Russian Fairy Tales - A Choice Collection of Muscovite Folk-lore
by W. R. S. Ralston
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In each instance they appear to typify the influence which the supernatural beings to whom they belonged were supposed to exercise over the elements. It has been thought strange that such stress should be laid on the employment of certain toilet-articles, to the use of which the heroes of folk-tales do not appear to have been greatly addicted. But it is evident that like produces like in the transformation in question. In the oldest form of the story, the Sanskrit, a handful of earth turns into a mountain, a cup of water into a river. Now, metaphorically speaking, a brush may be taken as a miniature wood; the common use of the term brushwood is a proof of the general acceptance of the metaphor. A comb does not at first sight appear to resemble a mountain, but its indented outline may have struck the fancy of many primitive peoples as being a likeness to a serrated mountain range. Thence comes it that in German Kamm means not only a comb but also (like the Spanish Sierra) a mountain ridge or crest.[171]

In one of the numerous stories[172] about the Baba Yaga, four heroes are wandering about the world together; when they come to a dense forest in which a small izba, or hut, is twirling round on "a fowl's leg." Ivan, the youngest of the party, utters the magical formula "Izbushka, Izbushka! stand with back to the forest and front towards us," and "the hut faces towards them, its doors and windows open of their own accord." The heroes enter and find it empty. One of the party then remains indoors, while the rest go out to the chase. The hero who is left alone prepares a meal, and then, "after washing his head, sits down by the window to comb his hair." Suddenly a stone is lifted, and from under it appears a Baba Yaga, driving in her mortar, with a dog yelping at her heels. She enters the hut and, after some short parley, seizes her pestle, and begins beating the hero with it until he falls prostrate. Then she cuts a strip out of his back, eats up the whole of the viands he has prepared for his companions, and disappears. After a time the beaten hero recovers his senses, "ties up his head with a handkerchief," and sits groaning until his comrades return. Then he makes some excuse for not having got any supper ready for them, but says nothing about what has really happened to him.

On the next day the second hero is treated in the same manner by the Baba Yaga, and on the day after that the third undergoes a similar humiliation. But on the fourth day it falls to the lot of the young Ivan to stay in the hut alone. The Baba Yaga appears as usual, and begins thumping him with her pestle; but he snatches it from her, beats her almost to death with it, cuts three strips out of her back, and then locks her up in a closet. When his comrades return, they are surprised to find him unhurt, and a meal prepared for them, but they ask no questions. After supper they all take a bath, and then Ivan remarks that each of his companions has had a strip cut out of his back. This leads to a full confession, on hearing which Ivan "runs to the closet, takes those strips out of the Baba Yaga, and applies them to their backs," which immediately become cured. He then hangs up the Baba Yaga by a cord tied to one foot, at which cord all the party shoot. At length it is severed, and she drops. As soon as she touches the ground, she runs to the stone from under which she had appeared, lifts it, and disappears.[173]

The rest of the story is very similar to that of "Norka," which has already been given, only instead of the beast of that name we have the Baba Yaga, whom Ivan finds asleep, with a magic sword at her head. Following the advice of her daughters, three fair maidens whom he meets in her palace, Ivan does not attempt to touch the magic sword while she sleeps. But he awakes her gently, and offers her two golden apples on a silver dish. She lifts her head and opens her mouth, whereupon he seizes the sword and cuts her head off. As is usual in the stories of this class, his comrades, after hoisting the maidens aloft, cut the cord and let him fall back into the abyss. But he escapes, and eventually "he slays all the three heroes, and flings their bodies on the plain for wild beasts to devour." This Skazka is one of the many versions of a widespread tale, which tells how the youngest of a party, usually consisting of three persons, overcomes some supernatural foe, generally a dwarf, who had been more than a match for his companions. The most important of these versions is the Lithuanian story of the carpenter who overcomes a Laume—a being in many respects akin to the Baba Yaga—who has proved too strong for his comrades, Perkun and the Devil.[174]

The practice of cutting strips from an enemy's back is frequently referred to in the Skazkas—much more frequently than in the German and Norse stories. It is not often that such strips are turned to good account, but in the Skazka with which we have just been dealing, Ivan finding the rope by which he is being lowered into the abyss too short, ties to the end of it the three strips he has cut from the Baba Yaga's back, and so makes it sufficiently long. They are often exacted as the penalty of losing a wager, as well in the Skazkas as elsewhere.[175] In a West-Slavonian story about a wager of this kind, the winner cuts off the loser's nose.[176] In the Gaelic stories it is not an uncommon incident for a man to have "a strip of skin cut off him from his crown to his sole."[177]

The Baba Yaga generally kills people in order to eat them. Her house is fenced about with the bones of the men whose flesh she has devoured; in one story she offers a human arm, by way of a meal, to a girl who visits her. But she is also represented in one of the stories[178] as petrifying her victims. This trait connects her with Medusa, and the three sister Baba Yagas with the three Gorgones. The Russian Gorgo's method of petrifaction is singular. In the story referred to, Ivan Devich (Ivan the servant-maid's son) meets a Baba Yaga, who plucks one of her hairs, gives it to him, and says, "Tie three knots and then blow." He does so, and both he and his horse turn into stone. The Baba Yaga places them in her mortar, pounds them to bits, and buries their remains under a stone. A little later comes Ivan Devich's comrade, Prince Ivan. Him also the Yaga attempts to destroy, but he feigns ignorance, and persuades her to show him how to tie knots and to blow. The result is that she becomes petrified herself. Prince Ivan puts her in her own mortar, and proceeds to pound her therein, until she tells him where the fragments of his comrade are, and what he must do to restore them to life.

The Baba Yaga usually lives by herself, but sometimes she appears in the character of the house-mother. One of the Skazkas[179] relates how a certain old couple, who had no children, were advised to get a number of eggs from the village—one from each house—and to place them under a sitting hen. From the forty-one eggs thus obtained and treated are born as many boys, all but one of whom develop into strong men, but the forty-first long remains a poor weak creature, a kind of "Hop-o'-my-thumb." They all set forth to seek brides, and eventually marry the forty-one daughters of a Baba Yaga. On the wedding night she intends to kill her sons-in-law; but they, acting on the advice of him who had been the weakling of their party, but who has become a mighty hero, exchange clothes with their brides before "lying down to sleep." Accordingly the Baba Yaga's "trusty servants" cut off the heads of her daughters instead of those of her sons-in-law. Those youths arise, stick the heads of their brides on iron spikes all round the house, and gallop away. When the Baba Yaga awakes in the morning, looks out of the window, and sees her daughters' heads on their spikes, she flies into a passion, calls for "her burning shield," sets off in pursuit of her sons-in-law, and "begins burning up everything on all four sides with her shield." A magic, bridge-creating kerchief, however, enables the fugitives to escape from their irritated mother-in-law.

In one story[180] the heroine is ordered to swing the cradle in which reposes a Baba Yaga's infant son, whom she is ordered to address in terms of respect when she sings him lullabies; in others she is told to wash a Baba Yaga's many children, whose appearance is usually unprepossessing. One girl, for instance, is ordered by a Baba Yaga to heat the bath, but the fuel given her for the purpose turns out to be dead men's bones. Having got over this difficulty, thanks to the advice of a sparrow which tells her where to look for wood, she is sent to fetch water in a sieve. Again the sparrow comes to her rescue telling her to line the sieve with clay. Then she is told to wait upon the Baba Yaga's children in the bath-room. She enters it, and presently in come "worms, frogs, rats, and all sorts of insects." These, which are the Baba Yaga's children, she soaps over and otherwise treats in the approved Russian-bath style, and afterwards she does as much for their mother. The Baba Yaga is highly pleased, calls for a "samovar" (or urn), and invites her young bath-woman to drink tea with her. And finally she sends her home with a blue coffer, which turns out to be full of money. This present excites the cupidity of her stepmother, who sends her own daughter to the Baba Yaga's, hoping that she will bring back a similar treasure. The Baba Yaga gives the same orders as before to the new-comer, but that conceited young person fails to carry them out. She cannot make the bones burn, nor the sieve hold water, but when the sparrow offers its advice she only boxes its ears. And when the "rats, frogs, and all manner of vermin," enter the bath-room, "she crushed half of them to death," says the story; "the rest ran home, and complained about her to their mother." And so the Baba Yaga, when she dismisses her, gives her a red coffer instead of a blue one. Out of it, when it is opened, issues fire, which consumes both her and her mother.[181]

Similar to this story in many of its features as well as in its catastrophe is one of the most spirited and dramatic of all the Skazkas, that of—


In a certain kingdom there lived a merchant. Twelve years did he live as a married man, but he had only one child, Vasilissa the Fair. When her mother died, the girl was eight years old. And on her deathbed the merchant's wife called her little daughter to her, took out from under the bed-clothes a doll, gave it to her, and said, "Listen, Vasilissa, dear; remember and obey these last words of mine. I am going to die. And now, together with my parental blessing, I bequeath to you this doll. Keep it always by you, and never show it to anybody; and whenever any misfortune comes upon you, give the doll food, and ask its advice. When it has fed, it will tell you a cure for your troubles." Then the mother kissed her child and died.

After his wife's death, the merchant mourned for her a befitting time, and then began to consider about marrying again. He was a man of means. It wasn't a question with him of girls (with dowries); more than all others, a certain widow took his fancy. She was middle-aged, and had a couple of daughters of her own just about the same age as Vasilissa. She must needs be both a good housekeeper and an experienced mother.

Well, the merchant married the widow, but he had deceived himself, for he did not find in her a kind mother for his Vasilissa. Vasilissa was the prettiest girl[183] in all the village; but her stepmother and stepsisters were jealous of her beauty, and tormented her with every possible sort of toil, in order that she might grow thin from over-work, and be tanned by the sun and the wind. Her life was made a burden to her! Vasilissa bore everything with resignation, and every day grew plumper and prettier, while the stepmother and her daughters lost flesh and fell off in appearance from the effects of their own spite, notwithstanding that they always sat with folded hands like fine ladies.

