Sacred-Texts Legends & Sagas Index Previous Next
The next story is extremely interesting, and it contains a more elaborate description of the Seal p. 236 of Solomon (which we should hardly expect to be known in the legends of a country like Esthonia) than any other which I have seen, except that given by Weil in his Biblische Legenden der Muselmänner. Weil, however, represents it as a cluster of stones, possessing different virtues, and not as a single stone. The symbol called the Seal of Solomon by the Freemasons, &c., consists of two equilateral triangles intersecting each other within a circle, and is regarded by mystics of every class as one of the most sacred of all symbols. In Eastern legends the mystical name of God is said to have been inscribed on the Seal. Arabian writers say that the embalmed body of Solomon, with the ring on his finger, sits enthroned on one of the islands of the Circumambient Ocean. Cf. the story “Bulookiya” (Thousand and One Nights), and Kirby’s poem of Ed-Dimiryaht.
ONCE upon a time, as old people relate, there existed a horrible monster which came from the north. It exterminated men and animals from large districts, and if nobody had been able to arrest its progress, it might gradually have swept all living things from the earth.
It had a body like an ox and legs like a frog; that is to say, two short ones in front, and two long ones behind. Its tail was ten fathoms long. It moved like a frog, but cleared two miles at every bound. Fortunately it used to remain on the spot where it had once alighted for several years, and did not advance farther till it had eaten the whole neighbourhood bare. Its body was entirely encased in scales harder than stone or bronze, so that nothing could injure it. Its two large eyes p. 238 shone like the brightest tapers both by day and night, and whoever had the misfortune to meet their glare became as one bewitched, and was forced to throw himself into the jaws of the monster. So it happened that men and animals offered themselves to be devoured, without any necessity for it to move from its place. The neighbouring kings offered magniticent rewards to any one who could destroy the monster by magic or otherwise, and many people had tried their fortune, but their efforts were all futile. On one occasion, a large wood in which the monster was skulking was set on fire. The wood was destroyed, but the noxious animal was not harmed in the slightest degree. However, it was reported among old people that nobody could overcome the monster except with the help of King Solomon’s Seal, on which a secret inscription was engraved, from which it could be discovered how the monster might be destroyed. But nobody could tell where the seal was now concealed, nor where to find a sorcerer who could read the inscription.
At length a young man whose head and heart were in the right place determined to set out in search of the seal-ring, trusting in his good fortune. p. 239 He started in the direction of the East, where it is supposed that the wisdom of the ancients is to be sought for. After some years he met with a celebrated magician of the East, and asked him for advice. The sorcerer answered, “Men have but little wisdom, and here it can avail you nothing, but God’s birds will be your best guides under heaven, if you will learn their language. I can help you with it if you will stay with me for a few days.”
The young man thankfully accepted this friendly offer, and replied, “I am unable at present to make you any return for your kindness, but if I should succeed in my enterprise, I will richly reward you for your trouble.” Then the sorcerer prepared a powerful charm, by boiling nine kinds of magic herbs which he had gathered secretly by moonlight.1 He made the young man drink a spoonful every day, and it had the effect of making the language of birds intelligible to him. When he departed, the sorcerer said, “If you should have the good luck to find and get possession of Solomon’s Seal, come back to me, that I may read you the inscription on the ring, for there is no one else now living who can do so.”
On the very next day the young man found the world quite transformed. He no longer went anywhere alone, but found company everywhere, for he now understood the language of birds, and thus many secrets were revealed to him which human wisdom would have been unable to discover. Nevertheless, some time passed before he could learn anything about the ring. At length one evening, when he was exhausted with heat and fatigue, he lay down under a tree in a wood to eat his supper, when he heard two strange birds with bright coloured plumage talking about him in the branches. One of them said, “I know the silly wanderer under the tree, who has already wandered about so much without finding a trace of what he wants. He is searching for the lost ring of King Solomon.” The other bird replied, “I think he must seek the help of the Hell-Maiden,1 who would certainly be able to help him to find it. Even if she herself does not possess the ring, she must know well enough who owns it now.” The first bird returned, “It may be as you say, but where can he find the Hell-Maiden, who has no fixed abode, and is here to-day and there to-morrow? He might as well try to fetter p. 241 the wind.” “I can’t say exactly where she is at present,” said the other bird, “but in three days’ time she will come to the spring to wash her face, as is her custom every month on the night of the full moon, so that the bloom of youth never disappears from her cheeks, and her face never wrinkles with age.” The first bird responded, “Well, the spring is not far off; shall we amuse ourselves by watching her proceedings?” “Willingly,” said the other.
