Once upon a time a holy man told tales of beasts that talk and ghosts that live in trees. His people heard, and understood. An old seafarer pointed out the creatures in the sky and remembered times before the sea had salt. And a deformed, hunchbacked slave, some say, told fables so filled with beauty, wisdom and wit, that his master set him free. Then a clever woman stayed her husband's murderous hand for a thousand and one nights with as many well wrought tales. A carpenter from Nazareth taught with stories of prodigal sons and good Samaritans, and a new religion was born. Refugees eased the pain of exile with stories, some recalled from happier times, others made up on demand. Pilgrims shortened their hard and dangerous road with accounts of strength and faith, and yes of greed and guile and lust. And a mother comforts her child with fantasies of make believe and far away and long ago and once upon a time.
That the country of Denmark was once cultivated and worked by giants, is attested by the enormous stones attached to the barrows and caves of the ancients. Should any man question that this is accomplished by superhuman force, let him look up at the tops of certain mountains and say, if he knows, what man has carried such immense boulders up to their crests. For anyone considering this marvel will mark that it is inconceivable how a mass, hardly at all or but with difficulty movable upon a level, could have been raised to so mighty a peak of so lofty a mountain by mere human effort, or by the ordinary exertion of human strength. But as to whether, after the deluge went forth, there existed giants who could do such deeds, or men endowed beyond others with bodily force, there is scant tradition to tell us.
But, as our countrymen assert, even today there are those who dwell in that rugged and inaccessible region to the north who, by the transformable nature of their bodies, are granted the power of being near or distant, and of appearing and vanishing in turn. The approach to this region, whose position and name are unknown, and which lacks all civilization, but teems with peoples of monstrous strangeness, is beset with perils of a fearful kind, and has seldom granted to those who attempted it an unscathed return.
In the forest near Fulda there is a stone with many furrows. It was there that Frau Holle cried such bitter tears over her husband that it softened the hard stone.
Druidical circles and monoliths were looked upon with awe; and there were few that would have dared to remove them. Here is a tradition of a monolith on the farm of Achorrachin in Glenlivet. The farmer was building a steading, and took the stone as a lintel to a byre door. Disease fell upon the cattle, and most unearthly noises were heard during the night all round the steading. There was no peace for man or beast. By the advice of a friend, the stone was taken from the wall and thrown into the river that ran past the farm. Still there was no peace. The stone was at last put into its old place in the middle of a field. Things then returned to their usual course. The stone stands to the present day in the middle of the field, and in some of its crevices were seen, not many years ago, small pieces of mortar.
Many years ago a village stood in the hollow which is now filled up by the mere. But the inhabitants were a wicked race, who mocked at God and his priest. They turned back to the idolatrous practices of their fathers, and worshipped Thor and Woden; they scorned to bend the knee, save in mockery, to the White Christ who had died to save their souls. The old priest earnestly warned them that God would punish such wickedness as theirs by some sudden judgment, but they laughed him to scorn. They fastened fish bones to the skirt of his cassock, and set the children to pelt him with mud and stones. The holy man was not dismayed at this; nay, he renewed his entreaties and warnings, so that some few turned from their evil ways and worshipped with him in the little chapel which stood on the bank of a rivulet that flowed down from the mere on the hillside.
The rains fell that December in immense quantities. The mere was swollen beyond its usual limits, and all the hollows in the hills were filled to overflowing. One day when the old priest was on the hillside gathering fuel he noticed that the barrier of peat, earth, and stones, which prevented the mere from flowing into the valley, was apparently giving way before the mass of water above. He hurried down to the village and besought the men to come up and cut a channel for the discharge of the superfluous waters of the mere. They only greeted his proposal with shouts of derision, and told him to go and mind his prayers, and not spoil their feast with his croaking and his killjoy presence.
These heathen were then keeping their winter festival with great revelry. It fell on Christmas Eve. The same night the aged priest summoned his few faithful ones to attend at the midnight mass, which ushered in the feast of our Savior's nativity. The night was stormy, and the rain fell in torrents, yet this did not prevent the little flock from coming to the chapel. The old servant of God had already begun the holy sacrifice, when a roar was heard in the upper part of the valley. The server was just ringing the Sanctus bell which hung in the bell cot, when a flood of water dashed into the church, and rapidly rose till it put out the altar lights. In a few moments more the whole building was washed away, and the mere, which had burst its mountain barrier, occupied the hollow in which the village had stood. Men say that if you sail over the mere on Christmas Eve, just after midnight, you may hear the Sanctus bell tolling.
A troll had once taken up his abode near the village of Kund, in the high bank on which the church now stands; but when the people about there had become pious, and went constantly to church, the troll was dreadfully annoyed by their almost incessant ringing of bells in the steeple of the church. He was at last obliged, in consequence of it, to take his departure; for nothing has more contributed to the emigration of the troll folk out of the country than the increasing piety of the people, and their taking to bell ringing. The troll of Kund accordingly quitted the country, and went over to Funen, where he lived for some time in peace and quiet.
Now it chanced that a man who had lately settled in the town of Kund, coming to Funen on business, met on the road with this same troll. "Where do you live?" said the troll to him.
Now there was nothing whatever about the troll unlike a man, so he answered him, as was the truth, "I am from the town of Kund."
"So?" said the troll. "I don't know you then! And yet I think I know every man in Kund. Will you, however," continued he, "just be so kind to take a letter from me back with you to Kund?" The man said, of course, he had no objection. The troll then thrust the letter into his pocket, and charged him strictly not to take it out till he came to Kund church, and then to throw it over the churchyard wall, and the person for whom it was intended would get it.
The troll then went away in great haste, and with him the letter went entirely out of the man's mind. But when he was come back to Zealand he sat down by the meadow where Tis Lake now is, and suddenly recollected the troll's letter. He felt a great desire to look at it at least. So he took it out of his pocket, and sat a while with it in his hands, when suddenly there began to dribble a little water out of the seal. The letter now unfolded itself, and the water came out faster and faster, and it was with the utmost difficulty that the poor man was enabled to save his life; for the malicious troll had enclosed an entire lake in the letter. The troll, it is plain, had thought to avenge himself on Kund church by destroying it in this manner; but God ordered it so that the lake chanced to run out in the great meadow where it now flows.
Once upon a time there was a wicked old giant in Wales who, for some reason or other, had a very great spite against the Mayor of Shrewsbury and all his people, and he made up his mind to dam up the Severn, and by that means cause such a flood that the town would be drowned.
So off he set, carrying a spadeful of earth, and tramped along mile after mile trying to find the way to Shrewsbury. And how he missed it I cannot tell, but he must have gone wrong somewhere, for at last he got close to Wellington, and by that time he was puffing and blowing under his heavy load, and wishing he was at the end of his journey. By and by there came a cobbler along the road with a sack of old boots and shoes on his back, for he lived at Wellington, and went once a fortnight to Shrewsbury to collect his customers' old boots and shoes, and take them home with him to mend.
And the giant called out to him. "I say," he said, "how far is it to Shrewsbury?"
"Shrewsbury?" said the cobbler; "what do you want at Shrewsbury?"
"Why," said the giant, "to fill up the Severn with this lump of earth I've got here. I've an old grudge against the mayor and the folks at Shrewsbury, and now I mean to drown them out, and get rid of them all at once."
"My word!" thought the cobbler, "this'll never do! I can't afford to lose my customers!" and he spoke up again. "Eh!" he said, "you'll never get to Shrewsbury -- not today nor tomorrow. Why look at me! I'm just come from Shrewsbury, and I've had time to wear out all these old boots and shoes on the road since I started." And he showed him his sack.
"Oh! said the giant, with a great groan, "then it's no use! I'm fairly tired out already, and I can't carry this load of mine any farther. I shall just drop it here and go back home."
So he dropped the earth on the ground just where he stood, and scraped his boots on the spade, and off he went home again to Wales, and nobody ever heard anything of him in Shropshire after. But where he put down his load, there stands the Wrekin to this day; and even the earth that he scraped off his boots was such a pile that it made the little Ercall by the Wrekin's side.
The great Lawgiver was much perplexed and troubled when he thought about the apparently confused and strange dealings of Divine Providence, and besought Allah to enlighten him. He was told, in answer to her prayer, to go on a certain day to a certain place where he would meet a servant of the Merciful, who would instruct him. Moses did as he was told and found at the rendezvous a venerable dervish, who, to start with, made him promise not to make remarks or ask questions concerning anything he might see him do while they journeyed together. Moses promised, and the pair set out on their travels.
At sunset they reached a village, and went to the house of the sheik, a man rich and kindly, who bade them welcome and ordered a sheep to be killed in their honor. When bedtime came they were conducted to a large, well furnished room. The tusht and ibrìk, which in most houses are of tinned copper, were here of silver plate set with jewels.
Moses, being tired out, soon fell asleep; but long ere daylight his companion woke him, saying they must start at once. Moses objected, finding the bed comfortable. He declared it ungrateful to leave so early while their host was still abed and they could not thank him.