But how did that come about? Why, it was her doll that helped Vasilissa. If it hadn't been for it, however could the girl have got through all her work? And therefore it was that Vasilissa would never eat all her share of a meal, but always kept the most delicate morsel for her doll; and at night, when all were at rest, she would shut herself up in the narrow chamber[184] in which she slept, and feast her doll, saying[185] the while:

"There, dolly, feed; help me in my need! I live in my father's house, but never know what pleasure is; my evil stepmother tries to drive me out of the white world; teach me how to keep alive, and what I ought to do."

Then the doll would eat, and afterwards give her advice, and comfort her in her sorrow, and next day it would do all Vasilissa's work for her. She had only to take her ease in a shady place and pluck flowers, and yet all her work was done in good time; the beds were weeded, and the pails were filled, and the cabbages were watered, and the stove was heated. Moreover, the doll showed Vasilissa herbs which prevented her from getting sunburnt. Happily did she and her doll live together.

Several years went by. Vasilissa grew up and became old enough to be married.[186] All the marriageable young men in the town sent to make an offer to Vasilissa; at her stepmother's daughters not a soul would so much as look. Her stepmother grew even more savage than before, and replied to every suitor—

"We won't let the younger marry before her elders."

And after the suitors had been packed off, she used to beat Vasilissa by way of wreaking her spite.

Well, it happened one day that the merchant had to go away from home on business for a long time. Thereupon the stepmother went to live in another house; and near that house was a dense forest, and in a clearing in that forest there stood a hut,[187] and in the hut there lived a Baba Yaga. She never let any one come near her dwelling, and she ate up people like so many chickens.

Having moved into the new abode, the merchant's wife kept sending her hated Vasilissa into the forest on one pretence or another. But the girl always got home safe and sound; the doll used to show her the way, and never let her go near the Baba Yaga's dwelling.

The autumn season arrived. One evening the stepmother gave out their work to the three girls; one she set to lace-making, another to knitting socks, and the third, Vasilissa, to weaving; and each of them had her allotted amount to do. By-and-by she put out the lights in the house, leaving only one candle alight where the girls were working, and then she went to bed. The girls worked and worked. Presently the candle wanted snuffing; one of the stepdaughters took the snuffers, as if she were going to clear the wick, but instead of doing so, in obedience to her mother's orders, she snuffed the candle out, pretending to do so by accident.

"What shall we do now?" said the girls. "There isn't a spark of fire in the house, and our tasks are not yet done. We must go to the Baba Yaga's for a light!"

"My pins give me light enough," said the one who was making lace. "I shan't go."

"And I shan't go, either," said the one who was knitting socks. "My knitting-needles give me light enough."

"Vasilissa, you must go for the light," they both cried out together; "be off to the Baba Yaga's!"

And they pushed Vasilissa out of the room.

Vasilissa went into her little closet, set before the doll a supper which she had provided beforehand, and said:

"Now, dolly, feed, and listen to my need! I'm sent to the Baba Yaga's for a light. The Baba Yaga will eat me!"

The doll fed, and its eyes began to glow just like a couple of candles.

"Never fear, Vasilissa dear!" it said. "Go where you're sent. Only take care to keep me always by you. As long as I'm with you, no harm will come to you at the Baba Yaga's."

So Vasilissa got ready, put her doll in her pocket, crossed herself, and went out into the thick forest.

As she walks she trembles. Suddenly a horseman gallops by. He is white, and he is dressed in white, under him is a white horse, and the trappings of the horse are white—and the day begins to break.

She goes a little further, and a second rider gallops by. He is red, dressed in red, and sitting on a red horse—and the sun rises.

Vasilissa went on walking all night and all next day. It was only towards the evening that she reached the clearing on which stood the dwelling of the Baba Yaga. The fence around it was made of dead men's bones; on the top of the fence were stuck human skulls with eyes in them; instead of uprights at the gates were men's legs; instead of bolts were arms; instead of a lock was a mouth with sharp teeth.

Vasilissa was frightened out of her wits, and stood still as if rooted to the ground.

Suddenly there rode past another horseman. He was black, dressed all in black, and on a black horse. He galloped up to the Baba Yaga's gate and disappeared, just as if he had sunk through the ground—and night fell. But the darkness did not last long. The eyes of all the skulls on the fence began to shine and the whole clearing became as bright as if it had been midday. Vasilissa shuddered with fear, but stopped where she was, not knowing which way to run.

Soon there was heard in the forest a terrible roar. The trees cracked, the dry leaves rustled; out of the forest came the Baba Yaga, riding in a mortar, urging it on with a pestle, sweeping away her traces with a broom. Up she drove to the gate, stopped short, and, snuffing the air around her, cried:—

"Faugh! Faugh! I smell Russian flesh![188] Who's there?"

Vasilissa went up to the hag in a terrible fright, bowed low before her, and said:—

"It's me, granny. My stepsisters have sent me to you for a light."

"Very good," said the Baba Yaga; "I know them. If you'll stop awhile with me first, and do some work for me, I'll give you a light. But if you won't, I'll eat you!"

Then she turned to the gates, and cried:—

"Ho, thou firm fence of mine, be thou divided! And ye, wide gates of mine, do ye fly open!"

The gates opened, and the Baba Yaga drove in, whistling as she went, and after her followed Vasilissa; and then everything shut to again. When they entered the sitting-room, the Baba Yaga stretched herself out at full length, and said to Vasilissa:

"Fetch out what there is in the oven; I'm hungry."

Vasilissa lighted a splinter[189] at one of the skulls which were on the fence, and began fetching meat from the oven and setting it before the Baba Yaga; and meat enough had been provided for a dozen people. Then she fetched from the cellar kvass, mead, beer, and wine. The hag ate up everything, drank up everything. All she left for Vasilissa was a few scraps—a crust of bread and a morsel of sucking-pig. Then the Baba Yaga lay down to sleep, saying:—

"When I go out to-morrow morning, mind you cleanse the courtyard, sweep the room, cook the dinner, and get the linen ready. Then go to the corn-bin, take out four quarters of wheat, and clear it of other seed.[190] And mind you have it all done—if you don't, I shall eat you!"

After giving these orders the Baba Yaga began to snore. But Vasilissa set the remnants of the hag's supper before her doll, burst into tears, and said:—

"Now, dolly, feed, listen to my need! The Baba Yaga has set me a heavy task, and threatens to eat me if I don't do it all. Do help me!"

The doll replied:

"Never fear, Vasilissa the Fair! Sup, say your prayers, and go to bed. The morning is wiser than the evening!"

Vasilissa awoke very early, but the Baba Yaga was already up. She looked out of the window. The light in the skull's eyes was going out. All of a sudden there appeared the white horseman, and all was light. The Baba Yaga went out into the courtyard and whistled—before her appeared a mortar with a pestle and a broom. The red horseman appeared—the sun rose. The Baba Yaga seated herself in the mortar, and drove out of the courtyard, shooting herself along with the pestle, sweeping away her traces with the broom.

Vasilissa was left alone, so she examined the Baba Yaga's house, wondered at the abundance there was in everything, and remained lost in thought as to which work she ought to take to first. She looked up; all her work was done already. The doll had cleared the wheat to the very last grain.

"Ah, my preserver!" cried Vasilissa, "you've saved me from danger!"

"All you've got to do now is to cook the dinner," answered the doll, slipping into Vasilissa's pocket. "Cook away, in God's name, and then take some rest for your health's sake!"

Towards evening Vasilissa got the table ready, and awaited the Baba Yaga. It began to grow dusky; the black rider appeared for a moment at the gate, and all grew dark. Only the eyes of the skulls sent forth their light. The trees began to crack, the leaves began to rustle, up drove the Baba Yaga. Vasilissa went out to meet her.

"Is everything done?" asks the Yaga.

"Please to look for yourself, granny!" says Vasilissa.

The Baba Yaga examined everything, was vexed that there was nothing to be angry about, and said:

"Well, well! very good!"

Afterwards she cried:

"My trusty servants, zealous friends, grind this my wheat!"

There appeared three pairs of hands, which gathered up the wheat, and carried it out of sight. The Baba Yaga supped, went to bed, and again gave her orders to Vasilissa:

"Do just the same to-morrow as to-day; only besides that take out of the bin the poppy seed that is there, and clean the earth off it grain by grain. Some one or other, you see, has mixed a lot of earth with it out of spite." Having said this, the hag turned to the wall and began to snore, and Vasilissa took to feeding her doll. The doll fed, and then said to her what it had said the day before:

"Pray to God, and go to sleep. The morning is wiser than the evening. All shall be done, Vasilissa dear!"

The next morning the Baba Yaga again drove out of the courtyard in her mortar, and Vasilissa and her doll immediately did all the work. The hag returned, looked at everything, and cried, "My trusty servants, zealous friends, press forth oil from the poppy seed!"

Three pairs of hands appeared, gathered up the poppy seed, and bore it out of sight. The Baba Yaga sat down to dinner. She ate, but Vasilissa stood silently by.

"Why don't you speak to me?" said the Baba Yaga; "there you stand like a dumb creature!"

"I didn't dare," answered Vasilissa; "but if you give me leave, I should like to ask you about something."

"Ask away; only it isn't every question that brings good. 'Get much to know, and old soon you'll grow.'"

"I only want to ask you, granny, about something I saw. As I was coming here, I was passed by one riding on a white horse; he was white himself, and dressed in white. Who was he?"

"That was my bright Day!" answered the Baba Yaga.

"Afterwards there passed me another rider, on a red horse; red himself, and all in red clothes. Who was he?"

"That was my red Sun!"[191] answered the Baba Yaga.

"And who may be the black rider, granny, who passed by me just at your gate?"

"That was my dark Night; they are all trusty servants of mine."

Vasilissa thought of the three pairs of hands, but held her peace.

"Why don't you go on asking?" said the Baba Yaga.

"That's enough for me, granny. You said yourself, 'Get too much to know, old you'll grow!'"

"It's just as well," said the Baba Yaga, "that you've only asked about what you saw out of doors, not indoors! In my house I hate having dirt carried out of doors;[192] and as to over-inquisitive people—well, I eat them. Now I'll ask you something. How is it you manage to do the work I set you to do?"

"My mother's blessing assists me," replied Vasilissa.

"Eh! eh! what's that? Get along out of my house, you bless'd daughter. I don't want bless'd people."

She dragged Vasilissa out of the room, pushed her outside the gates, took one of the skulls with blazing eyes from the fence, stuck it on a stick, gave it to her and said:

"Lay hold of that. It's a light you can take to your stepsisters. That's what they sent you here for, I believe."

