—and sweeping away the cat and the baby in the cradle.

As waves crashed over the cradle, rocking it violently from side to side, Dub-belt-je scrambled out of the sobbing Honig-je’s hands and leapt onto the roof of the cradle. Every time the cradle teetered one way and tipped another, Dub-belt-je ran in the opposite direction, using her weight to balance the floating cradle, keeping it from being overwhelmed and sunk. She continued this, keeping Honig-je safe, until the floodwaters pushed the cradle into the river, and they were swept downstream.

Some time passed before the waters calmed enough for Dub-belt-je to settle. Peeking down into the cradle to check on her beloved human baby, Dub-belt-je would then scan the shoreline, knowing that she had to get Honig-je to safety, and knowing that she couldn’t do that alone. She needed people to help.

The river carried them for miles, passing by fields and forests.  Night fell dark and heavy, the moon and stars smothered by the rainclouds, but Dub-belt-je was a cat, and she could see perfectly fine in the dark. With her incredible glowing eyes, Dub-belt-je began to notice that the land on either side of the river was becoming more developed. There were roads, and bridges and—ahead! She could see a tall, pointed thing … she knew what that was! A church steeple!

Digging her claws into the cradle, Dub-belt-je threw back her head and screamed for all she was worth. She howled and yowled and screeched as the cradle floated down the river, passing the church, houses, shops—all dark, all shuttered. All the humans were asleep!

Taking a deep breath, Dub-belt-je shrieked again, dredging up the most awful noise she could pull out of herself. As she screamed, Dub-belt-je started noticing little points of glittering lights appearing in pairs along the edge of the river, over the bridges, on the rooftops—cats! They were cats!

Nederlands: Gevelsteen op het Huis te Kinderdijk van het katje op de wieg. By RubenKoman 2010 wikimedia commons

Dub-belt-je wailed to her feline cousins, and, realizing her plight, every cat in the town began to caterwaul at the top of their lungs. The cacophony of their raspy voices rattled through every building until, at long last, a light glowed behind a shuttered window. The shutter banged open, and a young boy leaned out, scowling, rubbing his eyes as he extended a candle out into the darkness.

“What’s gotten into all of you?” he fumed. “Don’t you know that we’re trying to …”

Looking up at him, Dub-belt-je gave her most piteous cry. She felt her voice breaking, going out. She couldn’t keep this up any longer. If he didn’t see them now …

Hearing the saddest meow out of all the noise around him, the boy blinked, then squinted down into the dark river. “What is that?”

All at once, the boy’s eyes focused and he gasped in horror. Jerking his head back into his house, the boy yelled for his mother as he ran out the door. Sliding down the bank, the boy splashed into the river, wading in up to his chest, reaching out and grabbing the edge of the cradle. As he towed the cradle back to shore, Dub-belt-je sank down into a relieved heap.

By then the boy’s mother had reached the edge of the river, and she cried out in shock at the sight of the waterlogged cradle and bedraggled cat. The woman and the boy looked inside, saw the beautiful tiny Honig-je, and swiftly brought both her and her feline savior into their home. It was here that Honig-je grew into a lovely young woman, with Dub-belt-je faithfully at her side. Honig-je married the boy who saved her, named Dirck, and their son became a great healer and banisher of evil fairies. The village where Honig-je was rescued is now called Kinderdijk (the children’s dyke), and a statue of Dub-belt-je stands guard over Honig-je’s tomb in the church. Every year on December sixth, Sinter Klaas Day, Dutch children would place a new collar on the statue of the heroic cat.