"Remember the terms of our compact," said the dervish sternly, while to Moses' amazement he coolly slipped the silver tusht or wash-hand-basin into the bosom of his robe. Moses then rose in silence and they left the house.
That evening, quite worn out, they reached another village, and were once more guests of the sheik, who proved the very opposite of their host of the previous night. He grumbled at the necessity he was under of harboring vagrants, and bade a servant take them to a cave behind the stable where they could sleep on a heap of chopped straw. For supper he sent them scraps of moldy bread and a few bad olives. Moses could not touch the stuff, though he was starving, but his companion made a good meal.
Next morning, Moses awoke very early, feeling hungry and miserable. He roused his guide and suggested that it was time to rise and start. But the dervish said, "No, we must not sneak away like thieves," and went to sleep again.
Some two hours later the ascetic rose, bade Moses put the fragments of the night's meal into his bosom, and said, "Now we must bid our host farewell." In the presence of the sheik, the dervish made a low reverence, thanking him for his hospitality towards them, and begging him to accept a slight token of their esteem. To the amazement of the sheik, as well as Moses, he produced the stolen basin, and laid it at the sheik's feet. Moses, mindful of his promise, said no word.
The third day's journey was through a barren region, where Moses was glad of the scraps which, but for the dervish, he would have thrown away. Towards evening they came to a river, which the dervish decided not to attempt to cross till next morning, preferring to spend the night in a miserable reed-built hut, where the widow of a ferryman dwelt with her orphan nephew, a boy of thirteen. The poor woman did all in her power to make them comfortable, and in the morning made them breakfast before starting. She sent her nephew with them to show the way to a ruinous bridge further down the river. She shouted instructions to the boy to guide their honors safely over it ere he returned. The guide led the way, the dervish followed him and Moses brought up the rear.
When they got to the middle of the bridge, the dervish seized the boy by the neck and flung him into the water, and so drowned him.
"Monster! Murderer!" cried Moses, beside himself.
The dervish turned upon his disciple, and the Prophet knew him for El Khudr. "You once more forget the terms of our agreement," he said sternly, "and this time we must part. All that I have done was predestined by Divine mercy. Our first host, though a man of the best intentions, was too confiding and ostentatious. The loss of his silver basin will be a lesson to him. Our second host was a skinflint. He will now begin to be hospitable in the hope of gain; but the habit will grow upon him, and gradually change his nature. As for the boy whose death so angers you, he is gone to Paradise, whereas, had he lived but two years longer, he would have killed his benefactress, and in the year following he would have killed you."
There was once a great city that depended for its water supply upon a fountain without the walls. A great dragon, possessed and moved by Satan himself, took possession of the fountain and refused to allow water to be taken unless, whenever people came to the spring, a youth or maiden was given to him to devour. The people tried again and again to destroy the monster; but though the flower of the city cheerfully went forth against it, its breath was so pestilential that they used to drop down dead before they came within bowshot.
The terrorized inhabitants were thus obliged to sacrifice their offspring, or die of thirst; till at last all the youth of the place had perished except the king's daughter. So great was the distress of their subjects for want of water that her heart-broken parents could no longer withhold her, and amid the tears of the populace she went out towards the spring, where the dragon lay awaiting her. But just as the noisome monster was going to leap on her, Mar Jiryis appeared, in golden panoply, upon a fine white steed, and spear in hand. Riding full tilt at the dragon, he struck it fair between the eyes and laid it dead. The king, out of gratitude for this unlooked-for succor, gave Mar Jiryis his daughter and half of his kingdom.
Loosduynen (Leusden) is a small village one mile from The Hague. In the church there they still point out two baptismal fonts with the inscription, "In deze twee beckens zyn alle deze kinderen ghedoopt." A plaque hanging nearby, inscribed with Latin and Dutch verses, commemorates the event described in the following popular legend:
Many years ago there lived in the village a Countess Margaretha (according to others her name was Mathilde), wife of Count Hermann of Henneberg. Sometimes she is referred to simply as the Countess of Holland. One day a poor woman carrying twins in her arms approached her and asked for charity. The countess scolded her, saying, "Get away, you shameless beggar! It is impossible for a woman to have two children at once from just one father!"
The poor woman replied, "Then may God let you have as many children as there are days in the year!" Some time later the countess became pregnant and on one day gave birth to 365 children. This happened in the year 1270 (1276), in the countess's forty-third year. These children were all baptized alive by Guido, the Bishop of Utrecht, in two bronze fonts. All the boys were named Johannes and the girls Elizabeth. However, within one day they all died, together with their mother, and all lie buried in one grave in the village church.
It is said that there is also a monument to this event in the church at Delft.
Type 762. Source: Deutsche Sagen (Berlin, 1816/1818), no. 584.
Translation of the Dutch inscription: "All the children were baptized in these two fonts." The Grimms, by giving the inscription in Dutch, add credibility to their story.
Once there was a pastor's wife who was afraid to have children. Other women are concerned when they have no children; but she was constantly afraid that she could have children.
One day she went to a wise woman, a wicked witch, and asked her what to do to avoid having children. The wise woman gave her seven stones and told her if she would throw them into the well she would be spared from having children.
The pastor's wife threw the stones into the well. As each stone splashed below, she thought that she heard the cry of a child, but still she felt a great sense of relief.
Some time later the pastor and his were walking across the churchyard by the light of a full moon, when the pastor suddenly noticed that his wife did not have a shadow. This frightened him, and he asked her for an explanation, stating that she must have committed a dreadful sin, a sin that she would have to confess to him.
He continued to press her for a confession, until finally she admitted what she had done. Upon hearing her story, he angrily proclaimed, "Cursed woman! Flowers will grow from our slate roof before God forgives you of this sinful deed!" With that he sent her away, telling her to never again step across his threshold.
One night, many years later, a wretched and tattered beggar woman approached the parsonage and asked for shelter. The housekeeper gave the poor woman a bit to eat and made a bed for her next to the kitchen stove.
The next morning the pastor found the beggar woman dead on the kitchen floor. In spite of her rags, he recognized her immediately as the woman he had cursed and disowned. As he stood there contemplating her lifeless, but serene face, his housekeeper burst into the room. "Pastor!" she exclaimed. "Come outside! A miracle has happened during the night!" The pastor followed her outside and saw that his slate roof was covered with blossoming flowers.
Type 755. Retold from Scandinavian sources, including: Sven Grundtvig, Gamle danske Minder i Folkemunde (Copenhagen, 1854-1861), v. 3, no. 6; and Ella Ohlson, Sagor från Ångermanland (Stockholm, 1931), no. 30.
The opera Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919), with text by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and music by Richard Strauss is related to this folktale. Further, the motif of flowers growing from a stone roof as a sign of God's reconciliation is reminiscent of the German legend of Tannhäuser, in which leaves sprout from a staff as a sign that God has forgiven the German knight for his affair with Venus, in spite of the Pope Urban's curse to the contrary. See Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsche Sagen (Berlin, 1816/1818), no. 171. Richard Wagner used this legend as a foundation for his opera Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg (1842-1845). As the following tale illustrates, this motif is not limited to Christian legendry.
One day a man who had left the faith of his fathers came to Rabbi Jehuda Ha-Chassid and intimated his ardent wish to do penance, but Rabbi Jehuda grew angry and sent him away.
"As little," he said, "as this staff in my hand will blossom and produce green leaves, can you hope to obtain pardon and forgiveness for your sins." And lo! a few days after this scene the staff in the rabbi's hand began to blossom and produced green leaves! Greatly astonished at this miracle, the pious rabbi sent for the repentant sinner and informed him of the miracle that had happened in his favor.
"Now tell me," continued Rabbi Jehuda, "have you ever rendered any service to your brethren in faith?" The sinner could not recall to his memory any such deed.
"Once only," he added; "I came to a town inhabited by a great number of Jews. They were all in great distress, for they were being accused of a ritual murder, of having assassinated a Christian child with the object of using its blood for ritual purposes. As I was no longer a Jew, but nevertheless acquainted with the religious customs of the Jews, I was chosen as an expert in the matter and was called upon to express my opinion before the court of justice. I could not in honor do otherwise than tell the truth and assure the judges that the use of human blood by the Jews was absolutely impossible and diametrically opposed to all the tenets of their creed, and that the ritual murder was an absurd myth unworthy of credence. Thanks to my arguments and evidence, the persecution of the Jews was stopped." Thus spoke the repentant sinner, and Rabbi Jehuda no longer wondered at the miracle which had been wrought in his favor.
In the days of Rabbi Kalonymos a wonderful incident occurred in the holy city of Jerusalem. The enemies of Israel were constantly planning and devising ways and means how to hurt and destroy the Jews. Daily did they invent new lies and raise accusations against the community. The governor of the city, however, paid but little heed to their calumnies and falsehoods and refused to harm the Jews. One night the miscreants foregathered and discussed how they could convince the governor of the city of Jewish wickedness and induce him to destroy the hateful community. They decided to kidnap the son of the governor and kill him and then accuse the Jews of the murder. Having seized the boy, they murdered him, drained his blood into a vessel and carried the corpse into the synagogue, pouring out the blood in the vestibule.