Home went Vasilissa at a run, lit by the skull, which went out only at the approach of the dawn; and at last, on the evening of the second day, she reached home. When she came to the gate, she was going to throw away the skull.

"Surely," thinks she, "they can't be still in want of a light at home." But suddenly a hollow voice issued from the skull, saying:

"Throw me not away. Carry me to your stepmother!"

She looked at her stepmother's house, and not seeing a light in a single window, she determined to take the skull in there with her. For the first time in her life she was cordially received by her stepmother and stepsisters, who told her that from the moment she went away they hadn't had a spark of fire in the house. They couldn't strike a light themselves anyhow, and whenever they brought one in from a neighbor's, it went out as soon as it came into the room.

"Perhaps your light will keep in!" said the stepmother. So they carried the skull into the sitting-room. But the eyes of the skull so glared at the stepmother and her daughters—shot forth such flames! They would fain have hidden themselves, but run where they would, everywhere did the eyes follow after them. By the morning they were utterly burnt to cinders. Only Vasilissa was none the worse.[193]

[Next morning Vasilissa "buried the skull," locked up the house and took up her quarters in a neighboring town. After a time she began to work. Her doll made her a glorious loom, and by the end of the winter she had weaved a quantity of linen so fine that it might be passed like thread through the eye of a needle. In the spring, after it had been bleached, Vasilissa made a present of it to the old woman with whom she lodged. The crone presented it to the king, who ordered it to be made into shirts. But no seamstress could be found to make them up, until the linen was entrusted to Vasilissa. When a dozen shirts were ready, Vasilissa sent them to the king, and as soon as her carrier had started, "she washed herself, and combed her hair, and dressed herself, and sat down at the window." Before long there arrived a messenger demanding her instant appearance at court. And "when she appeared before the royal eyes," the king fell desperately in love with her.

"No; my beauty!" said he, "never will I part with thee; thou shalt be my wife." So he married her; and by-and-by her father returned, and took up his abode with her. "And Vasilissa took the old woman into her service, and as for the doll—to the end of her life she always carried it in her pocket."]

The puppet which plays so important a part in this story is worthy of a special examination. It is called in the original a Kukla (dim. Kukolka), a word designating any sort of puppet or other figure representing either man or beast. In a Little-Russian variant[194] of one of those numerous stories, current in all lands, which commence with the escape of the heroine from an incestuous union, a priest insists on marrying his daughter. She goes to her mother's grave and weeps there. Her dead mother "comes out from her grave," and tells her what to do. The girl obtains from her father a rough dress of pig's skin, and two sets of gorgeous apparel; the former she herself assumes, in the latter she dresses up three Kuklui, which in this instance were probably mere blocks of wood. Then she takes her place in the midst of the dressed-up forms, which cry, one after the other, "Open, O moist earth, that the fair maiden may enter within thee!" The earth opens, and all four sink into it.

This introduction is almost identical with that prefixed to the German story of "Allerleirauh,"[195] except in so far as the puppets are concerned.

Sometimes it is a brother, instead of a father, from whom the heroine is forced to flee. Thus in the story of Kniaz Danila Govorila,[196] Prince Daniel the Talker is bent upon marrying his sister, pleading the excuse so often given in stories on this theme, namely, that she is the only maiden whose finger will fit the magic ring which is to indicate to him his destined wife. While she is weeping "like a river," some old women of the mendicant-pilgrim class come to her rescue, telling her to make four Kukolki, or small puppets, and to place one of them in each corner of her room. She does as they tell her. The wedding day arrives, the marriage service is performed in the church, and then the bride hastens back to the room. When she is called for—says the story—the puppets in the four corners begin to coo.[197]

"Kuku! Prince Danila!

"Kuku! Govorila.

"Kuku! He wants to marry,

"Kuku! His own sister.

"Kuku! Split open, O Earth!

"Kuku! Sister, disappear!"

The earth opens, and the girl slowly sinks into it. Twice again the puppets sing their song, and at the end of its third performance, the earth closes over the head of the rescued bride. Presently in rushes the irritated bridegroom. "No bride is to be seen; only in the corners sit the puppets singing away to themselves." He flies into a passion, seizes a hatchet, chops off their heads, and flings them into the fire.[198]

In another version of the same story[199] a son is ordered by his parents to marry his sister after their death. They die, and he tells her to get ready to be married. But she has prepared three puppets, and when she goes into her room to dress for the wedding, she says to them:

"O Kukolki, (cry) Kuku!"

The first asks, "Why?"

The second replies, "Because the brother his sister takes."

The third says, "Split open, O Earth! disappear, O sister!"

All this is said three times, and then the earth opens, and the girl sinks "into that world."

In two other Russian versions of the same story, the sister escapes by natural means. In the first[200] she runs away and hides in the hollow of an oak. In the second[201] she persuades a fisherman to convey her across a sea or lake. In a Polish version[202] the sister obtains a magic car, which sinks underground with her, while the spot on which she has spat replies to every summons which is addressed to her.[203]

Before taking leave of the Baba Yaga, we may glance at a malevolent monster, who seems to be her male counterpart. He appears, however, to be known in South Russia only. Here is an outline of the contents of the solitary story in which he is mentioned. There were two old folks with whom lived two orphan grandchildren, charming little girls. One day the youngest child was sent to drive the sparrows away from her grandfather's pease. While she was thus engaged the forest began to roar, and out from it came Verlioka, "of vast stature, one-eyed, crook-nosed, bristly-headed, with tangled beard and moustaches half an ell long, and with a wooden boot on his one foot, supporting himself on a crutch, and giving vent to a terrible laughter." And Verlioka caught sight of the little girl and immediately killed her with his crutch. And afterwards he killed her sister also, and then the old grandmother. The grandfather, however, managed to escape with his life, and afterwards, with the help of a drake and other aiders, he wreaked his vengeance on the murderous Verlioka.[204]

We will now turn to another female embodiment of evil, frequently mentioned in the Skazkas—the Witch.[205] She so closely resembles the Baba Yaga both in disposition and in behavior, that most of the remarks which have been made about that wild being apply to her also. In many cases, indeed, we find that one version of a story will allot to a Baba Yaga the part which in another version is played by a Witch. The name which she bears—that of Vyed'ma—is a misnomer; it properly belongs either to the "wise woman," or prophetess, of old times, or to her modern representative, the woman to whom Russian superstition attributes the faculties and functions ascribed in olden days by most of our jurisprudents, in more recent times by a few of our rustics, to our own witch. The supernatural being who, in folk-tales, sways the elements and preys upon mankind, is most inadequately designated by such names as Vyed'ma, Hexe, or Witch, suggestive as those now homely terms are of merely human, though diabolically intensified malevolence. Far more in keeping with the vastness of her powers, and the vagueness of her outline, are the titles of Baba Yaga, Lamia, Striga, Troll-Wife, Ogress, or Dragoness, under which she figures in various lands. And therefore it is in her capacity of Baba Yaga, rather than in that of Vyed'ma, that we desire to study the behavior of the Russian equivalent for the terrible female form which figures in the Anglo-Saxon poem as the Mother of Grendel.

From among the numerous stories relating to the Vyed'ma we may select the following, which bears her name.


There once lived an old couple who had one son called Ivashko;[207] no one can tell how fond they were of him!

Well, one day, Ivashko said to his father and mother:

"I'll go out fishing if you'll let me."

"What are you thinking about! you're still very small; suppose you get drowned, what good will there be in that?"

"No, no, I shan't get drowned. I'll catch you some fish; do let me go!"

So his mother put a white shirt on him, tied a red girdle round him, and let him go. Out in a boat he sat and said:

Canoe, canoe, float a little farther, Canoe, canoe, float a little farther!

Then the canoe floated on farther and farther, and Ivashko began to fish. When some little time had passed by, the old woman hobbled down to the river side and called to her son:

Ivashechko, Ivashechko, my boy, Float up, float up, unto the waterside; I bring thee food and drink.

And Ivashko said:

Canoe, canoe, float to the waterside; That is my mother calling me.

The boat floated to the shore: the woman took the fish, gave her boy food and drink, changed his shirt for him and his girdle, and sent him back to his fishing. Again he sat in his boat and said:

Canoe, canoe, float a little farther, Canoe, canoe, float a little farther.

Then the canoe floated on farther and farther, and Ivashko began to fish. After a little time had passed by, the old man also hobbled down to the bank and called to his son:

Ivashechko, Ivashechko, my boy, Float up, float up, unto the waterside; I bring thee food and drink.

And Ivashko replied:

Canoe, canoe, float to the waterside; That is my father calling me.

The canoe floated to the shore. The old man took the fish, gave his boy food and drink, changed his shirt for him and his girdle, and sent him back to his fishing.

Now a certain witch[208] had heard what Ivashko's parents had cried aloud to him, and she longed to get hold of the boy. So she went down to the bank and cried with a hoarse voice:

Ivashechko, Ivashechko, my boy, Float up, float up, unto the waterside; I bring thee food and drink.

Ivashko perceived that the voice was not his mother's, but was that of a witch, and he sang:

Canoe, canoe, float a little farther, Canoe, canoe, float a little farther; That is not my mother, but a witch who calls me.

The witch saw that she must call Ivashko with just such a voice as his mother had.

So she hastened to a smith and said to him:

"Smith, smith! make me just such a thin little voice as Ivashko's mother has: if you don't, I'll eat you." So the smith forged her a little voice just like Ivashko's mother's. Then the witch went down by night to the shore and sang:

Ivashechko, Ivashechko, my boy, Float up, float up, unto the waterside; I bring thee food and drink.

Ivashko came, and she took the fish, and seized the boy and carried him home with her. When she arrived she said to her daughter Alenka,[209] "Heat the stove as hot as you can, and bake Ivashko well, while I go and collect my friends for the feast." So Alenka heated the stove hot, ever so hot, and said to Ivashko,

"Come here and sit on this shovel!"

"I'm still very young and foolish," answered Ivashko: "I haven't yet quite got my wits about me. Please teach me how one ought to sit on a shovel."

"Very good," said Alenka; "it won't take long to teach you."