The young man resolved at once to follow the birds and visit the spring; but two difficulties troubled him. In the first place, he feared he might be asleep when the birds set out; and secondly, he had no wings, with which he could follow close behind them. He was too weary to lie awake all night, for he could not keep his eyes open, but his anxiety prevented him from sleeping quietly, and he often woke up for fear of missing the departure of the birds. Consequently he was very glad when he looked up in the tree at sunrise, and saw the bright-coloured birds sitting motionless with their heads under their wings. He swallowed his breakfast, and then waited for the birds to wake up. But they did not seem disposed to go anywhere p. 242 that morning; but fluttered about as if to amuse themselves, in search of food, and flew from one tree-top to another till evening, when they returned to roost at their old quarters. On the second day it was just the same. However, on the third morning one bird said to the other, “We must go to the spring to-day, to see the Hell-Maiden washing her face.” They waited till noon, and then flew away direct towards the south. The young man’s heart beat with fear lest he should lose sight of his guides. But the birds did not fly farther than he could see, and perched on the summit of a tree. The young man ran after them till he was all in a sweat and quite out of breath. After resting three times, the birds reached a small open glade, and perched on a high tree at its edge. When the young man arrived, he perceived a spring in the midst of the opening, and sat down under the tree on which the birds were perched. Then he pricked up his ears, and listened to the talk of the feathered creatures.
“The sun has not set,” said one bird, “and we must wait till the moon rises and the maiden comes to the well. We will see whether she notices the young man under the tree.” The other bird replied, “Nothing escapes her eyes which concerns a p. 243 young man. Will this one be clever enough to escape falling into her net?” “We will see what passes between them,” returned the first bird.
Evening came, and the full moon had already risen high above the wood, when the young man heard a slight rustling, and in a few moments a maiden emerged from the trees, and sped across the grass to the spring so lightly that her feet hardly seemed to touch the ground. The young man perceived in an instant that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life, and he could not take his eyes from her.
She went straight to the well, without taking any heed of him, raised her eyes to the moon, and then fell on her knees and washed her face nine times in the spring. Every time she looked up at the moon, and cried out, “Fair and round-cheeked, as now thou art, may my beauty likewise endure imperishably.” Then she walked nine times round the spring, and each time she sang—
|“Let the maiden’s face not wrinkle,|
Nor her red cheeks lose their beauty;
Though the moon should wane and dwindle,
May my beauty grow for ever,
And my joy bloom on for ever!”
Then she dried her face with her long hair, and was about to depart, when her eyes suddenly fell upon the young man who was sitting under the tree, and she turned towards him immediately. The young man rose up to await her approach. The fair maiden drew nearer, and said to him, “You have exposed yourself to severe punishment for spying on the private affairs of a maiden in the moonlight, but as you are a stranger, and came here by accident, I will forgive you. But you must inform me truly who you are, and how you came here, where no mortal has ever before set foot.”
The youth answered with much politeness, “Forgive me, fair lady, for having offended you without my knowledge or intention. When I arrived here, after long wanderings, I found this nice place under the tree, and prepared to camp here for the night. Your arrival interrupted me, and I remained sitting here, thinking that I should not disturb you if I looked on quietly.”
The maiden answered in the most friendly manner, “Come to our house to-night. It is better to rest on cushions than on the cold moss.”
The young man hesitated for a moment, uncertain whether he ought to accept her friendly invitation or p. 245 to decline it. One of the birds in the tree remarked to the other, “He would be a fool if he did not accept her offer.” Perhaps the maiden did not know the language of birds, for she added, “Fear nothing, my friend. I have not invited you with any ill intention, but wish you well with all my heart.” The birds responded, “Go where you are asked, but beware of giving any blood, lest you should sell your soul.”