The governor of the city, greatly distressed at the disappearance of his beloved son, issued a proclamation and called upon the inhabitants to bring him any information they might have been able to gather concerning his child. The city was in a state of great excitement, but no trace of the missing boy could be found. In the meantime the servants of the governor discovered the body of the murdered boy in the synagogue and brought it to the sorrowing father. "The Jews," they triumphantly exclaimed, "have murdered your child and we have found his mutilated body in their place of worship."
When the governor of the city saw the mutilated body of his beloved son and heard the words of his servants, his wrath knew no bounds and he cursed the Jews to whom he had shown so many favors but who had returned evil for good.
The elders of the community were immediately summoned into his presence and the governor of the city thus addressed them, "I command you to deliver into my power the monster who has committed the atrocious deed so that I may wreak vengeance on him. Should you refuse to obey my command, I swear to you that I will destroy the whole Jewish community in this city."
When the elders of the community heard these words, they were terribly frightened and unable to utter a word of protest against the atrocious accusation.
"Grant us a short time," they stammered at last, "that we may search for the culprit." Thereupon they called together all the members of the community and fasted and prayed to God to save the children of Israel. When Rabbi Kalonymos heard of the terrible danger that was threatening the Jewish community in Jerusalem, he at once betook himself to the governor of the city and thus addressed him, "My Lord! My grief at your terrible loss is great, but I assure you that the God of Israel will work a miracle and help me to discover the murderer on whom you will be able to wreak your vengeance."
The rabbi then went home, purified his body, changed his garments and betook himself to the synagogue where he fervently prayed to his God. "Lord of the Universe!" he cried, "for thy sake we have suffered and been slaughtered like sheep! Have pity upon our community in this hour of need and help me to find out the murderer who has committed this atrocious deed in order to destroy thy children." From the place of worship the rabbi went straight to the house of the governor where the high officials of the city had assembled and were discussing the punishment to be meted out to the Jews. Rabbi Kalonymos asked for a sheet of paper on which he wrote the Ineffable Name. He then stuck it on the forehead of the murdered child, and lo! the boy at once came to life, rose up and stood on his feet.
"My son," now cried the rabbi, "tell your father and all the people here present what has happened and who are your murderers."
In answer to the rabbi's request the dead boy pointed out three men and related how they had kidnapped and murdered him. Having completed his speech, he fell down dead.
Once upon a time there lived a very wealthy man in the city of Jerusalem to whom a son was born in his old age. When the boy had attained the age of six and was old enough to grasp the meaning of things and to distinguish between good and evil, his fond father, noticing his gifts, decided to keep him away from the idle ways of the world, from frivolous things, dreams and illusions, and to bring him up in the study of the Divine Law which alone vouchsafes happiness to the pious, both in this world and in the next. "My offspring," thought the fond and God-fearing father, "shall be the joy and honor of my old age." Thereupon the old man locked up the boy in a special apartment which he shared with a famous and learned master whom he had engaged as a teacher to his only son.
Day and night master and pupil studied the Holy Law. And in order to prevent the boy from being attracted by the world outside, all the splendors of the world were gathered in the sumptuous apartment to gladden the youngster's heart. Nor was the master forgotten, for all his wishes were promptly fulfilled. And thus master and pupil remained in seclusion for ten years, studying all the time the Holy Law, in which the pupil made rapid progress. He soon acquired vast knowledge and knew all the books of Scripture by heart.
Years passed; the father had reached an advanced age, whilst the son had become a mature youth. And one day the old man said to himself, "My end is near and soon the day will come when I shall be called upon to return to my Maker the pledge that I have received; what shall I do with all my possessions that will be left after my demise? Should all the toil of my hands be lost? My only son is quite ignorant of the ways of the world and unacquainted with the intricacies of commerce, of mart and exchange of goods. Should my wealth be lost and one day my dear son be driven to the necessity of stretching out his hands, begging for alms and living on charity?"
These thoughts greatly troubled the old man, and he now began to enlighten his son on worldly affairs, told him the exact amount of his possessions and acquainted him with the ways of commerce. Accompanied by his son, the father visited places of business and markets and initiated his heir into the knowledge of commerce, so as to enable him to take care of his possessions.
"Be circumspect, my son," said the father, "and thus you will gladden my heart. Abandon not, however, the Law of God, for happy is he who is able to combine the ways of life with the ways of the Law." Thus spoke the father, and the boy proved a receptive pupil, intelligent and docile even in these things. Shortly afterwards the rich man died and went the way of all flesh.
As soon as the days of mourning were over, the son collected all the treasures and money which his father had left and went forth to see the world. Many cities and countries did he visit where he gathered knowledge and experience, until he finally reached the capital of Turkey. One day, when he was walking through the streets and market places of the capital, he suddenly found himself in an open square and was surprised to behold an iron coffin suspended from an iron chain between two pillars and guarded by a soldier. The traveler's curiosity was aroused and he tried to elicit some information from the guard, but the latter only told him to mind his own business.
"Get hence," he shouted, "and do not meddle with forbidden things that do not concern you."
The youth, however, was not to be shaken off so easily and by bribing the soldier with a handful of silver, he at last succeeded in obtaining the explanation he desired.
"This coffin," said the now friendly guard, "contains the body of a Jew who in his lifetime was the financial adviser of the sultan and manager of his treasury. The sultan trusted and respected him highly, but one day the enemies of the Jew, and they were many who were envious of his success, calumniated him and finally convinced the ruler that his financial adviser had been guilty of maladministration and malversation. They said the Jew had robbed his royal employer of vast sums and thus enriched himself, and the slanderers succeeded in poisoning the mind of the sultan, who had lent a willing ear to their words. Summoning the Jew into his presence, he commanded him to produce a detailed account of all the sums that had passed through his hands in the course of the twenty years that he had been in his master's service.
"A great fright now seized the Jewish banker, for how could he remember all the sums that had passed through his hands in the course of two decades? In vain did he assure the sultan of his honesty, in vain did he plead innocence, the irate ruler would not listen to his words, his prayers and supplications. Convinced that the Jewish banker had robbed him of vast sums, the sultan condemned his former adviser to death and decreed that the body of the culprit should be embalmed, placed in an iron coffin and deprived of decent burial until his co-religionists should have paid the sum of which the unhappy banker had defrauded and robbed him.
"And thus," concluded the soldier, "this coffin remains here in the square until such time as the Jews shall have collected the money due from the executed man only then will the sultan permit the body of his former banker to be buried according to their custom and ritual."
The youth was greatly affected by this story and learning from the soldier the amount of money the sultan was claiming, he betook himself to the royal palace where he craved an audience from the ruler on a very urgent matter. Admitted to the presence of the sultan, he acquainted him with his request in humble words which greatly pleased the potentate.
"I have come from a distant land," he said, "and if it please your majesty I am ready to pay the sum claimed as ransom for the body of the poor banker so that his body may be set free and buried according to the custom of the Jews."
Well pleased with the words of the stranger and glad, too, to receive the money, the sultan at once set the body free and gave instructions that it should be buried. But the generous youth was not yet content and asked for a further favor from the well disposed sultan.
"If it please your majesty," he pleaded, "may it be decreed that all the inhabitants of the city, old and young, be present at the funeral of your former treasurer." The sultan graciously granted the request and issued such a decree, and thus a great concourse of people accompanied the body of the unhappy banker to his last resting place.
On the following day the sultan summoned the stranger into his presence and offered to return his money in exchange for the celestial reward awaiting him in the next world for his noble deed.
But the young Jew refused the bargain and thus he spoke, "My lord and master, I am your slave and owe you obedience, but this I cannot do. What is man and what good to him were his life upon earth if he did not use all his endeavors to fulfill the commandments of the Lord? All my life I have been craving for an opportunity when I should be allowed to perform such a deed, and shall I now bargain away the reward that is awaiting me in the world to come?"
The sultan admitted that the stranger was right, and having shown him all his treasures he let him go in peace. The young man left the capital of Turkey and after visiting many foreign cities, he finally boarded a ship that was to bring him back to his home. But lo! as soon as the vessel had reached the open sea a terrific storm arose and sunk the ship so that all the passengers were thrown into the sea and drowned with the exception of the young man, who was the only survivor. Perceiving a plank, he seized it and was safely carried to the shore. Here he sat down and burst into tears, for deprived of all his possessions, poor, destitute, and far away from his home, he despaired of ever reaching it.