But the moment she sat down on the shovel, Ivashko instantly pitched her into the oven, slammed to the iron plate in front of it, ran out of the hut, shut the door, and hurriedly climbed up ever so high an oak-tree [which stood close by].

Presently the witch arrived with her guests and knocked at the door of the hut. But nobody opened it for her.

"Ah! that cursed Alenka!" she cried. "No doubt she's gone off somewhere to amuse herself." Then she slipped in through the window, opened the door, and let in her guests. They all sat down to table, and the witch opened the oven, took out Alenka's baked body, and served it up. They all ate their fill and drank their fill, and then they went out into the courtyard and began rolling about on the grass.

"I turn about, I roll about, having fed on Ivashko's flesh," cried the witch. "I turn about, I roll about, having fed on Ivashko's flesh."

But Ivashko called out to her from the top of the oak:

"Turn about, roll about, having fed on Alenka's flesh!"

"Did I hear something?" said the witch. "No it was only the noise of the leaves." Again the witch began:

"I turn about, I roll about, having fed on Ivashko's flesh!"

And Ivashko repeated:

"Turn about, roll about, having fed on Alenka's flesh!"

Then the witch looked up and saw Ivashko, and immediately rushed at the oak on which Ivashko was seated, and began to gnaw away at it. And she gnawed, and gnawed, and gnawed, until at last she smashed two front teeth. Then she ran to a forge, and when she reached it she cried, "Smith, smith! make me some iron teeth; if you don't I'll eat you!"

So the smith forged her two iron teeth.

The witch returned and began gnawing the oak again.

She gnawed, and gnawed, and was just on the point of gnawing it through, when Ivashko jumped out of it into another tree which stood beside it. The oak that the witch had gnawed through fell down to the ground; but then she saw that Ivashko was sitting up in another tree, so she gnashed her teeth with spite and set to work afresh, to gnaw that tree also. She gnawed, and gnawed, and gnawed—broke two lower teeth, and ran off to the forge.

"Smith, smith!" she cried when she got there, "make me some iron teeth; if you don't I'll eat you!"

The smith forged two more iron teeth for her. She went back again, and once more began to gnaw the oak.

Ivashko didn't know what he was to do now. He looked out, and saw that swans and geese[210] were flying by, so he called to them imploringly:

Oh, my swans and geese, Take me on your pinions, Bear me to my father and my mother, To the cottage of my father and my mother, There to eat, and drink, and live in comfort.

"Let those in the centre carry you," said the birds.

Ivashko waited; a second flock flew past, and he again cried imploringly:

Oh, my swans and geese! Take me on your pinions, Bear me to my father and my mother, To the cottage of my father and my mother, There to eat, and drink, and live in comfort.

"Let those in the rear carry you!" said the birds.

Again Ivashko waited. A third flock came flying up, and he cried:

Oh, my swans and geese! Take me on your pinions, Bear me to my father and my mother, To the cottage of my father and my mother, There to eat, and drink, and live in comfort.

And those swans and geese took hold of him and carried him back, flew up to the cottage, and dropped him in the upper room.

Early the next morning his mother set to work to bake pancakes, baked them, and all of a sudden fell to thinking about her boy. "Where is my Ivashko?" she cried; "would that I could see him, were it only in a dream!"

Then his father said, "I dreamed that swans and geese had brought our Ivashko home on their wings."

And when she had finished baking the pancakes, she said, "Now, then, old man, let's divide the cakes: there's for you, father! there's for me! There's for you, father! there's for me."

"And none for me?" called out Ivashko.

"There's for you, father!" went on the old woman, "there's for me."

"And none for me!" [repeated the boy.]

"Why, old man," said the wife, "go and see whatever that is up there."

The father climbed into the upper room and there he found Ivashko. The old people were delighted, and asked their boy about everything that had happened. And after that he and they lived on happily together.

[That part of this story which relates to the baking and eating of the witch's daughter is well known in many lands. It is found in the German "Haensel und Grethel" (Grimm. KM. No. 15, and iii. p. 25, where a number of parallels are mentioned); in the Norse "Askelad" (Asbjoernsen and Moe, No. 1. Dasent, "Boots and the Troll," No. 32), where a Troll's daughter is baked; and "Smoerbuk" (Asb. and Moe, No. 52. Dasent, "Buttercup," No. 18), in which the victim is daughter of a "Haugkjoerring," another name for a Troll-wife; in the Servian story of "The Stepmother," &c. (Vuk Karajich, No. 35, pp. 174-5) in which two Chivuti, or Jews, are tricked into eating their baked mother; in the Modern Greek stories (Hahn, No. 3 and ii. p. 181), in which the hero bakes (1) a Drakaena, while her husband, the Drakos, is at church, (2) a Lamiopula, during the absence of the Lamia, her mother; and in the Albanian story of "Augenhuendin" (Hahn, No. 95), in which the heroine gets rid in a similar manner of Maro, the daughter of that four eyed sykieneza. (See note, ii, 309.) Afanasief also refers (i. p. 121) to Haltrich, No. 37, and Haupt and Schmaler, ii. pp. 172-4. He also mentions a similar tale about a giantess existing among the Baltic Kashoubes. See also the end of the song of Tardanak, showing how he killed "the Seven Headed Jelbegen," Radloff, i. p. 31.]

A variant of this story (from the Chernigof Government)[211] begins by telling how two old people were childless for a long time. At last the husband went into the forest, felled wood, and made a cradle. Into this his wife laid one of the logs he had cut, and began swinging it, crooning the while a rune beginning

Swing, blockie dear, swing.

After a little time "behold! the block already had legs. The old woman rejoiced greatly and began singing anew, and went on singing until the block became a babe." In this variant the boy rows a silver boat with a golden oar; in another South Russian variant[212] the boat is golden, the oar of silver. In a White-Russian variant quoted by Afanasief (i. p. 118), the place of the witch's daughter is filled by her son, who had been in the habit of alluring to her den by gifts of toys, and there devouring, the children from the adjacent villages. Buslaef's "Historical Essays," (i. pp. 313-321) contain a valuable investigation of Kulish's version of this story, which he compares with the romance of "The Knight of the Swan."

In another of the variants of this story[213] Ivanushka is the son of a Baruinya or Lady, and he is carried off in a whirlwind by a Baba Yaga. His three sisters go to look for him, and each of them in turn finds out where he is and attempts to carry him off, after sending the Baba Yaga to sleep and smearing her eyelids with pitch. But the two elder sisters are caught on their way home by the Baba Yaga, and terribly scratched and torn. The youngest sister, however, succeeds in rescuing her brother, having taken the precaution of propitiating with butter the cat Jeremiah, "who was telling the boy stories and singing him songs." When the Baba Yaga awakes, she tells Jeremiah to scratch her eyes open, but he refuses, reminding her that, long as he has lived under her roof, she has never in any way regaled him, whereas the "fair maiden" had no sooner arrived than she treated him to butter. In another variant[214] the bereaved mother sends three servant-maids in search of her boy. Two of them get torn to pieces; the third succeeds in saving Ivanushka from the Baba Yaga, who is so vexed that she pinches her butter-bribed cat to death for not having awakened her when the rescue took place. A comparison of these three stories is sufficient to show how closely connected are the Witch and the Baba Yaga, how readily the name of either of the two may be transferred to the other.

But there is one class of stories in which the Vyed'ma is represented as differing from the Baba Yaga, in so far as she is the offspring of parents who are not in any way supernatural or inhuman. Without any apparent cause for her abnormal conduct, the daughter of an ordinary royal house will suddenly begin to destroy and devour all living things which fall in her way—her strength developing as rapidly as her appetite. Of such a nature—to be accounted for only on the supposition that an evil spirit has taken up its abode in a human body[215]—is the witch who appears in the somewhat incomprehensible story that follows.


In a certain far-off country there once lived a king and queen. And they had an only son, Prince Ivan, who was dumb from his birth. One day, when he was twelve years old, he went into the stable to see a groom who was a great friend of his.

That groom always used to tell him tales [skazki], and on this occasion Prince Ivan went to him expecting to hear some stories [skazochki], but that wasn't what he heard.

"Prince Ivan!" said the groom, "your mother will soon have a daughter, and you a sister. She will be a terrible witch, and she will eat up her father, and her mother, and all their subjects. So go and ask your father for the best horse he has—as if you wanted a gallop—and then, if you want to be out of harm's way, ride away whithersoever your eyes guide you."

Prince Ivan ran off to his father and, for the first time in his life, began speaking to him.

At that the king was so delighted that he never thought of asking what he wanted a good steed for, but immediately ordered the very best horse he had in his stud to be saddled for the prince.

Prince Ivan mounted, and rode off without caring where he went.[217] Long, long did he ride.

At length he came to where two old women were sewing and he begged them to let him live with them. But they said:

"Gladly would we do so, Prince Ivan, only we have now but a short time to live. As soon as we have broken that trunkful of needles, and used up that trunkful of thread, that instant will death arrive!"

Prince Ivan burst into tears and rode on. Long, long did he ride. At length he came to where the giant Vertodub was,[218] and he besought him, saying:

"Take me to live with you."

"Gladly would I have taken you, Prince Ivan!" replied the giant, "but now I have very little longer to live. As soon as I have pulled up all these trees by the roots, instantly will come my death!"

More bitterly still did the prince weep as he rode farther and farther on. By-and-by he came to where the giant Vertogor was, and made the same request to him, but he replied:

"Gladly would I have taken you, Prince Ivan! but I myself have very little longer to live. I am set here, you know, to level mountains. The moment I have settled matters with these you see remaining, then will my death come!"

Prince Ivan burst into a flood of bitter tears, and rode on still farther. Long, long did he ride. At last he came to the dwelling of the Sun's Sister. She received him into her house, gave him food and drink, and treated him just as if he had been her own son.

The prince now led an easy life. But it was all no use; he couldn't help being miserable. He longed so to know what was going on at home.

He often went to the top of a high mountain, and thence gazed at the palace in which he used to live, and he could see that it was all eaten away; nothing but the bare walls remained! Then he would sigh and weep. Once when he returned after he had been thus looking and crying, the Sun's Sister asked him:

"What makes your eyes so red to-day, Prince Ivan?"[219]

"The wind has been blowing in them," said he.

