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Tales From The Samodivi

Eastern Europe



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The Enchanted Knife








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This volume, Tales From The Samodivi covers stories originating in what we know as the Balkans. The Balkan Peninsula is a region in South-Eastern Europe, and has a full and rich history and tradition where cultures have been mixing for at least 2,000 years and Slavic civilisation has had an especially strong influence. The result is diverse and fascinating folklore with its own set of mythical beings and legendary heroes.

One of the more common characters of Slavic mythology is the Samodiva. The Samodiva is a forest spirit in the shape of a beautiful woman who never loses her youthful looks. The Samodivi bathe in forest springs underneath the moonlight and sometimes make young bachelors from the nearby villages play the kaval (a wooden flute) for them. If a man steals a Samodiva's veil, she becomes an ordinary woman and has to be his wife, but will spend every moment she can looking for her veil to regain her freedom, even if it means leaving her children behind. The Samodivi also protect forest animals.

These tales are taken from collections such as Serbian Folk-lore by Madame Elodie L. Mijatovich, published by The Columbus Printing, Publishing & Advertising Company, 1899, from Hero Tales and Legends of the Serbians by Woislav M. Petrovitch, published in 1914, and from Andrew Lang's various coloured Fairy Books from the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

These titles will grow over coming years to tell lost and forgotten tales from every continent. Even then, I’ll just be scratching the surface of the world’s folklore.
That’s the great gift in storytelling. Since the first of our ancestors sat around in a cave, contemplating an ape’s place in the world, we have, as a species, told each other stories of magic and cunning and caution and love. When I began to read through tales from the Celts, tales from Indonesia, tales from Africa and the Far East, tales from everywhere, one of the things that struck me clearly was just how similar are our roots. We share characters and characteristics. The nature of these tales is so similar underneath the local camouflage. Human beings clearly share a storytelling heritage much deeper than the world that we see superficially as always having been just so.


Bird Girl

Once upon a time lived a king, who had only one son, and when this son grew up, his father sent him to travel about the world, in order that he might find a maiden who would make him a suitable wife.
The king's son started on his journey, and travelled through the whole world without finding anywhere a maiden whom he loved well enough to marry. Seeing then that he had taken so much trouble, and had spent so much time and money, and all to no purpose, he resolved to kill himself. With this intention, he climbed to the top of a high mountain, that he might throw himself from its summit, for he wished that even his bones might never be found.
Having arrived at the top of the mountain, he saw a sharp rock jutting out from one side of it, and was climbing up to throw himself from it, when he heard a voice behind him calling, “Stop! Stop! O man! Stop for the sake of three hundred and sixty-five which are in the year!”
He looked back, and seeing no one, asked, “Who are you that speak to me? Let me see you? When you know how miserable I am, you will not prevent me killing myself!”
He had scarcely said these words when there appeared to him an old man, with hair as white as wool, who said, “I know all about you. But listen! Do you see that high hill?”
“Yes, I do,” said the prince.
“And do you see the multitude of marble blocks which are on it?” said the old man.
“Yes, I do,” rejoined the prince.
“Well, then,” continued the old man, “on the summit of that hill there is an old woman with golden hair, who sits night and day on that very spot, and holds a bird in her bosom. Whoever can get this bird into his hands, will be the happiest man in the world. But, be careful. If you are willing to try and get the bird, you must take the old woman by her hair before she sees you. If she sees you before you catch her by her hair, you will be changed into a stone on the spot. Thus it happened to all those young men you see standing there, as if they were blocks of marble.”
When the king's son heard this, he thought, “It is all one to me whether I die here or there. If I succeed, so much the better for me. If I fail, I can but die as I had resolved.” So he went up the hill. When he arrived near the old woman, he walked very cautiously towards her, hoping to reach her unseen, for, luckily, the old woman was lying with her back towards him, sunning herself, and playing with the bird.
When near enough, he sprang suddenly and caught her by the hair. Then the old woman cried out, so that the whole hill shook as with a great earthquake, but the king's son held fast by her hair, and when she found that she could not escape she said, “What do you desire from me?”
He replied, “That you should give me the bird in your bosom, and that you call back to life all these Christian souls!”
The old woman consented, and gave him the bird. Then from her mouth she breathed a blue wind towards the men of stone, and immediately they again became alive. The king's son, having the bird in his hands, was so rejoiced, that he began to kiss it, and, as he kissed it, the bird was transformed into a most beautiful maiden.
This girl the enchantress had turned into a bird, in order that she might allure the young men to her. The girl pleased the king's son exceedingly, and he took her with him, and prepared to return home. As he was going down the hill, the girl gave him a stick, and told him the stick would do everything that he desired of it. So the king's son struck with it once upon the rock, and in a moment there came out a mass of golden coin, of which they took plenty for use on their journey.
As they were travelling they came to a great river, and could find no place by which they could pass over, so the king's son touched the surface of the river with his stick, and the water divided, so that a dry path lay before them, and they were able to cross over the river dryshod.
A little farther they came to a herd of wolves, and the wolves attacked them, and seemed about to tear them to pieces, but the prince struck at them with his stick, and one by one the wolves were turned into ants.
Thus, at length, the king's son reached home safely with his beloved, and they were shortly after married, and lived long and happily together.

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