Suddenly a white eagle swooped down from on high and seemed to address the traveler in the language of the birds. The poor boy, although he could not understand the eagle's instructions, guessed that the bird was a messenger sent by God to save him, and as the eagle had spread out its wings, he mounted on its back. It brought him to Jerusalem in the twinkling of an eye -- and disappeared. In the darkness of the night the returned traveler, beholding a man wrapped in a white shroud, was greatly frightened, but the apparition spoke in the language of man and told him to be comforted.
"Fear not," said the man in the white shroud, "I am the dead banker for whom you did perform a noble and generous deed. It was I who appeared to you as a plank and as an eagle and saved you from certain death. And now be of good cheer, for you will be happy in this world and a glorious reward awaits you in the next."
And indeed the honest boy was happy until the end of his days; he never gave up or neglected the study of the Law of Moses and performed good actions all his days.
In the town of Worms [in Germany] there once lived a pious man of the name of Bezalel to whom a son was born on the first night of Passover. This happened in the year five thousand two hundred and seventy-three after the creation of the world [1512 AD], at a time when the Jews all over Europe were suffering from cruel persecutions.
The nations in whose midst the children of Israel were dwelling constantly accused them of ritual murder. The Jews, their enemies pretended, used the blood of Christian children in the preparation of their Passover bread; but the arrival of the son of Rabbi Bezalel soon proved to be the occasion of frustrating the evil intentions of two miscreants who sought to show to Christendom that the Jews were actually guilty of ritual murder.
In the night, when the wife of Rabbi Bezalel was seized with labor pains, the servants who had rushed out of the house in search of a midwife luckily prevented two men, who were just going to throw a sack containing the body of a dead child into the Jew-street, with a view to proving the murderous practice of the Jews, from carrying out their evil intention. Rabbi Bezalel then prophesied that his newborn son was destined to bring consolation to Israel and to save his people from the accusation of ritual murder.
"The name of my son in Israel," said Rabbi Bezalel "shall be Judah Arya, even as the Patriarch Jacob said when he blessed his children: 'Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up.'" (Genesis 49:9)
Rabbi Bezalel's son grew up and increased in strength and knowledge; he became a great scholar, well versed in the Holy Law, but also a master of all branches of knowledge and familiar with many foreign languages. In time he was elected Rabbi of Posen [in Poland], but later received a call to the city of Prague, where he was appointed chief judge of the Jewish community.
All his thoughts and actions were devoted to the welfare of his suffering people and his great aim in life was to clear Israel of the monstrous accusation of ritual murder which like a sword of Damocles was perpetually suspended over the head of the unhappy race. Fervently did the rabbi pray to Heaven to teach him in a vision by what means he could best bring to naught the false accusations of the miscreant priests who were spreading the cruel rumors.
And one night he heard a mysterious voice calling to him, "Make a human image of clay and thus you will succeed in frustrating the evil intentions of the enemies of Israel."
On the following morning the master called his son-in-law and his favorite pupil and acquainted them with the instruction he had received from Heaven. He also asked the two to help him in the work he was about to undertake.
"Four elements," he said, "are required for the creation of the golem or homunculus, namely, earth, water, fire and air."
"I myself," thought the holy man, "possess the power of the wind; my son-in-law embodies fire, while my favorite pupil is the symbol of water, and between the three of us we are bound to succeed in our work." He urged on his companions the necessity of great secrecy and asked them to spend seven days in preparing for the work.
On the twentieth day of the month of Adar, in the year five thousand three hundred and forty after the creation of the world [1579 AD], in the fourth hour after midnight, the three men betook themselves to a river on the outskirts of the city on the banks of which they found a loam pit. Here they kneaded the soft clay and fashioned the figure of a man three ells high. They fashioned the features, hands and feet, and then placed the figure of clay on its back upon the ground.
The three learned men then stood at the feet of the image which they had created and the rabbi commanded his son-in-law to walk round the figure seven times, while reciting a cabalistic formula he had himself composed. And as soon as the son-in-law had completed the seven rounds and recited the formula, the figure of clay grew red like a gleaming coal. Thereupon the rabbi commanded his pupil to perform the same action, namely, walk round the lifeless figure seven times while reciting another formula. The effect of the performance was this time an abatement of the heat. The figure grew moist and vapors emanated from it, while nails sprouted on the tips of its fingers and its head was suddenly covered with hair. The face of the figure of clay looked like that of a man of about thirty.
At last the rabbi himself walked seven times round the figure, and the three men recited the following sentence from the history of creation in Genesis: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7)
As soon as the three pious men had spoken these words, the eyes of the Golem opened and he gazed upon the rabbi and his pupils with eyes full of wonder. Rabbi Loew thereupon spoke aloud to the man of clay and commanded him to rise from the ground. The Golem at once obeyed and stood erect on his feet. The three men then arrayed the figure in the clothes they had brought with them, clothes worn by the beadles of the synagogues, and put shoes on his feet.
And the rabbi once more addressed the newly fashioned image of clay and thus he spoke, "Know you, clod of clay, that we have fashioned you from the dust of the earth that you may protect the people of Israel against its enemies and shelter it from the misery and suffering to which our nation is subjected. Your name shall be Joseph, and you shall dwell in my courtroom and perform the work of a servant. You shall obey my commands and do all that I may require of you, go through fire, jump into water or throw yourself down from a high tower."
The Golem only nodded his head as if to give his consent to the words spoken by the rabbi. His conduct was in every respect that of a human being; he could hear and understand all that was said to him, but he lacked the power of speech. And thus it happened on that memorable night that while only three men had left the house of the rabbi, four returned home in the sixth hour after midnight.
The rabbi kept the matter secret, informing his household that on his way in the morning to the ritual bathing establishment he had met a beggar, and, finding him honest and innocent, had brought him home. He had the intention of engaging him as a servant to attend to the work in his schoolroom, but he forbade his household to make the man perform any other domestic work.
And the Golem thenceforth remained in a corner of the schoolroom, his head upon his two hands, sitting motionless. He gave the impression of a creature bereft of reason, neither understanding nor taking any notice of what was happening around him. Rabbi Loew said of him that neither fire nor water had the power of harming him, nor could any sword wound him. He had called the man of clay Joseph, in memory of Joseph Sheda mentioned in the Talmud who is said to have been half human and half spirit, and who had served the rabbis and frequently saved them from great trouble.
Rabbi Loew, the miracle worker, availed himself of the services of the Golem only on occasions when it was a question of defending his people against the blood accusations from which the Jews of Prague had to suffer greatly in those days.
Whenever the miracle-working Rabbi Loew sent out the Golem and was anxious that he should not be seen, he used to suspend on his neck an amulet written on the skin of a hart, a talisman which rendered the man of clay invisible, while he himself was able to see everything. During the week preceding the feast of Passover the Golem wandered about in the streets of the city stopping everybody who happened to be carrying some burden on his back. It frequently occurred that the bundle contained a dead child which the miscreant intended to deposit in the Jew-street; the Golem at once tied up the man and the body with a rope which he carried in his pocket, and, leading the mischief maker to the town hall, handed him over to the authorities. The Golem's power was quite supernatural and he performed many good deeds.
A day came when a law was finally promulgated declaring the blood accusation to be groundless, and the Jews breathed a sigh of relief when all further persecutions on account of alleged ritual murder were forbidden. Rabbi Loew now decided to take away the breath of life from the Golem, the figure of clay which his hands had once fashioned. He placed Joseph upon a bed and commanded his disciples once more to walk round the Golem seven times and repeat the words they had spoken when the figure was created, but this time in reverse order. When the seventh round was finished, the Golem was once more a lifeless piece of clay. They divested him of his clothes, and wrapping him in two old praying shawls, hid the clod of clay under a heap of old books in the rabbi's garret.
Rabbi Loew afterwards related many incidents connected with the creation of the Golem. When he was on the point of blowing the breath of life into the nostrils of the figure of clay he had created, two spirits had appeared to him; that of Joseph the demon and that of Jonathan the demon. He chose the former, the spirit of Joseph, because he had already revealed himself as the protector of the rabbis of the Talmud, but he could not endow the figure of clay with the power of speech because the living spirit inhabiting the Golem was only a sort of animal vitality and not a soul. He possessed only small powers of discernment, being unable to grasp anything belonging to the domain of real intelligence and higher wisdom.
And yet, although the Golem was not possessed of a soul, one could not fail to notice that on the Sabbath there was something peculiar in his bearing, for his face bore a friendlier and more amiable expression than it did on weekdays. It was afterwards related that every Friday Rabbi Loew used to remove the tablet on which he had written the Ineffable Name from under the Golem's tongue, as he was afraid lest the Sabbath should make the Golem immortal and men might be induced to worship him as an idol. The Golem had no inclinations, either good or bad. Whatever action he performed he did under compulsion and out of fear lest he should be turned again into dust and reduced to naught once more. Whatever was situated within ten ells above the ground or under it he could reach easily and nothing would stop him in the execution of anything that he had undertaken.
