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Story No. 769


Wednesday

Book Name:

Russian Fairy Tales

Tradition: Russia ,Muscovite

[255]

A young housewife was spinning late one evening. It was during the night between a Tuesday and a Wednesday. She had been left alone for a long time, and after midnight, when the first cock crew, she began to think about going to bed, only she would have liked to finish spinning what she had in hand. “Well,” thinks she, “I’ll get up a bit earlier in the morning, but just now I want to go to sleep.” So she laid down her hatchel – but without crossing herself – and said:

“Now then, Mother Wednesday, lend me thy aid, that I may get up early in the morning and finish my spinning.” And then she went to sleep.

Well, very early in the morning, long before it was light, she heard someone moving, bustling about the room. She opened her eyes and looked. The room was lighted up. A splinter of fir was burning in the cresset, and the fire was lighted in the stove. A woman, no longer young, wearing a white towel by way of head-dress, was moving about the cottage, going to and fro, supplying the stove with firewood, getting everything ready. Presently she came up to the young woman, and roused her, saying, “Get up!” The young woman got up, full of wonder, saying:

“But who art thou? What hast thou come here for?”

“I am she on whom thou didst call. I have come to thy aid.”

“But who art thou? On whom did I call?”

“I am Wednesday. On Wednesday surely thou didst call. See, I have spun thy linen and woven thy web: now let us bleach it and set it in the oven. The oven is heated and the irons are ready; do thou go down to the brook and draw water.”

The woman was frightened, and thought: “What manner of thing is this?” (or, “How can that be?”) but Wednesday glared at her angrily; her eyes just did sparkle!

So the woman took a couple of pails and went for water. As soon as she was outside the door she thought: “Mayn’t something terrible happen to me? I’d better go to my neighbor’s instead of fetching the water.” So she set off. The night was dark. In the village all were still asleep. She reached a neighbor’s house, and rapped away at the window until at last she made herself heard. An aged woman let her in.

“Why, child!” says the old crone; “whatever hast thou got up so early for? What’s the matter?”

“Oh, granny, this is how it was. Wednesday has come to me, and has sent me for water to buck my linen with.”

“That doesn’t look well,” says the old crone. “On that linen she will either strangle thee or scald[256] thee.”

The old woman was evidently well acquainted with Wednesday’s ways.

“What am I to do?” says the young woman. “How can I escape from this danger?”

“Well, this is what thou must do. Go and beat thy pails together in front of the house, and cry, ‘Wednesday’s children have been burnt at sea!’[257] She will run out of the house, and do thou be sure to seize the opportunity to get into it before she comes back, and immediately slam the door to, and make the sign of the cross over it. Then don’t let her in, however much she may threaten you or implore you, but sign a cross with your hands, and draw one with a piece of chalk, and utter a prayer. The Unclean Spirit will have to disappear.”

Well, the young woman ran home, beat the pails together, and cried out beneath the window:

“Wednesday’s children have been burnt at sea!”

Wednesday rushed out of the house and ran to look, and the woman sprang inside, shut the door, and set a cross upon it. Wednesday came running back, and began crying: “Let me in, my dear! I have spun thy linen; now will I bleach it.” But the woman would not listen to her, so Wednesday went on knocking at the door until cock-crow. As soon as the cocks crew, she uttered a shrill cry and disappeared. But the linen remained where it was.[258]

Comments:

[255] Khudyakof, No. 166. From the Orel Government.

[256] Doubtful. The Russian word is “Svarit,” properly “to cook.”

[257] Compare the English nursery rhyme addressed to the lady-bird:

“Lady-bird, lady-bird, fly away home,

Your house is a-fire, your children at home.”

[258] Wednesday in this, and Friday in the preceding story, are the exact counterparts of Lithuanian Laumes. According to Schleicher (“Lituanica,” p. 109), Thursday evening is called in Lithuania Laumiú vákars, the Laume’s Eve. No work ought to be done on a Thursday evening, and it is especially imprudent to spin then. For at night, when the Laumes come, as they are accustomed to do between Thursday evening and Friday morning, they seize any spinning which has been begun, work away at it till cock-crow, and then carry it off. In modern Greece the women attribute all nightly meddling with their spinning to the Neraïdes (the representatives of the Hellenic Nereids. See Bernhard Schmidt’s “Volksleben der Neugriechen,” p. 111). In some respects the Neraïda closely resemble the Lamia, and both of them have many features in common with the Laume. The latter name (which in Lettish is written Lauma) has never been satisfactorily explained. Can it be connected with the Greek Lamia which is now written also as Λάμνια, Λάμνα and Λάμνισσα?

