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Story No. 764


The Witch

Book Name:

Russian Fairy Tales

Tradition: Russia ,Muscovite

[206]

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.

Comments:

[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.

 

[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 “Hänsel und Grethel” (Grimm. KM. No. 15, and iii. p. 25, where a number of parallels are mentioned); in the Norse “Askelad” (Asbjörnsen and Moe, No. 1. Dasent, “Boots and the Troll,” No. 32), where a Troll’s daughter is baked; and “Smörbuk” (Asb. and Moe, No. 52. Dasent, “Buttercup,” No. 18), in which the victim is daughter of a “Haugkjœrring,” 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 Drakäna, 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 “Augenhündin” (Hahn, No. 95), in which the heroine gets rid in a similar manner of Maro, the daughter of that four eyed συκιένεζα. (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.

23. THE WITCH AND THE SUN’S SISTER.

[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.

Abstract:

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