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I COMMENCE with wolf-stories, which are rather numerous in Esthonia. One of them relates the creation of the wolf. When God had created the world, he asked the Devil what he thought of his work; and the Devil objected that there was no animal to scare away mischievous boys from the woods when the bear and the snake were sunk in their winter sleep. Thereupon God gave leave to the Devil to make such an animal as he wished, and to give it life by the formula, “Stand up and devour the Devil.” Then the Devil made the wolf’s back of a strong hedge-pole, the head of a tree-stump, the breast of twigs and leather, and the loins of bricks.1 He made the tail of a fern-frond, and the feet of alder-stumps, but he put a stone into its breast for the heart. He clothed the body with p. 275 moss, burning coals formed the eyes, and iron nails were used for the teeth and claws. He then named the creature Wolf, and pronounced the spell as far as “devour,” when the creature raised his head and snorted. The Devil was too much frightened to finish, but afterwards plucked up courage, and repeated the spell, substituting God’s name for his own. But the wolf took no notice, and when the Devil appealed to God, he was only told to use the same spell; so he stood a long way off and pronounced it. Then the wolf rushed at the Devil, who was forced to hide under a stone to save himself. Since then the wolf has been the Devil’s worst enemy, and pursues him everywhere.
Another story relates how God forbade the wolf to eat the flocks and the dogs, but to receive his share when the farmers baked. But one day a farmer’s wife threw the wolf a red-hot stone instead of bread, and he burnt his muzzle, which has been black ever since. Since then he devours whatever falls in his way.
A farmer, hemmed in by a herd of wolves, succeeded in driving them away, but was followed home by one of them. When he took his provisions out of the sledge, he laid his hand on a square object like a p. 276 whetstone. He then remembered hearing that the wolves sometimes receive food from heaven, and thought this might be their portion. So he flung it to the wolf, saying, “Take it if it’s yours;” and the wolf seized it and disappeared.
There is an odd story of a young woman who was carrying an apron full of eggs to her mother. She was overtaken by a violent thunderstorm, and sheltered under a fir-tree. She felt something moving among the eggs, and was frightened; but presently she was still more terrified when she found a great wolf tugging at her apron. She dropped it in her fright, and a black cat jumped out and darted away, pursued by the wolf. When she reached the village, her mother told her that the black cat was the Devil, who had taken that form in order to play her a trick or do her some injury, but had been scared away by the wolf.
Have we here an inverted and distorted echo of “Little Red Riding Hood?”
A peasant who was broiling fish in the forest at nightfall met with a still more alarming adventure. A black man appeared to him, and commanded him to fetch him a spit, for he wanted to broil fish too. But the spit which he wanted was a long sharp p. 277 stake, and the peasant himself was to be the fish. In his terror the peasant called “St. George’s Dogs” to his aid, and a pack of wolves rushed out, and chased the Devil away, while the peasant drew out the axle from his cart-wheel, and supplied its place with a pole of rowan-wood.
Another story relates how an unfortunate wolf missed getting his usual rations from God, and set out to forage for himself. After sparing some whom he met, and allowing others to escape, he fell into the hands of a young peasant, who gave him a sound beating and then took refuge in a tree. The wolf’s relatives, seeking revenge, climbed on each other’s back till they nearly reached the peasant, who upset them by a stratagem, and they fell, many breaking their limbs. Since then a wolf always runs away when he sees a man.
Were-wolves are sometimes alluded to in Esthonian tales.
The following stories are of a more miscellaneous character, and some of them are sufficiently interesting to be given with little or no abridgment.
1 Such origins are common in Esthonian and Finnish folk-literature, and I regard them as relics of fetishism.