There was once a certain woman who did not pay due reverence to Mother Friday, but set to work on a distaff full of flax, combing and whirling it. She span away till dinner time, then suddenly sleep fell upon her -- such a deep sleep! And when she had gone to sleep, suddenly the door opened and in came Mother Friday, before the eyes of all who were there, clad in a white dress, and in such a rage! And she went straight up to the woman who had been spinning, scooped up from the floor a handful of the dust that had fallen out of the flax, and began stuffing and stuffing that woman's eyes full of it! And when she had stuffed them full, she went off in a rage -- disappeared without saying a word.
When the woman awoke, she began squalling at the top of her voice about her eyes, but couldn't tell what was the matter with them. The other women, who had been terribly frightened, began to cry out, "Oh, you wretch, you! You've brought a terrible punishment on yourself from Mother Friday."
Then they told her all that had taken place. She listened to it all, and then began imploring, "Mother Friday, forgive me! Pardon me, the guilty one! I'll offer you a taper, and I'll never let friend or foe dishonor you, Mother!"
Well, what do you think? During the night, back came Mother Friday and took the dust out of that woman's eyes, so that she was able to get about again. It's a great sin to dishonor Mother Friday -- combing and spinning flax, forsooth!
Source: W. R. S. Ralston, Russian Folk-Tales (London, 1873), p. 200. Ralston's source: Aleksandr Afanasyev.
Aleksandr Afanasyev (the transliteration Afanas'ev as well as other spellings are also used) was the Slavic counterpart to the brothers Grimm. Between the years 1855 and 1873 he published some 640 Russian and Ukrainian folktales.
Note by Ralston: "The Russian name for that day, Pyatnitsa (from pyat = five, Friday being the fifth working day), has no such mythological significance as have our own Friday and the French Vendredi. But the day was undoubtedly consecrated by the old Slavonians to some goddess akin to Venus or Freyja, and her worship in ancient times accounts for the superstitions now connected with the name of Friday." (p. 198)
In Claustal there once lived two girls who had neither father nor mother and hence had to provide for themselves with their own hands. Spinning was their only source of income. One of the girls span very industriously, but the other one liked to spend her time chatting, and furthermore, when evening came she was the first one who began to nod and to sleep. When the industrious one quit work for the night at eleven o'clock, the lazy one had already slept a few hours. For this reason the lazy sister caused the industrious girl much grief.
It was Easter time, and on Easter Eve the industrious girl sat spinning while the other one had gone out to see the Easter celebration and to amuse herself. Liese was spinning when the clock struck eleven. The door opened and in walked a beautiful woman wearing a long white silken dress. She had beautiful long golden yellow hair and carried in her hand a beautiful distaff, white as silver and fine as silk. With a friendly voice she greeted the good girl, who was just letting the last flax run onto the reel as thread.
Feeling the thread, she said:
Empty is your distaff,
Fine is your thread,
You have done well.
Then she touched the girl's spinning wheel with her golden distaff, and with a friendly smile she disappeared. And who was she? She was Frau Holle.
Following this appearance, industrious Liese went to bed. Her sister came home later and went to bed as well. On Easter morning when the two girls got up, in the place of Liese's wooden spinning wheel there stood one of shining gold. It sparkled and glistened magnificently, and the thread that Liese had spun was as fine and white as silk. And as she unreeled it, she discovered that however much thread she removed, the reel remained full. Liese was delighted!
However, when the lazy girl looked at her spinning wheel, she was startled to discover that her distaff was covered with straw instead of flax. And her chest was now filled with chopped straw instead of the beautiful linen cloth that had been there.
And that is why even today they say that the distaff must be spun empty on the Holy Evening, or Frau Holle will come and bring chopped straw.
Once when Frau Holla was traveling about she came upon a peasant carrying an ax. She asked him to cut some wedges and tighten up the boards in her carriage, which he did. When the work was finished, she said, "Gather up the shavings and take them along as your reward," and then drove away. The man thought that the shavings were worthless, so he left most of them lying there, taking only a few pieces along on a whim. When he arrived home he reached into his bag, and found that the shavings had turned into pure gold. He immediately returned to get the ones that he had left lying about, but it was too late, and however much he searched, he could find nothing.
A widow had two daughters; the one was beautiful and industrious, the other ugly and lazy. The mother greatly favored the ugly, lazy girl. The other one had to do all the work, and was truly a Cinderella. One day while pulling a bucket of water from the well she leaned over too far and fell in. Recovering, she found herself in a beautiful meadow. The sun was shining, and there were thousands of flowers. She walked along and soon came to an oven full of bread. The bread called out, "Take me out, or I'll burn! I've been thoroughly baked for a long time!" The girl took the bread from the oven and walked further until she came to a tree laden with ripe apples.
"Shake me! Shake me! We apples are all ripe!" cried the tree, and the girl shook the tree until the apples fell as though it were raining apples. When none were left in the tree, she continued on her way.
Finally she came to a small house. An old woman was peering out from inside. She had very large teeth, which frightened the girl, and she wanted to run away. But the old woman called out to her, "Don't be afraid, dear child. Stay here with me, and if you do my housework in an orderly fashion, it will go well with you. Only you must take care to make my bed well and shake it until the feathers fly, then it will snow in the world. I am Frau Holle."
Because the old woman spoke so kindly to her, the girl agreed, and started in her service. She took care of everything to her satisfaction and always shook her featherbed vigorously. Therefore she had a good life with her: no angry words, and cooked meals every day. Now after she had been with Frau Holle for a time, her heart saddened. Even though she was many thousands of times better off here than at home, still she had a yearning for home. Finally she said to the old woman, "I have such a longing for home, and even though I am very well off here, I cannot stay longer."
Frau Holle said, "You are right, and because you have served me so faithfully, I will take you back myself." With that she took her by the hand and led her to a large gate. The gate was opened, and while the girl was standing under it, an immense rain of gold fell, and all the gold stuck to her, so that she was completely covered with it. "This is yours because you have been so industrious," said Frau Holle. With that the gate was closed and the girl found herself above in the world. She went home to her mother, and because she arrived all covered with gold, she was well received.
When the mother heard how she had come to the great wealth, she wanted to achieve the same fortune for the other, the ugly and lazy daughter. She made her go and jump into the well. Like the other one, she too awoke in a beautiful meadow, and she walked along the same path. When she came to the oven, the bread cried again, "Oh, take me out, take me out, or else I'll burn! I've been thoroughly baked for a long time!" But the lazy one answered, "As if I would want to get all dirty," and walked away. Soon she came to the apple tree. It cried out, "Oh, shake me, shake me, we apples are all ripe." But she answered, "Oh yes, one could fall on my head," and with that she walked on.
When she came to Frau Holle's house, she was not afraid, because she had already heard about her large teeth, and she immediately began to work for her. On the first day she forced herself, was industrious and obeyed Frau Holle, when she said something to her, because she was thinking about all the Gold that she would give her. But on the second day she already began to be lazy, on the third day even more so, then she didn't even want to get up in the morning. She did not make the bed for Frau Holle, the way she was supposed to, and she did not shake it until the feathers flew.
Frau Holle soon became tired of this and dismissed her of her duties. This is just what the lazy girl wanted, for she thought that she would now get the rain of gold. Frau Holle lead her too to the gate. She stood beneath it, but instead of gold, a large kettle full of pitch spilled over her. "That is the reward for your services," said Frau Holle, and closed the gate. Then the lazy girl returned home, entirely covered with pitch, and it would not come off as long as she lived.
The servant of Landholder Gireck (whose residence in Plau was on Elden Street where Master Mason Büttner's house now stands) was once hauling a load of manure to a field abutting Gall Mountain. He had just unloaded the manure and was about to put the sideboards back onto the wagon when he heard his name being called from the mountain, together with the words, "When you get home say that Prilling and Pralling is dead." Back at home, had scarcely related this experience and repeated the words, when they heard groaning and crying coming from the house's cellar. They investigated, but found nothing but a pewter mug, of a kind that had never before been seen in Plau. The master of the house kept the mug, and when he later moved to Hamburg he took it with him. About seventy years ago someone from Plau saw it there.
Stories of fairies appearing in the shape of cats are common in the North of England. Mr. Longstaffe relates that a farmer of Staindrop, in Durham, was one night crossing a bridge, when a cat jumped out, stood before him, and looking him full in the face, said:
Johnny Reed! Johnny Reed!
Tell Madam Momfort
That Mally Dixon's dead.
The farmer returned home, and in mickle wonder recited this awfu' stanza to his wife, when up started their black cat, saying, "Is she?" and disappeared for ever. It was supposed she was a fairy in disguise, who thus went to attend a sister's funeral, for in the North fairies do die, and green shady spots are pointed out by the country folks as the cemeteries of the tiny people.
A demon once fixed his abode under a tree that stood in a field belonging to a pious man. The owner of the field planted vegetables there, but as the passers-by were in the habit of sitting down in the shade of the tree they destroyed all his vegetables.