The same thing happened a second time. Then the Sun's Sister ordered the wind to stop blowing. Again a third time did Prince Ivan come back with a blubbered face. This time there was no help for it; he had to confess everything, and then he took to entreating the Sun's Sister to let him go, that he might satisfy himself about his old home. She would not let him go, but he went on urgently entreating.

So at last he persuaded her, and she let him go away to find out about his home. But first she provided him for the journey with a brush, a comb, and two youth-giving apples. However old any one might be, let him eat one of these apples, he would grow young again in an instant.

Well, Prince Ivan came to where Vertogor was. There was only just one mountain left! He took his brush and cast it down on the open plain. Immediately there rose out of the earth, goodness knows whence,[220] high, ever so high mountains, their peaks touching the sky. And the number of them was such that there were more than the eye could see![221] Vertogor rejoiced greatly and blithely recommenced his work.

After a time Prince Ivan came to where Vertodub was, and found that there were only three trees remaining there. So he took the comb and flung it on the open plain. Immediately from somewhere or other there came a sound of trees,[222] and forth from the ground arose dense oak forests! each stem more huge than the other! Vertodub was delighted, thanked the Prince, and set to work uprooting the ancient oaks.

By-and-by Prince Ivan reached the old women, and gave each of them an apple. They ate them, and straightway became young again. So they gave him a handkerchief; you only had to wave it, and behind you lay a whole lake! At last Prince Ivan arrived at home. Out came running his sister to meet him, caressed him fondly.

"Sit thee down, my brother!" she said, "play a tune on the lute while I go and get dinner ready."

The Prince sat down and strummed away on the lute [gusli].

Then there crept a mouse out of a hole, and said to him in a human voice:

"Save yourself, Prince. Run away quick! your sister has gone to sharpen her teeth."

Prince Ivan fled from the room, jumped on his horse, and galloped away back. Meantime the mouse kept running over the strings of the lute. They twanged, and the sister never guessed that her brother was off. When she had sharpened her teeth she burst into the room. Lo and behold! not a soul was there, nothing but the mouse bolting into its hole! The witch waxed wroth, ground her teeth like anything, and set off in pursuit.

Prince Ivan heard a loud noise and looked back. There was his sister chasing him. So he waved his handkerchief, and a deep lake lay behind him. While the witch was swimming across the water, Prince Ivan got a long way ahead. But on she came faster than ever; and now she was close at hand! Vertodub guessed that the Prince was trying to escape from his sister. So he began tearing up oaks and strewing them across the road. A regular mountain did he pile up! there was no passing by for the witch! So she set to work to clear the way. She gnawed, and gnawed, and at length contrived by hard work to bore her way through; but by this time Prince Ivan was far ahead.

On she dashed in pursuit, chased and chased. Just a little more, and it would be impossible for him to escape! But Vertogor spied the witch, laid hold of the very highest of all the mountains, pitched it down all of a heap on the road, and flung another mountain right on top of it. While the witch was climbing and clambering, Prince Ivan rode and rode, and found himself a long way ahead. At last the witch got across the mountain, and once more set off in pursuit of her brother. By-and-by she caught sight of him, and exclaimed:

"You sha'n't get away from me this time!" And now she is close, now she is just going to catch him!

At that very moment Prince Ivan dashed up to the abode of the Sun's Sister and cried:

"Sun, Sun! open the window!"

The Sun's Sister opened the window, and the Prince bounded through it, horse and all.

Then the witch began to ask that her brother might be given up to her for punishment. The Sun's Sister would not listen to her, nor would she give him up. Then the witch said:

"Let Prince Ivan be weighed against me, to see which is the heavier. If I am, then I will eat him; but if he is, then let him kill me!"

This was done. Prince Ivan was the first to get into one of the scales; then the witch began to get into the other. But no sooner had she set foot in it than up shot Prince Ivan in the air, and that with such force that he flew right up into the sky, and into the chamber of the Sun's Sister.

But as for the Witch-Snake, she remained down below on earth.

[The word terem (plural terema) which occurs twice in this story (rendered the second time by "chamber") deserves a special notice. It is defined by Dahl, in its antique sense, as "a raised, lofty habitation, or part of one—a Boyar's castle—a Seigneur's house—the dwelling-place of a ruler within a fortress," &c. The "terem of the women," sometimes styled "of the girls," used to comprise the part of a Seigneur's house, on the upper floor, set aside for the female members of his family. Dahl compares it with the Russian tyurma, a prison, and the German Thurm. But it seems really to be derived from the Greek teremnon, "anything closely shut fast or closely covered, a room, chamber," &c.

That part of the story which refers to the Cannibal Princess is familiar to the Modern Greeks. In the Syriote tale of "The Strigla" (Hahn, No. 65) a princess devours her father and all his subjects. Her brother, who had escaped while she was still a babe, visits her and is kindly received. But while she is sharpening her teeth with a view towards eating him, a mouse gives him a warning which saves his life. As in the Russian story the mouse jumps about on the strings of a lute in order to deceive the witch, so in the Greek it plays a fiddle. But the Greek hero does not leave his sister's abode. After remaining concealed one night, he again accosts her. She attempts to eat him, but he kills her.

In a variant from Epirus (Hahn, ii. p. 283-4) the cannibal princess is called a Chursusissa. Her brother climbs a tree, the stem of which she gnaws almost asunder. But before it falls, a Lamia comes to his aid and kills his sister.

Afanasief (viii. p. 527) identifies the Sun's Sister with the Dawn. The following explanation of the skazka (with the exception of the words within brackets) is given by A. de Gubernatis ("Zool. Myth." i. 183). "Ivan is the Sun, the aurora [or dawn] is his [true] sister; at morning, near the abode of the aurora, that is, in the east, the shades of night [his witch, or false sister] go underground, and the Sun arises to the heavens; this is the mythical pair of scales. Thus in the Christian belief, St. Michael weighs human souls; those who weigh much sink down into hell, and those who are light arise to the heavenly paradise."]

As an illustration of this story, Afanasief (P.V.S. iii. 272) quotes a Little-Russian Skazka in which a man, who is seeking "the Isle in which there is no death," meets with various personages like those with whom the Prince at first wished to stay on his journey, and at last takes up his abode with the moon. Death comes in search of him, after a hundred years or so have elapsed, and engages in a struggle with the Moon, the result of which is that the man is caught up into the sky, and there shines thenceforth "as a star near the moon."

The Sun's Sister is a mythical being who is often mentioned in the popular poetry of the South-Slavonians. A Servian song represents a beautiful maiden, with "arms of silver up to the elbows," sitting on a silver throne which floats on water. A suitor comes to woo her. She waxes wroth and cries,

Whom wishes he to woo? The sister of the Sun, The cousin of the Moon, The adopted-sister of the Dawn.

Then she flings down three golden apples, which the "marriage-proposers" attempt to catch, but "three lightnings flash from the sky" and kill the suitor and his friends.

In another Servian song a girl cries to the Sun—

O brilliant Sun! I am fairer than thou, Than thy brother, the bright Moon, Than thy sister, the moving star [Venus?].

In South-Slavonian poetry the sun often figures as a radiant youth. But among the Northern Slavonians, as well as the Lithuanians, the sun was regarded as a female being, the bride of the moon. "Thou askest me of what race, of what family I am," says the fair maiden of a song preserved in the Tambof Government—

My mother is—the beauteous Sun, And my father—the bright Moon; My brothers are—the many Stars, And my sisters—the white Dawns.[223]

A far more detailed account might be given of the Witch and her near relation the Baba Yaga, as well as of those masculine embodiments of that spirit of evil which is personified in them, the Snake, Koshchei, and other similar beings. But the stories which have been quoted will suffice to give at least a general idea of their moral and physical attributes. We will now turn from their forms, so constantly introduced into the skazka-drama, to some of the supernatural figures which are not so often brought upon the stage—to those mythical beings of whom (numerous as may be the traditions about them) the regular "story" does not so often speak, to such personifications of abstract ideas as are less frequently employed to set its conventional machinery in motion.


[72] "Songs of the Russian People," pp. 160-185.

[73] In one story (Khudyakof, No. 117) there are snakes with twenty-eight and twenty-nine heads, but this is unusual.

[74] Afanasief, ii. No. 30. From the Chernigof Government. The accent falls on the second syllable of Ivan, on the first of Popyalof.

[75] Popyal, provincial word for pepel = ashes, cinders, whence the surname Popyalof. A pood is about 40lbs.

[76] On slender supports.

[77] Pod mostom, i.e., says Afanasief (vol. v. p. 243), under the raised flooring which, in an izba, serves as a sleeping place.

[78] Zatvelyef, apparently a provincial word.

[79] The Russian word krof also signifies blood.

[80] The last sentence of the story forms one of the conventional and meaningless "tags" frequently attached to the skazkas. In future I shall omit them. Kuzma and Demian (SS. Cosmas and Damian) figure in Russian folk-lore as saintly and supernatural smiths, frequently at war with snakes, which they maltreat in various ways. See A. de Gubernatis, "Zoological Mythology," vol. ii. p. 397.

[81] Afanasief, Skazki, vol. vii. p. 3.

[82] Chudo = prodigy. Yudo may be a remembrance of Judas, or it may be used merely for the sake of the rhyme.

[83] In an Indian story ("Kathasaritsagara," book vii. chap. 42), Indrasena comes to a place in which sits a Rakshasa on a throne between two fair ladies. He attacks the demon with a magic sword, and soon cuts off his head. But the head always grows again, until at last the younger of the ladies gives him a sign to split in half the head he has just chopped off. Thereupon the demon dies, and the two ladies greet the conqueror rapturously. The younger is the demon's sister, the elder is a king's daughter whom the demon has carried off from her home, after eating her father and all his followers. See Professor Brockhaus's summary in the "Berichte der phil. hist. Classe der K. Saechs. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften," 1861. pp. 241-2.

[84] Khudyakof, No. 46.

[85] Afanasief, vol. i. No. 6. From the Chernigof Government. The Norka-Zvyer' (Norka-Beast) of this story is a fabulous creature, but zoologically the name of Norka (from nora = a hole) belongs to the Otter.

[86] Literally "into that world" as opposed to this in which we live.

[87] This address is a formula, of frequent occurrence under similar circumstances.

[88] Literally "seated the maidens and pulled the rope."

