Sacred-Texts Legends & Sagas Index Previous Next
THE plague continued to rage in Eastern Europe long after it had disappeared from the West, and down to a very recent period. Consequently we find plague-legends, which have almost died out in the British Islands, except in Scotland, rife among all the Eastern nations. The Plague-demon is usually represented as female, but in the Esthonian legends it is masculine.
The Plague once seated himself in a boat which was returning to the Island of Rogö,1 which had hitherto escaped his ravages, in the shape of a tall black man with a great scythe in his hand. He arrived among the dead crew, and at once sprang on shore and began to destroy the inhabitants. Some saw the Plague himself, and others not. If any one saw him, his heart froze with terror p. 272 before he could speak a word.1 One night during a violent storm, an old woman saw him enter her cottage as she was sitting alone spinning; but she gathered courage to cry out, “Welcome, in God’s name.” He stopped short, muttering, “That’s enough,” returned to the boat in which he had come, and went out to sea. The storm ceased as he departed, and since then he has never reappeared.
In the Island of Nuckö he appeared as an old grey man, with a taper in one hand and a staff in the other, a book under his arm, and a three-cornered hat on his head. As he went from house to house, he looked up the names of his victims in his book, let his taper shine on their faces to make sure that he had made no mistake, and touched the doomed with his staff. A peasant once saw him enter his cottage, and touch all with his staff, except himself and the infant in the cradle. All the others died before cockcrow.2
Another time the Plague was driving down a steep path which led to a village, when be upset his vehicle and broke the axle. A passing peasant helped him to bind it up, and directed him to the smithy; but be declared that be was the Plague, and for the good deed that had been done him all the village should be spared. So be turned his horse, drove back up the hill, and vanished like a cloud. When the news was brought to the village, bonfire of rejoicing were lighted, and kept up for many days.
1 There is a similar tale told of the arrival of the Cholera in one of the Greek islands.
1 Speaking of the Vad Velen, the Yellow Plague, in Britain, we are told in the Mabinogion that all who saw him were doomed to die.
2 This story somewhat resembles that of the old hag seen by Lord Seaforth when lying ill of scarlet fever with several of his schoolfellows. The narrative has been reprinted several times, and is included in Stead’s More Ghost Stories, p. 37.