Then the youth went with her. Not far from the spring they arrived at a beautiful garden, in which stood a magnificent mansion, which shone in the moonlight as if the roof and walls were made of gold and silver. When the youth entered, he passed through very splendid apartments, each grander than the last; hundreds of tapers were burning in gold chandeliers, and everywhere diffused a light like that of day. At length they reached a room where an elegant supper was laid out, and two chairs stood at the table, one of silver and the other of gold. The maiden sat down on the golden chair, and invited the youth to take the other. White-robed damsels served up and removed the dishes, but they spoke no word, and trod as softly as if on cats’ feet. After supper the youth remained p. 246 alone with the royal maiden, and they kept up a lively conversation, till a woman in red garments appeared to remind them that it was bedtime.
Then the maiden showed the young man to another room, where stood a silken bed with cushions of down, after which she retired. He thought he must have gone to heaven with his living body, for he never expected to find such luxuries on earth. But he could never afterwards tell whether it was the delusion of dreams or whether he actually heard voices round his bed crying out words which chilled his heart—“Give no blood!”
Next morning the maiden asked him whether be would not like to stay here, where the whole week was one long holiday. And as the youth did not answer immediately, she added, “I am young and fair, as you see yourself, and I am under no one’s authority, and can do what I like. Until now, it never entered my head to marry, but from the moment when I saw you, other thoughts came suddenly into my mind, for you please me. If we should both be of one mind, let us wed without delay. I possess endless wealth and goods, as you may easily convince yourself at every step, and thus I can live in royal state day by day. Whatever p. 247 your heart desires, that can I provide for you.”
The cajoleries of the fair maid might well have turned the youth’s head, but by good fortune he remembered that the birds had called her the Hell-Maiden, and had warned him to give her no blood, and that he had received the same warning at night, though whether sleeping or waking he knew not. He therefore replied, “Dear lady, do not be angry with me if I tell you candidly that marriage should not be rushed upon at racehorse speed, but requires longer consideration. Pray therefore allow me a few days for reflection, until we are better acquainted.” “Why not?” answered the fair maid. “I am quite content that you should think on the matter for a few weeks, and set your mind at rest.”
Lest the youth might feel dull, the maiden led him from one part of the magnificent house to another, and showed him all the rich storehouses and treasure-chambers, thinking that it might soften his heart. All these treasures were the result of magic, for the maiden could have built such a palace with all its contents on any day and at any place with the aid of Solomon’s Seal. But everything was unsubstantial, for it was woven of wind, p. 248 and dissolved again into the wind, without leaving a trace behind. But the youth was not aware of this, and looked upon all the glamour as reality.
One day the maiden led him into a secret chamber, where a gold casket stood on a silver table. This she showed him, and then said, “Here is the most precious of all my possessions, the like of which is not to be found in the whole world. It is a costly golden ring. If you will marry me, I will give it you for a keepsake, and it will make you the happiest of all mankind. But in order that the bond of our love should last for ever, you must give me three drops of blood from the little finger of your left hand in exchange for the ring.”
The youth turned cold when he heard her ask for blood, for he remembered that his soul was at stake. But he was crafty enough not to let her notice his emotion, and not to refuse her, but asked carelessly what were the properties of the ring.
The maiden answered, “No one living has been able to fathom the whole power of this ring, and no one can completely explain the secret signs engraved upon it. But, even with the imperfect knowledge of its properties which I possess, I can perform many wonders which no other creature can accomplish. p. 249 If I put the ring on the little finger of my left hand, I can rise in the air like a bird and fly whithersoever I will. If I place the ring on the ring-finger of my left hand, I become invisible to all eyes, while I myself can see everything that passes around me. If I put the ring on the middle finger of my left hand, I become invulnerable to all weapons, and neither water nor fire can hurt me. If I place it on the index finger of my left hand, I can create all things which I desire with its aid; I can build houses in a moment, or produce other objects. As long as I wear it on the thumb of my left hand, my hand remains strong enough to break down rocks and walls. Moreover, the ring bears other secret inscriptions which, as I said before, no one has yet been able to explain; but it may readily be supposed that they contain many important secrets. In ancient times, the ring belonged to King Solomon, the wisest of kings, and in whose reign lived the wisest of men. At the present day it is unknown whether the ring was formed by divine power or by human hands; but it is supposed that an angel presented the ring to the wise king.”