[89] Some sort of safe or bin.

[90] Khudyakof, ii. p. 17.

[91] "Kathasaritsagara," bk. vii. c. xxxix. Wilson's translation.

[92] Genesis, xxxvii. 3, 4.

[93] "Zoological Mythology," i. 25.

[94] Quoted from the "Nitimanjari," by Wilson, in his translation of the "Rig-Veda-Sanhita," vol. i. p. 142.

[95] See also Juelg's "Kalmukische Maerchen," p. 19, where Massang, the Calmuck Minotaur, is abandoned in the pit by his companions.

[96] Khudyakof, No. 42.

[97] Erlenvein, No. 41. A king's horses disappear. His youngest son keeps watch and discovers that the thief is a white wolf. It escapes into a hole. He kills his horse at its own request and makes from its hide a rope by which he is lowered into the hole, etc.

[98] Afanasief, v. 54.

[99] The word koshchei, says Afanasief, may fairly be derived from kost', a bone, for changes between st and shch are not uncommon—as in the cases of pustoi, waste, pushcha, a wild wood, or of gustoi, thick, gushcha, sediment, etc. The verb okostenyet', to grow numb, describes the state into which a skazka represents the realm of the "Sleeping Beauty," as being thrown by Koshchei. Buslaef remarks in his "Influence of Christianity on Slavonic Language," p. 103, that one of the Gothic words used by Ulfilas to express the Greek daimonion is skohsl, which "is purely Slavonic, being preserved in the Czekh kauzlo, sorcery; in the Lower-Lusatian-Wendish, kostlar means a sorcerer. (But see Grimm's "Deutsche Mythologie," pp. 454-5, where skohsl is supposed to mean a forest-sprite, also p. 954.) Kost' changes into koshch whence our Koshchei." There is also a provincial word, kostit', meaning to revile or scold.

[100] Bezsmertny (bez = without, smert' = death).

[101] Afanasief, viii. No. 8. Morevna means daughter of More, (the Sea or any great water).

[102] Grom. It is the thunder, rather than the lightning, which the Russian peasants look upon as the destructive agent in a storm. They let the flash pass unheeded, but they take the precaution of crossing themselves when the roar follows.

[103] Zamorskaya, from the other side of the water, strange, splendid.

[104] In Afanasief, iv. No. 39, a father marries his three daughters to the Sun, the Moon, and the Raven. In Hahn, No. 25, a younger brother gives his sisters in marriage to a Lion, a Tiger, and an Eagle, after his elder brothers have refused to do so. By their aid he recovers his lost bride. In Schott, No. 1 and Vuk Karajich, No. 5, the three sisters are carried off by Dragons, which their subsequently-born brother kills. (See also Basile, No. 33, referred to by Hahn, and Valjavec, p. 1, Stier, No. 13, and Bozena Nemcova, pp. 414-432, and a German story in Musaeus, all referred to by Afanasief, viii. p. 662.)

[105] See Chap. IV.

[106] "Being by the advice of her father Haereeth given in marriage to Offa, she left off her violent practices; and accordingly she appears in Hygelac's court, exercising the peaceful duties of a princess. Now this whole representation can hardly be other than the modern, altered, and Christian one of a Waelcyrie or Swan-Maiden; and almost in the same words the Nibelungen Lied relates of Brynhild, the flashing shield-may of the Edda, that with her virginity she lost her mighty strength and warlike habits."—Kemble's Beowulf, p. xxxv.

[107] Khudyakof, ii, p. 90.

[108] Khudyakof, No. 20.

[109] Afanasief, i. No. 14.

[110] Khudyakof, No. 62.

[111] Erlenvein, No. 31.

[112] Afanasief, ii. No. 24. From the Perm Government.

[113] A conventional expression of contempt which frequently occurs in the Skazkas.

[114] Do chugunnova kamnya, to an iron stone.

[115] "Russkaya kost'." I have translated literally, but the words mean nothing more than "a man," "something human." Cf. Radloff, iii. III. 301.

[116] Bog prostit = God will forgive. This sounds to the English ear like an ungracious reply, but it is the phrase ordinarily used by a superior when an inferior asks his pardon. Before taking the sacrament at Easter, the servants in a Russian household ask their employers to forgive them for any faults of which they may have been guilty. "God will forgive," is the proper reply.

[117] Khudyakof, No. 43.

[118] Vikhor' (vit' = to whirl), an agent often introduced for the purpose of abduction. The sorcerers of the present day are supposed to be able to direct whirlwinds, and a not uncommon form of imprecation in some parts of Russia is "May the whirlwind carry thee off!" See Afanasief, P.V.S. i. 317, and "Songs of the Russian People," p. 382.

[119] This story is very like that of the "Rider of Grianaig," "Tales of the West Highlands," iii. No. 58.

[120] Cf. Herodotus, bk. iv. chap. 172.

[121] Khudyakof, No. 44.

[122] Erlenvein, No. 12, p. 67. A popular tradition asserts that the Devil may be killed if shot with an egg laid on Christmas Eve. See Afanasief, P.V.S. ii. 603.

[123] Afanasief, i. No. 14, p. 92. For an account of Buyan, see "Songs of the Russian People," p. 374.

[124] Afanasief, vii. No. 6, p. 83.

[125] Some of these have been compared by Mr. Cox, in his "Mythology of the Aryan Nations," i. 135-142. Also by Professor A. de Gubernatis, who sees in the duck the dawn, in the hare "the moon sacrificed in the morning," and in the egg the sun. "Zoological Mythology," i. 269.

[126] Asbjoernsen and Moe, No. 36, Dasent, No. 9, p. 71.

[127] Asbjoernsen's "New Series," No. 70, p. 39.

[128] Haltrich's "Deutsche Volksmaerchen aus dem Sachsenlande in Siebenbuergen," p. 188.

[129] Wenzig's "Westslawischer Maerchenschatz," No. 37, p. 190.

[130] Campbell's "Tales of the West Highlands," i. No. 4, p. 81.

[131] Hahn, No. 26, i. 187.

[132] Ibid., vol. ii. pp. 215, 294-5.

[133] Vuk Karajich, No. 8. The monster is called in the Servian text an Ajdaya, a word meaning a dragon or snake. It is rendered by Drache in the German translation of his collection of tales made by his daughter, but the word is evidently akin to the Sanskrit ahi, the Greek echir echidna, the Latin anguis, the Russian ujak, the Luthanian angis, etc. The Servian word snaga answers to the Russian sila, strength.

[134] Miss Frere's "Old Deccan Days," pp. 13-16.

[135] Castren's "Ethnologische Vorlesungen ueber die Altaischen Voelker," p. 174.

[136] The story has been translated by M. de Rouge in the "Revue Archeologique," 1852-3, p. 391 (referred to by Professor Benfey, "Panchatantra," i. 426) and summarized by Mr. Goodwin in the "Cambridge Essays" for 1858, pp. 232-7, and by Dr. Mannhardt in the "Zeitschrift fuer deutsche Mythologie," &c., vol. iv. pp. 232-59. For other versions of the story of the Giant's heart, or Koshchei's death, see Professor R. Koehler's remarks on the subject in "Orient und Occident," ii. pp. 99-103. A singular parallel to part of the Egyptian myth is offered by the Hottentot story in which the heart of a girl whom a lion has killed and eaten, is extracted from the lion, and placed in a calabash filled with milk. "The calabash increased in size, and in proportion to this, the girl grew again inside it." Bleek's "Reynard the Fox in South Africa," p. 55. Cf. Radloff, i. 75; ii. 237-8, 532-3.

[137] Khudyakof, No. 109.

[138] Khudyakof, No. 110.

[139] Afanasief, v. No. 42. See also the Zagovor, or spell, "to give a good youth a longing for a fair maiden," ("Songs of the Russian People," p. 369,) in which "the Longing" is described as lying under a plank in a hut, weeping and sobbing, and "waiting to get at the white light," and is desired to gnaw its way into the youth's heart.

[140] For stories about house snakes, &c., see Grimm "Deutsche Mythologie," p. 650, and Tylor, "Primitive Culture," ii. pp. 7, 217-220.

[141] Or Ujak. Erlenvein, No. 2. From the Tula Government.

[142] Grimm, "Deutsche Mythologie," 456. For a description of the Rusalka and the Vodyany, see "Songs of the Russian People," pp. 139-146.

[143] Afanasief, v. No. 23. From the Voroneje Government.

[144] Three of the well-known servants of Fortunatus. The eater-up (ob'egedat' = to devour), the drinker-up (pit' = to drink, opivat'sya, to drink oneself to death), and "Crackling Frost."

[145] Opokhmyelit'sya, which may be rendered, "in order to drink off the effects of the debauch."

[146] The Russian bath somewhat resembles the Turkish. The word here translated "to scrub," properly means to rub and flog with the soft twig used in the baths for that purpose. At the end of the ceremonies attended on a Russian peasant wedding, the young couple always go to the bath.

[147] A sort of pudding or jelly.

[148] Afanasief, v. No. 28. In the preceding story, No. 27, the king makes no promise. He hides his children in (or upon) a pillar, hoping to conceal them from a devouring bear, whose fur is of iron. The bear finds them and carries them off. A horse and some geese vainly attempt their rescue; a bull-calf succeeds, as in the former case. In another variant the enemy is an iron wolf. A king had promised his children a wolf. Unable to find a live one, he had one made of iron and gave it to his children. After a time it came to life and began destroying all it found, etc. An interesting explanation of the stories of this class in which they are treated as nature-myths, is given by A. de Gubernatis in his "Zoological Mythology," chap. i. sect. 4.

[149] Khudyakof, No. 17.

[150] It has already been observed that the word chudo, which now means a marvel or prodigy, formerly meant a giant.

[151] Erlenvein, No. 6, pp. 30-32. The Russian word idol is identical with our own adaptation of eidolou.

[152] Khudyakof, No. 18.

[153] Zhidenok, strictly the cub of a zhid, a word which properly means a Jew, but is used here for a devil.

[154] Khudyakof, No. 118.

[155] Chort, a word which, as has been stated, sometimes means a demon, sometimes the Devil.

[156] Afanasief, viii. p. 343.