One day therefore he said to his wife, "I will cut down the tree in order to preserve our vegetables," and his wife consented. Hardly, however, had he lifted his ax to cut down the tree when the demon suddenly appeared and implored him to desist.
"I will give you a golden dinar every day, if you will spare the tree," he said, but the pious man refused. The demon now offered him three golden dinars daily, and tempted by this bribe, the owner of the field consented. On the following morning he betook himself to the tree and found the promised three golden dinars. This went on for many days until the man grew very rich. He bought houses, vineyards and slaves, but never knew whence all the golden pieces really came. One day, however, his two sons died and a short time afterwards he lost his slaves.
"I must have committed a heavy sin," said the man, "to have been punished so heavily." And one day, when he went to the tree to fetch his three dinars he found none. He now realized that he had committed the sin of idol worship. "I will now cut down this tree," he said, but hardly had he raised his ax, when the demon again appeared threatening to kill him if he touched the tree which he had chosen for his abode. Greatly frightened, the man went and told his case to the Sanhedrin, and the members of the Supreme Court advised him to sell all his possessions, return the money to the demon and then cut down the tree. This he did, but when he raised his ax the demon once more appeared and offered him a daily reward of six golden dinars if he consented to leave the tree in its place. This time, however, the man refused to be tempted. "Even if you did offer me all the money in the world, I would not accept it," he declared. On hearing these words the demon fled. The man now sowed his field, and when the time of harvest came, he obtained one hundred measures of barley which he sold for eight hundred golden dinars. The next year, while laboring his field, he found a treasure on the very spot where the tree once stood.
In many of the deep pools of the streams and rivers guardian-demons were believed to reside, and it was dangerous to bathe in them.
Sometimes, when a castle or mansion was being sacked, a faithful servant or two contrived to rescue the plate chest, and to cast it into a deep pool in the nearest stream. On one occasion a diver was got to got to the bottom of such a pool to fetch up the plate of the neighboring castle. He dived, saw the plate chest, and was preparing to lift it, when the demon ordered him to go to the surface at once, and not to come back. At the same time the demon warned him that, if he did come back, he would forfeit his life. The diver obeyed. When he reached the bank he told what he had seen, and what he had heard. By dint of threats and promises of large reward, he dived again. In a moment or two afterwards his heart and lungs rose and floated on the surface of the water. They had been torn out by the demon of the pool.
The dogs of the air often bark on a dark night on the heath, in the woods, or at a crossroads. Country dwellers know their leader Wod and pity the traveler who has not yet reached home, for Wod is often malicious, seldom kind. The rough huntsman spares only those who remain in the middle of the path. Therefore he often calls out to travelers, "In the middle of the path!"
One night a drunk peasant was returning home from town. His path led him through the woods. There he heard the wild hunt with the huntsman shouting at his noisy dogs high in the air.
A voice called out, "In the middle of the path! In the middle of the path!" But the peasant paid no attention to it.
Suddenly a tall man on a white horse bolted from the clouds and approached him. "How strong are you?" he said. "Let's have a contest. Here is a chain. Take hold of it. Who can pull the hardest?"
Undaunted, the peasant took hold of the heavy chain, and the huntsman remounted. Meanwhile the peasant wrapped his end of the chain around a nearby oak tree, and the huntsman pulled in vain.
"You wrapped your end around the oak tree," said Wod, dismounting.
"No," responded the peasant, quickly undoing the chain. "See, here it is in my hands."
"I'll have you in the clouds!" cried the huntsman and remounted. The peasant quickly wrapped the chain around the oak tree once again, and once again Wod pulled in vain. Up above the dogs barked, the wagons rolled, and the horses neighed. The oak tree creaked at its roots and seemed to twist itself sideways. The peasant was terrified, but the oak tree stood.
"You have pulled well!" said the huntsman. "Many men have become mine. You are the first who has withstood me. I will reward you."
The hunt proceeded noisily, "Halloo! Halloo!" The peasant crept along his way. Then suddenly, from unseen heights, a groaning stag fell before him. Wod appeared and jumped from his white horse. He hurriedly cut up the game.
"The blood is yours," he said to the peasant, "and a hind quarter as well."
"My lord," said the peasant, "your servant has neither a bucket nor a pot."
"Pull off your boot!" cried Wod. He did it.
"Now take the blood and the meat to your wife and child."
At first his fear lightened the burden, but gradually it became heavier and heavier until he was barely able to carry it. With a crooked back and dripping with sweat he finally reached his hut, and behold, his boot was filled with gold, and the hind quarter was a leather bag filled with silver coins.
It is said that the Night Huntsman haunts the vicinity of the Udarser Mill. Once a mill worker who had spent the night at the mill heard the Night Huntsman passing by with great commotion, shouting "Halloo!" The worker had heard a lot about the Night Huntsman's sinister deeds, and he wanted to know more about him, so he went out onto the mill platform and heartily added his voice to the wild noise. Suddenly he heard a voice calling out:
If you want to hunt,
You can join the ride!
At the same time someone threw a woman's leg at the worker, a woman's leg wearing a red shoe. The worker quickly retreated into the mill. It is said that the next morning he buried the leg beneath the mill platform.
Source: A. Haas, Rügensche Sagen und Märchen (Stettin, 1903), p. 24.
In Hiddestorf [a village south of Hannover], not too long ago, there lived a widow who every Sunday was miraculously able to cook the most delicious meals. By the time that the servant girls had gone to church in the morning, she had not yet made a fire, had not cleaned the vegetables, and had not even fetched any meat. But by the time church was finished, the best meal was on the table. Because that was not possible with ordinary powers, one Sunday a servant hid himself behind a large barrel in the kitchen in order to spy on the woman. Just about the time the sermon was beginning there was a commotion in the chimney, and the devil came down and began to caress the woman. Afterward he started to fill the pots for her, but he suddenly stood still and said, "Woman, there are two eyes too many in here!" She denied it. "There are two eyes too many in here!" he said again, but when the woman began to make fun of him, he filled the pots and disappeared up the chimney.
At noon when everyone was seated at the table, the servant said, "I don't want to eat, because I know that it came from the devil!"
He had scarcely spoken when the Black One came in through the window, grabbed the woman by her braid, wrung her neck, and flew out the window with her.
Once on a time, long ago, there lived at Treva, a hamlet in Zennor, a wonderful old lady deeply skilled in necromancy. Her charms, spells, and dark incantations made her the terror of the neighborhood. However, this old lady failed to impress her husband with any belief in her supernatural powers, nor did he fail to proclaim his unbelief aloud.
One day this skeptic came home to dinner, and found, being exceedingly hungry, to his bitter disappointment, that not only was there no dinner to eat, but that there was no meat in the house. His rage was great, but all he could get from his wife was, "I couldn't get meat out of the stones, could I?" It was in vain to give the reins to passion, the old woman told him, and he must know "that hard words buttered no parsnips."
Well, at length he resolved to put his wife's powers to the proof, and he quietly but determinedly told her that he would be the death of her if she did not get him some dinner; but if in half an hour she gave him some good cooked meat, he would believe all she had boasted of her power, and be submissive to her forever. St. Ives, the nearest market town, was five miles off; but nothing doubting, the witch put on her bonnet and cloak, and started. Her husband watched her from their cottage door, down the hill; and at the bottom of the hill, he saw his wife quietly place herself on the ground and disappear. In her place a fine hare ran on at its full speed.
He was not a little startled, but he waited, and within the half hour in walked his wife with "good flesh and taties all ready for aiting." There was no longer any doubt, and the poor husband lived in fear of the witch of Treva to the day of her death.
This event took place after a few years, and it is said the room was full of evil spirits, and that the old woman's shrieks were awful to hear. Howbeit, peace in the shape of pale-faced death came to her at last, and then a black cloud rested over the house when all the heavens were clear and blue.
She was borne to the grave by six aged men, carried, as is the custom, underhand. When they were about half way between the house and the church, a hare started from the roadside and leaped over the coffin. The terrified bearers let the corpse fall to the ground, and ran away. Another lot of men took up the coffin and proceeded. They had not gone far when puss was suddenly seen seated on the coffin, and again the coffin was abandoned. After long consultation, and being persuaded by the parson to carry the old woman very quickly into the churchyard, while he walked before, six others made the attempt, and as the parson never ceased to repeat the Lord's Prayer, all went on quietly. Arrived at the church stile, they rested the corpse, the parson paused to commence the ordinary burial service, and there stood the hare, which, as soon as the clergyman began "I am the resurrection and the life," uttered a diabolical howl, changed into a black, unshapen creature, and disappeared.
In Trent there formerly lived a girl who had inherited a witch's thong from her grandmother. Whenever she tied the thong around herself she would turn into a hare. In this form she often heckled a forester who lived in the vicinity. Whenever he would shoot at her, his bullets just glanced off her pelt. When he came to realize that there was something uncanny going on here, he loaded his flintlock with a coffin nail that he had somehow acquired.