When the youth heard the fair one speak in this way, he determined immediately to endeavour to p. 250 possess himself of the ring by craft, and therefore pretended that he could not believe what he had heard. He hoped by this means to induce the maiden to take the ring out of the casket to show him, when he might have an opportunity of possessing himself of the talisman. But he did not venture to ask her plainly to show him the ring. He flattered and cajoled her, but the only thought in his mind was to get possession of the ring. Presently the maiden took the key of the casket from her bosom as if to unlock it; but she changed her mind, and replaced it, saying, “There’s plenty of time for that afterwards.”
A few days later, their conversation reverted to the magic ring, and the youth said, “In my opinion, the things which you tell me of the power of your ring are quite incredible.”
Then the maiden opened the casket and took out the ring, which shone through her fingers like the brightest sun-ray. Then she placed it in jest on the middle finger of her left hand, and told the youth to take a knife and stab her with it wherever he liked, for it would not hurt her. The youth protested against the proposed experiment; but, as she insisted, he was obliged to humour her. At first he p. 251 began in play, and then in earnest to try to strike the maiden with the knife; but it seemed as if there was an invisible wall of iron between them. The blade would not pierce it, and the maiden stood before him unhurt and smiling. Then she moved the ring to her ring-finger, and in an instant she vanished from the eyes of the youth, and he could not imagine what had become of her. Presently she stood before him smiling, in the same place as before, holding the ring between her fingers.
“Let me try,” said he, “whether I can also do these strange things with the ring.”
The maiden suspected no deceit, and gave it to him.
The youth pretended he did not quite know what to do with it and asked, “On which finger must I place the ring to become invulnerable to sharp weapons?” “On the ring-finger of the left hand,” said the maiden, smiling. She then took the knife herself and tried to strike him, but could not do him any harm. Then the youth took the knife from her and tried to wound himself, but he found that this too was impossible. Then he asked the maiden how he could cleave stones and rocks with the ring. She took him to the enclosure where stood a block of granite a fathom high. “Now p. 252 place the ring,” said the maiden, “on the thumb of your left hand, and then strike the stone with your fist, and you will see the strength of your hand.” The youth did so, and to his amazement he saw the stone shiver into a thousand pieces under the blow. Then he thought, “He who does not seize good fortune by the horns is a fool, for when it has once flown, it never returns.” While he was still jesting about the destruction of the stone, he played with the ring, and slipped it suddenly on the ring-finger of his left hand. Then cried the maiden, “You will remain invisible to me until you take off the ring again.” But this was far from the young man’s thoughts. He hurried forwards a few paces, and then moved the ring to the little finger of his left hand, and soared into the air like a bird. When the maiden saw him flying away, she thought at first that this experiment too was only in jest, and cried out, “Come back, my friend. You see now that I have told you the truth.” But he who did not return was the youth, and when the maiden realised his treachery, she broke out into bitter lamentations over her misfortune.