[157] "Old Deccan Days," pp. 34-5. Compare with the conduct of the Cobra's daughter that of Angaraka, the daughter of the Daitya who, under the form of a wild boar, is chased underground by Chandasena. Brockhaus's "Maehrchensammlung des Somadeva Bhatta," 1843, vol. i. pp. 110-13.

[158] "Panchatantra," v. 10.

[159] Upham's "Sacred and Historical Books of Ceylon," iii. 287.

[160] Afanasief says (P.V.S. iii. 588), "As regards the word yaga (yega, Polish jedza, jadza, jedzi-baba, Slovak, jenzi, jenzi, jezi-baba, Bohemian, jezinka, Galician yazya) it answers to the Sanskrit ahi = snake."

Shchepkin (in his work on "Russian Fable-lore," p. 109) says: "Yaga, instead of yagaya, means properly noisy, scolding, and must be connected with the root yagat' = to brawl, to scold, still preserved in Siberia. The accuracy of this etymology is confirmed by the use, in the speech of the common people, of the designation Yaga Baba for a quarrelsome, scolding old woman."

Kastorsky, in his "Slavonic Mythology," p. 138, starts a theory of his own. "The name Yaga Baba, I take to be yakaya baba, nycyakaya baba, and I render it by anus quaedam." Bulgarin (Rossiya, ii. 322) refers the name to a Finnish root. According to him, "Jagga-lema, in Esthonian, means to quarrel or brawl, jagga-lemine means quarrelling or brawling." There is some similarity between the Russian form of the word, and the Singalese name for a (male) demon, yaka, which is derived from the Pali yakkho, as is the synonymous term yakseya from the Sanskrit yaksha (see the valuable paper on Demonology in Ceylon by Dandris de Silva Gooneratne Modliar in the "Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society," 1865-6). Some Slavonic philologists derive yaga from a root meaning to eat (in Russian yest'). This corresponds with the derivation of the word yaksha contained in the following legend: "The Vishnu Purāna, i. 5, narrates that they (the Yakshas) were produced by Brahmā as beings emaciate with hunger, of hideous aspect, and with long beards, and that, crying out 'Let us eat,' they were denominated Yakshas (fr. jaksh, to eat)." Monier Williams's "Sanskrit Dictionary," p. 801. In character the Yaga often resembles a Rakshasi.

[161] Afanasief, i. No. 3 b. From the Voroneje Government.

[162] Khudyakof, No. 60.

[163] See Grimm, KM. iii. 97-8. Cf. R. Koehler in "Orient und Occident," ii. 112.

[164] Grimm, No. 79. "Die Wassernixe."

[165] Asbjoernsen and Moe, No. 14. Dasent, p. 362. "The Widow's Son."

[166] Hahn, No. 1.

[167] Campbell's "Tales of the West Highlands," No. 2.

[168] Toeppen's "Aberglauben aus Masuren," p. 146.

[169] Miss Frere's "Old Deccan Days," p. 63.

[170] "Kathasaritsagara," vii. ch. xxxix. Translated by Wilson, "Essays," ii. 137. Cf. Brockhaus in the previously quoted "Berichte," 1861, p. 225-9. For other forms, see R. Koehler in "Orient and Occident," vol. ii. p. 112.

[171] See, however, Mr. Campbell's remarks on this subject, in "Tales of the West Highlands," i. pp. lxxvii-lxxxi.

[172] Afanasief, viii. No. 6.

[173] See the third tale, of the "Siddhi Kuer," Juelg's "Kalm. Maerchen," pp. 17-19.

[174] Schleicher's "Litauische Maerchen," No. 39. (I have given an analysis of the story in the "Songs of the Russian People," p. 101.) In the variant of the story in No. 38, the comrades are the hero Martin, a smith, and a tailor. Their supernatural foe is a small gnome with a very long beard. He closely resembles the German "Erdmaenneken" (Grimm, No. 91), and the "Maennchen," in "Der starke Hans" (Grimm, No. 166.)

[175] Hahn, No. 11. Schleicher, No. 20, &c., &c.

[176] Wenzig, No. 2.

[177] "Tales of the West Highlands," ii. p. 15. Mr. Campbell says "I believe such a mode of torture can be traced amongst the Scandinavians, who once owned the Western Islands." But the Gaelic "Binding of the Three Smalls," is unknown to the Skazkas.

[178] Erlenvein, No. 3.

[179] Afanasief, vii. No. 30.

[180] Khudyakof, No. 97.

[181] Khudyakof, No. 14. Erlenvein, No. 9.

[182] Afanasief, iv. No. 44.

[183] The first krasavitsa or beauty.

[184] Chulanchik. The chulan is a kind of closet, generally used as a storeroom for provisions, &c.

[185] Prigovarivaya, the word generally used to express the action of a person who utters a charm accompanied by a gesture of the hand or finger.

[186] Became a nevyesta, a word meaning "a marriageable maiden," or "a betrothed girl," or "a bride."

[187] Ishbushka, a little izba or cottage.

[188] "Phu, Phu! there is a Russian smell!" the equivalent of our own "Fee, faw, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman!"

[189] Luchina, a deal splinter used instead of a candle.

[190] Chernushka, a sort of wild pea.

[191] Krasnoe solnuischko, red (or fair) dear-sun.

[192] Equivalent to saying "she liked to wash her dirty linen at home."

[193] I break off the narrative at this point, because what follows is inferior in dramatic interest, and I am afraid of diminishing the reader's admiration for one of the best folk-tales I know. But I give an epitome of the remainder within brackets and in small type.

[194] From the Poltava Government. Afanasief, vi. No. 28 b.

[195] Grimm, No. 65. The Wallachian and Lithuanian forms resemble the German (Schott, No. 3. Schleicher, No. 7). In all of them, the heroine is a princess, who runs away from an unnatural father. In one of the Modern Greek versions (Hahn, No. 27), she sinks into the earth. For references to seven other forms of the story, see Grimm, KM., iii. p. 116. In one Russian variant (Khudyakof, No. 54), she hides in a secret drawer, constructed for the purpose in a bedstead; in another (Afanasief, vi. No. 28 a), her father, not recognising her in the pig-skin dress, spits at her, and turns her out of the house. In a third, which is of a very repulsive character (ibid. vii. No. 29), the father kills his daughter.

[196] Afanasief, vi. No. 18.

[197] The Russian word is zakukovali, i.e., "They began to cuckoo." The resemblance between the word kukla, a puppet, and the name and cry of the cuckoo (Kukushka) may be merely accidental, but that bird has a marked mythological character. See the account of the rite called "the Christening of the Cuckoos," in "Songs of the Russian people," p. 215.

[198] Very like these puppets are the images which reply for the sleeping prince in the opening scene of "De beiden Kuenigeskinner" (Grimm, No. 113). A doll plays an important part in one of Straparola's stories (Night v. Fable 2). Professor de Gubernatis identifies the Russian puppet with "the moon, the Vedic Raka, very small, but very intelligent, enclosed in the wooden dress, in the forest of night," "Zoological Mythology," i. 207-8.

[199] Afanasief, ii. No. 31.

[200] Khudyakof, No. 55.

[201] Ibid., No. 83.

[202] Wojcicki's "Polnische Volkssagen," &c. Lewestam's translation, iii. No. 8.

[203] The germ of all these repulsive stories about incestuous unions, proposed but not carried out, was probably a nature myth akin to that alluded to in the passage of the Rigveda containing the dialogue between Yama and Yami—"where she (the night) implores her brother (the day) to make her his wife, and where he declines her offer because, as he says, 'they have called it sin that a brother should marry his sister.'" Max Mueller, "Lectures," sixth edition, ii. 557.

[204] Afanasief, vii. No. 18.

[205] Her name Vyed'ma comes from a Slavonic root ved, answering to the Sanskrit vid—from which springs an immense family of words having reference to knowledge. Vyed'ma and witch are in fact cousins who, though very distantly related, closely resemble each other both in appearance and in character.

[206] Afanasief, i. No. 4 a. From the Voroneje Government.

[207] Ivashko and Ivashechko, are caressing diminutives of Ivan.

[208] "Some storytellers," says Afanasief, "substitute the word snake (zmei) in the Skazka for that of witch (vyed'ma)."

[209] Diminutive of Elena.

[210] Gusi—lebedi, geese—swans.

[211] Afanasief, i. No. 4.

[212] Kulish, ii. 17.

[213] Khudyakof, No. 53.

[214] Ibid. No. 52.

[215] The demonism of Ceylon "represents demons as having human fathers and mothers, and as being born in the ordinary course of nature. Though born of human parents, all their qualities are different from those of men. They leave their parents sometime after their birth, but before doing so, they generally take care to try their demoniac powers on them." "Demonology and Witchcraft in Ceylon," by Dandris de Silva Gooneratne Modliar. "Journal of Ceylon Branch of Royal Asiatic Society," 1865-6, p. 17.

[216] Afanasief, vi. No. 57. From the Ukraine.

[217] "Whither [his] eyes look."

[218] Vertodub, the Tree-extractor (vertyet' = to twirl, dub = tree or oak) is the German Baumdreher or Holzkrummacher; Vertogor the Mountain leveller (gora = mountain) answers to the Steinzerreiber or Felsenkripperer.

[219] Why are you just now so zaplakannoi or blubbered. (Zalplakat', or plakat' = to cry.)

[220] Otkuda ni vzyalis.

[221] Vidimo—nevidimo, visibly—invisibly.

[222] Zashumyeli, they began to produce a shum or noise.

[223] Afanasief, P.V.S., i. 80-84. In the Albanian story of "The Serpent Child," (Hahn, No. 100), the heroine, the wife of the man whom forty snake-sloughs encase, is assisted in her troubles by two subterranean beings whom she finds employed in baking. They use their hands instead of shovels, and clean out the oven with their breasts. They are called "Sisters of the Sun."



Miscellaneous Impersonifications.

Somewhat resembling the picture usually drawn of the supernatural Witch in the Skazkas, is that which some of them offer of a personification of evil called Likho.[224] The following story, belonging to the familiar Polyphemus-cycle, will serve to convey an idea of this baleful being, who in it takes a female form.


Once upon a time there was a smith. "Well now," says he, "I've never set eyes on any harm. They say there's evil (likho)[225] in the world. I'll go and seek me out evil." So he went and had a goodish drink, and then started in search of evil. On the way he met a tailor.