 

In one of the numerous legends which the Russian peasants hold in reverence, St. Petka or Friday appears among the other saints, and together with her is mentioned another canonized day, St. Nedélya or Sunday,[259] answering to the Greek St. Anastasia, to Der heilige Sonntag of German peasant-hagiology. In some respects she resembles both Friday and Wednesday, sharing their views about spinning and weaving at unfitting seasons. Thus in Little-Russia she assures untimely spinners that it is not flax they are spinning, but her hair, and in proof of this she shows them her dishevelled kosa, or long back plait.

In one of the Wallachian tales[260] the hero is assisted in his search after the dragon-stolen heroine by three supernatural females – the holy Mothers Friday, Wednesday, and Sunday. They replace the three benignant Baba Yagas of Russian stories. In another,[261] the same three beings assist the Wallachian Psyche when she is wandering in quest of her lost husband. Mother Sunday rules the animal world, and can collect her subjects by playing on a magic flute. She is represented as exercising authority over both birds and beasts, and in a Slovak story she bestows on the hero a magic horse. He has been sent by an unnatural mother in search of various things hard to be obtained, but he is assisted in the quest by St. Nedĕlka, who provides him with various magical implements, and lends him her own steed Tatoschik, and so enables him four times to escape from the perils to which he has been exposed by his mother, whose mind has been entirely corrupted by an insidious dragon. But after he has returned home in safety, his mother binds him as if in sport, and the dragon chops off his head and cuts his body to pieces. His mother retains his heart, but ties up the rest of him in a bundle, and sets it on Tatoschik’s back. The steed carries its ghastly burden to St. Nedĕlka, who soon reanimates it, and the youth becomes as sound and vigorous as a young man without a heart can be. Then the saint sends him, under the disguise of a begging piper, to the castle in which his mother dwells, and instructs him how to get his heart back again. He succeeds, and carries it in his hand to St. Nedĕlka. She gives it to “the bird Pelekan (no mere Pelican, but a magic fowl with a very long and slim neck), which puts its head down the youth’s throat, and restores his heart to its right place.”[262]

St. Friday and St. Wednesday appear to belong to that class of spiritual beings, sometimes of a demoniacal disposition, with which the imagination of the old Slavonians peopled the elements. Of several of these – such as the Domovoy or House-Spirit, the Rusalka or Naiad, and the Vodyany or Water-Sprite – I have written at some length elsewhere,[263] and therefore I will not at present quote any of the stories in which they figure. But, as a specimen of the class to which such tales as these belong, here is a skazka about one of the wood-sprites or Slavonic Satyrs, who are still believed by the peasants to haunt the forests of Russia. In it we see reduced to a vulgar form, and brought into accordance with everyday peasant-life, the myth which appears to have given rise to the endless stories about the theft and recovery of queens and princesses. The leading idea of the story is the same, but the Snake or Koshchei has become a paltry wood-demon, the hero is a mere hunter, and the princely heroine has sunk to the low estate of a priest’s daughter.

[259] The word Nedyelya now means “a week.” But it originally meant Sunday, the non-working day (ne = not, dyelat’ = to do or work.) After a time, the name for the first day of the week became transferred to the week itself.

[260] That of “Wilisch Witiâsu,” Schott, No. 11.

[261] That of “Trandafíru,” Schott, No. 23.

[262] J. Wenzig’s “Westslawischer Märchenschatz,” pp. 144-155. According to Wenzig Nedĕlka is “the personified first Sunday after the new moon.” The part here attributed to St. Nedĕlka is played by a Vila in one of the Songs of Montenegro. According to an ancient Indian tradition, the Aswattha-tree “is to be touched only on a Sunday, for on every other day Poverty or Misfortune abides in it: on Sunday it is the residence of Lakshmí” (Good Fortune). H. H. Wilson “Works,” iii. 70.

[263] “Songs of the Russian People,” pp. 120-153.

Abstract:

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