The youth did not cease his flight till he arrived, some days later, at the house of the famous sorcerer p. 253 who had taught him the language of birds. The sorcerer was greatly delighted to find that his pupil’s journey had turned out so successfully. He set to work at once to read the secret inscriptions on the ring, but he spent seven weeks before he could accomplish it. He then gave the young man the following instructions how to destroy the Northern Frog:—“You must have a great iron horse cast, with small wheels under each foot, so that it can be moved backwards and forwards. You must mount this, and arm yourself with an iron spear two fathoms long, which you will only be able to wield when you wear the magic ring on the thumb of your left hand. The spear must be as thick as a great birch-tree in the middle, and both ends must be sharpened to a point. You must fasten two strong chains, ten fathoms long, to the middle of the spear, strong enough to hold the frog. As soon as the frog has bitten hard on the spear, and it has pierced his jaws, you must spring like the wind from the iron horse to avoid falling into the monster’s throat, and must fix the ends of the chains into the ground with iron posts so firmly that no force can drag them out again. In three or four days’ time the strength of the frog will be so far exhausted that p. 254 you can venture to approach it. Then place Solomon’s ring on the thumb of your left hand, and beat the frog to death. But till you reach it, you must keep the ring constantly on the ring-finger of your left hand, that the monster cannot see you, or it would strike you dead with its long tail. But when you have accomplished all this, take great care not to lose the ring, nor to allow anybody to deprive you of it by a trick.”
Our friend thanked the sorcerer for his advice, and promised to reward him for his trouble afterwards. But the sorcerer answered, “I have learned so much magic wisdom by deciphering the secret inscriptions on the ring, that I need no other profit for myself.” Then they parted, and the young man hastened home, which was no longer difficult to him, as he could fly like a bird wherever he wished.
He reached home in a few weeks, and heard from the people that the horrible Northern Frog was already in the neighbourhood, and might be expected to cross the frontier any day. The king caused it to be proclaimed everywhere that if any one could destroy the frog, he would not only give him part of his kingdom, but his daughter in marriage likewise. A few days later, the young man came before the p. 255 king, and declared that he hoped to destroy the monster, if the king would provide him with what was necessary; and the king joyfully consented. All the most skilful craftsmen of the neighbourhood were called together to construct first the iron horse, next the great spear, and lastly the iron chains, the links of which were two inches thick. But when all was ready, it was found that the iron horse was so heavy that a hundred men could not move it from its place. The youth was therefore obliged to move the horse away alone, with the help of his ring.
The frog was now hardly four miles away, so that a couple of bounds might carry it across the frontier. The young man now reflected how he could best deal with the monster alone, for, as he was obliged to push the heavy iron horse from below, he could not mount it, as the sorcerer had directed him. But he unexpectedly received advice from the beak of a raven, “Mount upon the iron horse, and set the spear against the ground, and you can then push yourself along as you would push a boat from the shore.” The young man did so, and found that he was able to proceed in this way. The monster at once opened its jaws afar off, ready to receive the p. 256 expected prey. A few fathoms more, and the man and the iron horse were in the monster’s jaws. The young man shook with horror, and his heart froze to ice, but he kept his wits about him, and thrust with all his might, so that the iron spear which he held upright in his hand, pierced the jaws of the monster. Then he leaped from the iron horse, and sprang away like lightning as the monster clashed his jaws together. A hideous roar, which was heard for many miles, announced that the Northern Frog had bitten the spear fast. When the youth turned round, he saw one point of the spear projecting a foot above the upper jaw, and concluded that the other was firmly fixed in the lower one; but the frog had crushed the iron horse between his teeth. The young man now hastened to fasten the chains in the ground, for which strong iron posts several fathoms long had been prepared.
The death-struggles of the monster lasted for three days and three nights, and when it reared itself, it struck the ground so violently with its tail, that the earth was shaken for fifty miles round. At length, when it was too weak to move its tail any longer, the young man lifted a stone with the help of his ring, which twenty men could not have p. 257 moved, and beat the monster about the head with it until no further sign of life was visible.
Immeasurable was the rejoicing when the news arrived that the terrible monster was actually dead. The victor was brought to the capital with all possible respect, as if he had been a powerful king. The old king did not need to force his daughter to the marriage, for she herself desired to marry the strong man who had alone successfully accomplished what others had not been able to effect with the aid of a whole army. After some days, a magnificent wedding was prepared. The festivities lasted a whole month, and all the kings of the neighbouring countries assembled to thank the man who had rid the world of its worst enemy. But amid the marriage festival and the general rejoicings it was forgotten that the monster’s carcass had been left unburied, and as it was now decaying, it occasioned such a stench that no one could approach it. This gave rise to diseases of which many people died. Then the king’s son-in-law determined to seek help from the sorcerer of the East. This did not seem difficult to him with the aid of his ring, with which he could fly in the air like a bird.