The next time he saw the hare, he shot it as it was running away. In an instant the hare disappeared, and the girl stood before him in its place. With tears she asked him for help, for she had a serious wound on her foot. In order to gain his sympathy, she confessed her evil power to the forester, promising never again to make use of it.
For a time she kept her promise, but no sooner had her foot healed than she fell back into her old vices. Now her fiancé worked as a herdsman at a nearby estate, and she frequently made use of her thong in order to visit him often and undisturbed. Her fiancé knew nothing of her powers, and one day when she appeared before him as a hare -- for she had not yet had time to assume her human form -- he struck her with a water carrier. As a result she started to bleed profusely, and with tears she confessed to her fiancé what her situation was.
He broke off his relationship with her. She remained lame for the rest of her life. It is said that the witch's thong was later buried in the grandmother's grave.
A miner was always making fun of people who claimed that witches ride to the Brocken on Walpurgis Night. He often said, "If such an old creature ever crosses my path, I will throw her down. What chance would such an old skeleton of a hag made up of nothing but skin and bones have against the likes of me?"
"Now, now," an old neighbor woman who lived nearby would say. "It wouldn't be all that easy to throw down such a rider. You should be careful what you say!"
"Tomfoolery! Tomfoolery!" he said. "I'd make her forget about riding." To that the old woman said nothing.
Walpurgis Night arrived. There was shooting everywhere, as though the enemy were attacking. They were shooting off firecrackers, flintlocks, rifles, and pistols. On that evening everyone was firing his shooting iron, and the louder the noise, the better everyone liked it.
About nine o'clock the miner learned that something had gone wrong in the shaft, and he was called upon to report for duty. He got as far as Bremen Hill when he was approached by a swarm of old hags flying through the air. There was such commotion and uproar as though all the devils were on the loose.
One of the hags came down, turned the miner over, whether he wanted to or not, and mounted him. Then away they went through the air, following the others to the Brocken. He could barely breathe, and the old hag was so heavy that she nearly broke his bones. She finally climbed off him, and he fell to the ground half dead. The other witches then surrounded him and danced around him, and the devil himself was there with them. Finally they picked him up and asked him if he could remain silent, or if he would like to be boiled in oil. Now no one wants to be boiled in oil, so he said that he would never say anything about the witches. Then the devil said to him that he would be a child of death if he ever uttered a single word. And then the witches did unspeakable things up there on the mountain.
As midnight approached, they all gathered together, and one of the witches again took our miner and mounted him, and they swarmed through the air until they reached Bremen Hill near Claustal. They released him at the same spot where the witch had captured him. He lay there for a few hours recovering his strength; then he slowly crept homeward. When he arrived home, his wife was already up and was preparing to go into the woods for a load of wood.
"Wife," he said, "stay here. I have had a bad night. Go into the kitchen and put a little wood into the stove. I have been sweating, and I need to change my clothes." She did what he said. He then told the stove what had happened. His wife overheard it all, but said nothing.
A half hour later the old neighbor woman came by and said that it was a good thing he had spoken to the stove and not to a person, or he would see how things would go with him.
And thus they knew that she was a witch. The wife reported her, and the wicked witch was burned to death, just as she deserved.
In the vicinity of Jarnitz there lived a werewolf who had the ability to transform himself into all kinds of different shapes. This werewolf spent the nights stealing sheep from their enclosures, for in those days the sheep were kept at night in enclosures in the open fields. For several nights in a row the shepherd, armed with a loaded gun, had kept watch for the night robber. He had already hit the werewolf several times, as he had clearly seen, but the bullets seemed to have done him no harm, and he had escaped with his booty every time. Then the shepherd loaded his gun with bullets made of inherited silver -- which never fail -- and thus that this time he would be successful.
Following his custom, the werewolf appeared again that night. But as he was approaching the enclosure, he immediately sensed that this time the shepherd might do him in. Therefore he quickly turned himself into a human, walked up to the shepherd, and said to him in a familiar tone, "You don't have to shoot me dead!" That so unsettled the shepherd that he lowered his gun, which he had been aiming at the intruder.
The werewolf never again dared to steel sheep from the Jarnitz enclosures.
In a certain village there was a girl who was lazy and slothful, hated working, but would gossip and chatter away like anything! Well, she took it into her head to invite the other girls to a spinning party. For in the villages, as every one knows, it is the lazybones who gives the spinning feast, and the sweet-toothed are those who go to it.
Well, on the appointed night she got her spinners together. They span for her, and she fed them and feasted them. Among other things they chatted about was this -- which of them all was the boldest?
Says the lazybones, "I'm not afraid of anything!"
"Well then," say the spinners, "if you're not afraid, go past the graveyard to the church, take down the holy picture from the door, and bring it here."
"Good, I'll bring it; only each of you must spin me a distaff-full."
That was just her sort of notion: to do nothing herself, but to get others to do it for her. Well, she went, took down the picture, and brought it home with her. Her friends all saw that sure enough it was the picture from the church. But the picture had to be taken back again, and it was now the midnight hour. Who was to take it? At length the lazybones said, "You girls go on spinning. I'll take it back myself. I'm not afraid of anything!"
So she went and put the picture back in its place. As she was passing the graveyard on her return, she saw a corpse in a white shroud, seated on a tomb. It was a moonlight night; everything was visible. She went up to the corpse, and drew away its shroud from it. The corpse held its peace, not uttering a word; no doubt the time for it to speak had not come yet. Well, she took the shroud and went home.
"There!" says she, "I've taken back the picture and put it in its place; and, what's more, here's a shroud I took away from a corpse." Some of the girls were horrified; others didn't believe what she said, and laughed at her.
But after they had supped and lain down to sleep, all of a sudden the corpse tapped at the window and said, "Give me my shroud! Give me my shroud!"
The girls were so frightened they didn't know whether they were alive or dead. But the lazybones took the shroud, went to the window, opened it, and said, "There, take it."
"No," replied the corpse, "restore it to the place you took it from." Just then the cocks suddenly began to crow. The corpse disappeared.
Next night, when the spinners had all gone home to their own houses, at the very same hour as before, the corpse came, tapped at the window, and cried, "Give me my shroud!"
Well, the girl's father and mother opened the window and offered him his shroud. "No," says he, "let her take it back to the place she took it from."
"Really now, how could one go to a graveyard with a corpse? What a horrible idea!" she replied. Just then the cocks crew. The corpse disappeared.
Next day the girl's father and mother sent for the priest, told him the whole story, and entreated him to help them in their trouble. "Couldn't a service be performed?" they said.
The priest reflected awhile; then he replied, "Please tell her to come to church tomorrow."
Next day the lazybones went to church. The service began, numbers of people came to it. But just as they were going to sing the cherubim song, there suddenly arose, goodness knows whence, so terrible a whirlwind that all the congregation fell flat on their faces. And it caught up that girl, and then flung her down on the ground. The girl disappeared from sight; nothing was left of her but her back hair.
A moujik was driving along one night with a load of pots. His horse grew tired, and all of a sudden it came to a standstill alongside of a graveyard. The moujik unharnessed his horse and set it free to graze; meanwhile he laid himself down on one of the graves. But somehow he didn't go to sleep.
He remained lying there some time. Suddenly the grave began to open beneath him. He felt the movement and sprang to his feet. The grave opened, and out of it came a corpse -- wrapped in a white shroud, and holding a coffin lid -- came out and ran to the church, laid the coffin lid at the door, and then set off for the village.
The moujik was a daring fellow. He picked up the coffin lid and remained standing beside his cart, waiting to see what would happen. After a short delay the dead man came back, and was going to snatch up his coffin lid -- but it was not to be seen. Then the corpse began to track it out, traced it up to the moujik, and said, "Give me my lid: if you don't, I'll tear you to bits!"
"And my hatchet, how about that?" answers the moujik. "Why, it's I who'll be chopping you into small pieces!"
"Do give it back to me, good man!" begs the corpse.
"I'll give it when you tell me where you've been and what you've done."
"Well, I've been in the village, and there I've killed a couple of youngsters."
"Well then, now tell me how they can be brought back to life."
The corpse reluctantly made answer, "Cut off the left skirt of my shroud, and take it with you. When you come into the house where the youngsters were killed, pour some live coals into a pot and put the piece of the shroud in with them, and then lock the door. The lads will be revived by the smoke immediately."
The moujik cut off the left skirt of the shroud, and gave up the coffin lid. The corpse went to its grave -- the grave opened. But just as the dead man was descending into it, all of a sudden the cocks began to crow, and he hadn't time to get properly covered over. One end of the coffin lid remained sticking out of the ground.
The moujik saw all this and made a note of it. The day began to dawn; he harnessed his horse and drove into the village. In one of the houses he heard cries and wailing. In he went. There lay two dead lads.
"Don't cry," says he, "I can bring them to life!"
"Do bring them to life, kinsman," say their relatives. "We'll give you half of all we possess."