"Good day," says the Tailor.

"Good day."

"Where are you going?" asks the Tailor.

"Well, brother, everybody says there is evil on earth. But I've never seen any, so I'm going to look for it."

"Let's go together. I'm a thriving man, too, and have seen no evil; let's go and have a hunt for some."

Well, they walked and walked till they reached a dark, dense forest. In it they found a small path, and along it they went—along the narrow path. They walked and walked along the path, and at last they saw a large cottage standing before them. It was night; there was nowhere else to go to. "Look here," they say, "let's go into that cottage." In they went. There was nobody there. All looked bare and squalid. They sat down, and remained sitting there some time. Presently in came a tall woman, lank, crooked, with only one eye.

"Ah!" says she, "I've visitors. Good day to you."

"Good day, grandmother. We've come to pass the night under your roof."

"Very good: I shall have something to sup on."

Thereupon they were greatly terrified. As for her, she went and fetched a great heap of firewood. She brought in the heap of firewood, flung it into the stove, and set it alight. Then she went up to the two men, took one of them—the Tailor—cut his throat, trussed him, and put him in the oven.

Meantime the Smith sat there, thinking, "What's to be done? how's one to save one's life?" When she had finished her supper, the Smith looked at the oven and said:

"Granny, I'm a smith."

"What can you forge?"


"Make me an eye."

"Good," says he; "but have you got any cord? I must tie you up, or you won't keep still. I shall have to hammer your eye in."

She went and fetched two cords, one rather thin, the other thicker. Well, he bound her with the one which was thinnest.

"Now then, granny," says he, "just turn over." She turned over, and broke the cord.

"That won't do, granny," says he; "that cord doesn't suit."

He took the thick cord, and tied her up with it famously.

"Now then, turn away, granny!" says he. She turned and twisted, but didn't break the cord. Then he took an awl, heated it red-hot, and applied it to her eye—her sound one. At the same moment he caught up a hatchet, and hammered away vigorously with the back of it at the awl. She struggled like anything, and broke the cord; then she went and sat down at the threshold.

"Ah, villain!" she cried. "You sha'n't get away from me now!"

He saw that he was in an evil plight again. There he sat, thinking, "What's to be done?"

By-and-by the sheep came home from afield, and she drove them into her cottage for the night. Well, the Smith spent the night there, too. In the morning she got up to let the sheep out. He took his sheep-skin pelisse and turned it inside out so that the wool was outside, passed his arms through its sleeves, and pulled it well over him, and crept up to her as he had been a sheep. She let the flock go out one at a time, catching hold of each by the wool on its back, and shoving it out. Well, he came creeping up like the rest. She caught hold of the wool on his back and shoved him out. But as soon as she had shoved him out, he stood up and cried:

"Farewell, Likho! I have suffered much evil (likha) at your hands. Now you can do nothing to me."

"Wait a bit!" she replied; "you shall endure still more. You haven't escaped yet!"

The Smith went back through the forest along the narrow path. Presently he saw a golden-handled hatchet sticking in a tree, and he felt a strong desire to seize it. Well, he did seize that hatchet, and his hand stuck fast to it. What was to be done? There was no freeing it anyhow. He gave a look behind him. There was Likho coming after him, and crying:

"There you are, villain! you've not got off yet!"

The Smith pulled out a small knife which he had in his pocket, and began hacking away at his hand—cut it clean off and ran away. When he reached his village, he immediately began to show his arm as a proof that he had seen Likho at last.

"Look," says he, "that's the state of things. Here am I," says he, "without my hand. And as for my comrade, she's eaten him up entirely."

In a Little-Russian variant of this story, quoted by Afanasief,[226] (III. p. 137) a man, who often hears evil or misfortune (likho) spoken of, sets out in search of it. One day he sees an iron castle beside a wood, surrounded by a palisade of human bones tipped with skulls. He knocks at the door, and a voice cries "What do you want?" "I want evil," he replies. "That's what I'm looking for." "Evil is here," cries the voice. So in he goes, and finds a huge, blind giant lying within, stretched on a couch of human bones. "This was Likho (Evil)," says the story, "and around him were seated Zluidni (Woes) and Zhurba (Care)." Finding that Likho intends to eat him, the misfortune-seeker takes to flight. Likho hears the iron doors creak, and cries to them to stop the fugitive. "But he had already passed out of doors. Only he lost his right hand, on which the door slammed: whereupon he exclaimed 'Here's misfortune, sure enough!'"

The opening of the story of Likho is somewhat similar to that of one of the tales of Indian origin translated by Stanislas Julien from the Chinese. Once upon a time, we are told, a king grew weary of good fortune, so he sent messengers in search of misfortune. It a certain god sold to them, in the shape of a sow which devoured a peck of needles a day. The king's agents took to worrying his subjects for needles, and brought such trouble upon the whole kingdom, that his ministers entreated him to have the beast put to death. He consented, and it was led forth to die. But neither knife nor axe could penetrate its hide, so they tried to consume it with fire. After a time it became red-hot, and then it leaped out from amid the flames, and dashed about setting fire to all manner of things. The conflagration spread and was followed by famine, so that the whole land was involved in ruin.[227]

The Polyphemus story has been so thoroughly investigated by Wilhelm Grimm,[228] that there is no occasion to dwell upon it here. But the following statement is worthy of notice. The inhabitants of the Ukraine are said still to retain some recollection of the one-eyed nation of Arimaspians of whom Herodotus speaks (Bk. IV. c. 27). According to them the One-Eyes[229] dwell somewhere far off, beyond the seas. The Tartars, during their inroads, used to burn towns and villages, kill old folks and infants, and carry off young people. The plumpest of these they used to sell to cannibals who had but one eye apiece, situated in the forehead. And the cannibals would drive away their purchases, like sheep, to their own land, and there fatten them up, kill them, and eat them. A similar tradition, says Afanasief (VIII. 260) exists also among the Ural Cossacks.

While on the subject of eyes, it may be remarked that the story of "One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes," rendered so familiar to juvenile English readers by translations from the German,[230] appears among the Russian tales in a very archaic and heathenish form. Here is the outline of a version of it found in the Archangel Government.[231] There once was a Princess Marya, whose stepmother had two daughters, one of whom was three-eyed. Now her stepmother hated Marya, and used to send her out, with nothing to eat but a dry crust, to tend a cow all day. But "the princess went into the open field, bowed down before the cow's right foot, and got plenty to eat and to drink, and fine clothes to put on; all day long she followed the cow about dressed like a great lady—when the day came to a close, she again bowed down to the cow's right foot, took off her fine clothes, went home and laid on the table the crust of bread she had brought back with her." Wondering at this, her stepmother sent her two-eyed stepsister to watch her. But Marya uttered the words "Sleep, sleep, one-eye! sleep, sleep, other eye!" till the watcher fell asleep. Then the three-eyed sister was sent, and Marya by the same spell sent two of her eyes to sleep, but forgot the third. So all was found out, and the stepmother had the cow killed. But Marya persuaded her father, who acted as the butcher, to give her a part of the cow's entrails, which she buried near the threshold; and from it there sprang a bush covered with berries, and haunted by birds which sang "songs royal and rustic." After a time a Prince Ivan heard of Marya, so he came riding up, and offered to marry whichever of the three princesses could fill with berries from the bush a bowl which he brought with him. The stepmother's daughters tried to do so, but the birds almost pecked their eyes out, and would not let them gather the berries. Then Marya's turn came, and when she approached the bush the birds picked the berries for her, and filled the bowl in a trice. So she married the prince, and lived happily with him for a time.

But after she had borne him a son, she went to pay a visit to her father, and her stepmother availed herself of the opportunity to turn her into a goose, and to set her own two-eyed daughter in her place. So Prince Ivan returned home with a false bride. But a certain old man took out the infant prince afield, and there his mother appeared, flung aside her feather-covering, and suckled the babe, exclaiming the while with tears—

"To-day I suckle thee, to-morrow I shall suckle thee, but on the third day I shall fly away beyond the dark forests, beyond the high mountains!"

This occurred on two successive days, but on the second occasion Prince Ivan was a witness of what took place, and he seized her feather-dress and burnt it, and then laid hold of her. She first turned into a frog, then assumed various reptile forms, and finally became a spindle. This he broke in two, and flung one half in front and the other behind him, and the spell was broken along with it. So he regained his wife and went home with her. But as for the false wife, he took a gun and shot her.

We will now return to the stories in which Harm or Misery figures as a living agent. To Likho is always attributed a character of unmitigated malevolence, and a similar disposition is ascribed by the songs of the people to another being in whom the idea of misfortune is personified. This is Gore, or Woe, who is frequently represented in popular poetry—sometimes under the name of Beda or Misery—as chasing and ultimately destroying the unhappy victims of destiny. In vain do the fugitives attempt to escape. If they enter the dark forest, Woe follows them there; if they rush to the pot-house, there they find Woe sitting; when they seek refuge in the grave, Woe stands over it with a shovel and rejoices.[232] In the following story, however, the gloomy figure of Woe has been painted in a less than usually sombre tone.


In a certain village there lived two peasants, two brothers: one of them poor, the other rich. The rich one went away to live in a town, built himself a large house, and enrolled himself among the traders. Meanwhile the poor man sometimes had not so much as a morsel of bread, and his children—each one smaller than the other—were crying and begging for food. From morning till night the peasant would struggle, like a fish trying to break through ice, but nothing came of it all. At last one day he said to his wife:

"Suppose I go to town, and ask my brother whether he won't do something to help us."

So he went to the rich man and said:

"Ah, brother mine! do help me a bit in my trouble. My wife and children are without bread. They have to go whole days without eating."

"Work for me this week, then I'll help you," said his brother.

What was there to be done! The poor man betook himself to work, swept out the yard, cleaned the horses, fetched water, chopped firewood.

At the end of the week the rich man gave him a loaf of bread, and says:

"There's for your work!"

"Thank you all the same," dolefully said the poor man, making his bow and preparing to go home.

"Stop a bit! come and dine with me to-morrow, and bring your wife, too: to-morrow is my name-day, you know."

"Ah, brother! how can I? you know very well you'll be having merchants coming to you in boots and pelisses, but I have to go about in bast shoes and a miserable old grey caftan."

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