But the proverb says that injustice never prospers, and that as we sow we reap. The king’s son-in-law was doomed to realise the truth of this adage with his stolen ring. The Hell-Maiden left no stone unturned, night or day, to discover the whereabouts of her lost ring. When she learned through her magic arts that the king’s son-in-law had set out in the form of a bird to visit the sorcerer, she changed herself into an eagle, and circled about in the air till the bird for which she was waiting came in sight. She recognised him at once by the ring, which he carried on a riband round his neck. Then the eagle swooped upon the bird, and at the moment that she seized him in her claws she tore the ring from his neck with her beak, before he could do anything to prevent her. Then the eagle descended to the earth with her prey, and they both stood together in their former human shapes. “Now you have fallen into my hands, you rascal,” cried the Hell-Maiden. “I accepted you as my lover, and you practised deceit and theft against me: is that my reward? You robbed me of my most precious jewel by fraud, and you hoped to pass a happy life as the king’s son-in-law; but now we have turned over a new p. 259 leaf. You are in my power, and you shall atone to me for all your villainy.” “Forgive me, forgive me,” said the king’s son-in-law. “I know well that I have treated you very badly, but I heartily repent of my fault.” But the maiden answered, “Your pleadings and your repentance come too late, and nothing can help you more. I dare not overlook your offence, for that would bring me disgrace, and make me a byword among the people. Twice have you sinned against me: for, firstly, you have despised my love; and, secondly, you have stolen my ring; and now you must suffer your punishment.” As she spoke, she placed the ring on the thumb of her left hand, took the man on her arm like a doll, and carried him away. This time she did not take him to a magnificent palace, but to a cavern in the rocks where chains were hanging on the walls. The maiden grasped the ends of the chains and fettered the man hand and foot, so that it was impossible for him to escape, and she said in anger, “Here shall you remain a prisoner till your end. I will send you so much food every day, that you shall not die of hunger, but you need never expect to escape.” Then she left him.
The king and his daughter endured a time of p. 260 terrible anxiety as weeks and weeks passed by, and the traveller neither returned nor sent any tidings. The king’s daughter often dreamed that her consort was in great distress, and therefore she begged her father to assemble the sorcerers from all parts, in hopes that they might perhaps be able to give some information respecting what had happened to him, and how he could be rescued. All the sorcerers could say was that he was still alive, but in great distress, and they could neither discover where he was, nor how he could be found. At length a famous sorcerer from Finland was brought to the king, who was able to inform him that his son-in-law was kept in captivity in the East, not by a human being, but by a more powerful creature. Then the king sent messengers to the East to seek for his lost son-in-law. Fortunately they met with the old sorcerer who had read the inscriptions on Solomon’s Seal, and had thus learned wisdom which was hidden from all others. The sorcerer soon discovered what he wished to know, and said, “The man is kept prisoner by magic art in such and such a place, but you cannot release him without my help, so I must go with you myself.”
They set out accordingly, and in a few days, led p. 261 by the birds, they reached the cavern in the rock where the king’s son-in-law had already languished for seven years in captivity. He recognised the sorcerer immediately, but the latter did not know him, he was so much worn and wasted. The sorcerer loosed his chains by his magic art, took him home, and nursed and tended him till he had recovered sufficient strength to set out on his journey. He reached his destination on the very day that the old king died, and was chosen king. Then came days of joy after long days of suffering; and he lived happily till his end, but he never recovered the magic ring, nor has it ever since been seen by human eyes.
The succeeding prose sections are short, and chiefly contain stories from Jannsen’s collections, of many of which I have given only a brief outline.
1 Löwe translates the word kon, “dragon,” but it primarily means a frog or toad; and “dragon” is not among the other meanings which I find in the dictionaries. Besides, the creature is described as resembling a frog in many respects.
1 Compare vol. i. p. 223.
1 Pōrgu neitsi. Who she was is not clearly explained.