The moujik did everything as the corpse had instructed him, and the lads came back to life. Their relatives were delighted, but they immediately seized the moujik and bound him with cords, saying, "No, no, trickster! We'll hand you over to the authorities. Since you knew how to bring them back to life, maybe it was you who killed them!"
"What are you thinking about, true believers! Have the fear of God before your eyes!" cried the moujik.
Then he told them everything that had happened during the night. Well, they spread the news through the village; the whole population assembled and swarmed into the graveyard. They found out the grave from which the dead man had come out, they tore it open, and they drove an aspen stake right into the heart of the corpse, so that it might no more rise up and slay. But they rewarded the moujik richly, and sent him away home with great honor.
A soldier had obtained leave to go home on furlough -- to pray to the holy images, and to bow down before his parents. And as he was going his way, at a time when the sun had long set, and all was dark around, it chanced that he had to pass by a graveyard. Just then he heard that some one was running after him, and crying, "Stop! You can't escape!"
He looked back and there was a corpse running and gnashing its teeth. The soldier sprang on one side with all his might to get away from it, caught sight of a little chapel, and bolted straight into it.
There wasn't a soul in the chapel, but stretched out on a table there lay another corpse, with tapers burning in front of it. The soldier hid himself in a corner, and remained there hardly knowing whether he was alive or dead, but waiting to see what would happen. Presently up ran the first corpse -- the one that had chased the soldier -- and dashed into the chapel. Thereupon one that was lying on the table jumped up, and cried to it, "What have you come here for?"
"I've chased a soldier in here, so I'm going to eat him."
"Come now, brother! He's run into my house. I shall eat him myself."
"No, I shall!"
"No, I shall!"
And they set to work fighting; the dust flew like anything. They'd have gone on fighting ever so much longer, only the cocks began to crow. Then both the corpses fell lifeless to the ground, and the soldier went on his way homeward in peace, saying, "Glory be to Thee, O Lord! I am saved from the wizards!"
A moujik went out in pursuit of game one day, and took a favorite dog with him. He walked and walked through woods and bogs, but got nothing for his pains. At last the darkness of night surprised him. At an uncanny hour he passed by a graveyard, and there, at a place where two roads met, he saw standing a corpse in a white shroud. The moujik was horrified, and knew not which way to go -- whether to keep on or to turn back.
"Well, whatever happens, I'll go on," he thought; and on he went, his dog running at his heels. When the corpse perceived him, it came to meet him; not touching the earth with its feet, but keeping about a foot above it -- the shroud fluttering after it. When it had come up with the sportsman, it made a rush at him; but the dog seized hold of it by its bare calves, and began a tussle with it. When the moujik saw his dog and the corpse grappling with each other, he was delighted that things had turned out so well for himself, and he set off running home with all his might. The dog kept up the struggle until cock-crow, when the corpse fell motionless to the ground. Then the dog ran off in pursuit of its master, caught him up just as he reached home, and rushed at him, furiously trying to bite and to rend him. So savage was it, and so persistent, that it was as much as the people of the house could do to beat it off.
"Whatever has come over the dog?" asked the moujik's old mother. "Why should it hate its master so?"
The moujik told her all that had happened.
"A bad piece of work, my son!" said the old woman. "The dog was disgusted at your not helping it. There it was fighting with the corpse -- and you deserted it, and thought only of saving yourself! Now it will owe you a grudge for ever so long."
Next morning, while the family were going about the farmyard, the dog was perfectly quiet. But the moment its master made his appearance, it began to growl like anything.
They fastened it to a chain; for a whole year they kept it chained up. But in spite of that, it never forgot how its master had offended it. One day it got loose, flew straight at him, and began trying to throttle him. So they had to kill it.
A certain soldier was allowed to go home on furlough. Well, he walked and walked, and after a time he began to draw near to his native village. Not far off from that village lived a miller in his mill. In old times the soldier had been very intimate with him. Why shouldn't he go and see his friend? He went. The miller received him cordially, and at once brought out liquor; and the two began drinking, and chattering about their ways and doings. All this took place towards nightfall, and the soldier stopped so long at the miller's that it grew quite dark.
When he proposed to start for his village, his host exclaimed, "Spend the night here, trooper! It's very late now, and perhaps you might run into mischief."
"God is punishing us! A terrible warlock has died among us, and by night he rises from his grave, wanders through the village, and does such things as bring fear upon the very boldest! How could even you help being afraid of him?"
"Not a bit of it! A soldier is a man who belongs to the crown, and 'crown property cannot be drowned in water nor burnt in fire.' I'll be off. I'm tremendously anxious to see my people as soon as possible."
Off he set. His road lay in front of a graveyard. On one of the graves he saw a great fire blazing. "What's that?" thinks he. "Let's have a look." When he drew near, he saw that the warlock was sitting by the fire, sewing boots.
"Hail, brother!" calls out the soldier.
The warlock looked up and said, "What have you come here for?"
"Why, I wanted to see what you're doing."
The warlock threw his work aside and invited the soldier to a wedding.
"Come along, brother," says he, "let's enjoy ourselves. There's a wedding going on in the village."
"Come along!" says the soldier.
They came to where the wedding was; there they were given drink, and treated with the utmost hospitality. The warlock drank and drank, reveled and reveled, and then grew angry. He chased all the guests and relatives out of the house, threw the wedded pair into a slumber, took out two phials and an awl, pierced the hands of the bride and bridegroom with the awl, and began drawing off their blood. Having done this, he said to the soldier, "Now let's be off."
Well, they went off. On the way the soldier said, "Tell me; why did you draw off their blood in those phials?"
"Why, in order that the bride and bridegroom might die. Tomorrow morning no one will be able to wake them. I alone know how to bring them back to life."
"How's that managed?"
"The bride and bridegroom must have cuts made in their heels, and some of their own blood must then be poured back into those wounds. I've got the bridegroom's blood stowed away in my right-hand pocket, and the bride's in my left."
The soldier listened to this without letting a single word escape him. Then the warlock began boasting again. "Whatever I wish," says he, "That I can do!"
"I suppose it's quite impossible to get the better of you?" says the soldier.
"Why impossible? If anyone were to make a pyre of aspen boughs, a hundred loads of them, and were to burn me on that pyre, then he'd be able to get the better of me. Only he'd have to look out sharp in burning me; for snakes and worms and different kinds of reptiles would creep out of my inside, and crows and magpies and jackdaws would come flying up. All these must be caught and flung on the pyre. If so much as a single maggot were to escape, then there'd be no help for it; in that maggot I should slip away!"
The soldier listened to all this and did not forget it. He and the warlock talked and talked, and at last they arrived at the grave. "Well, brother," said the warlock, "now I'll tear you to pieces. Otherwise you'd be telling all this."
"What are you talking about? Don't you deceive yourself; I serve God and the Emperor."
The warlock gnashed his teeth, howled aloud, and sprang at the soldier -- who drew his sword and began laying about him with sweeping blows. They struggled and struggled; the soldier was all but at the end of his strength. "Ah!" thinks he, "I'm a lost man -- and all for nothing!" Suddenly the cocks began to crow. The warlock fell lifeless to the ground.
The soldier took the phials of blood out of the warlock's pockets, and went on to the house of his own people. When he had got there, and had exchanged greetings with his relatives, they said, "Did you see any disturbance, soldier?"
"No, I saw none."
"There now! Why we've a terrible piece of work going on in the village. A warlock has taken to haunting it!"
After talking awhile, they lay down to sleep. Next morning the soldier awoke, and began asking, "I'm told you've got a wedding going on somewhere here?"
"There was a wedding in the house of a rich moujik," replied his relative, "but the bride and bridegroom have died this very night -- what from, nobody knows."
They showed him the house. He went there without speaking a word. When he got there, he found the whole family in tears.
"What are you mourning about?" says he.
"Such and such is the state of things, soldier," say they.
"I can bring your young people to life again. What will you give me if I do?"
"Take what you like, even were it half of what we've got!"
The soldier did as the warlock had instructed him, and brought the young people back to life. Instead of weeping, there began to be happiness and rejoicing; the soldier was hospitably treated and well rewarded. Then left about face! off he marched to the Starosta, and told him to call the peasants together and to get ready a hundred loads of aspen wood. Well, they took the wood into the graveyard, dragged the warlock out of his grave, placed him on the pyre, and set it alight -- the people all standing round in a circle with brooms, shovels, and fire irons. The pyre became wrapped in flames, the warlock began to burn. His corpse burst, and out of it crept snakes, worms, and all sorts of reptiles, and up came flying crows, magpies, and jackdaws. The peasants knocked them down and flung them into the fire, not allowing so much as a single maggot to creep away! And so the warlock was thoroughly consumed, and the soldier collected his ashes and strewed them to the winds. From that time forth there was peace in the village.
The soldier received the thanks of the whole community. He stayed at home some time, enjoying himself thoroughly. Then he want back to the czar's service with money in his pocket. When he had served his time, he retired from the army, and began to live at his ease.