Russian Fairy Tales | Annotated Tale

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Witch Girl, The

Here is a story, by way of example, of a most gloomy nature.


LATE one evening, a Cossack rode into a village, pulled up at its last cottage, and cried--

                 "Heigh, master! will you let me spend the night here?"

                 "Come in, if you don't fear death!"

                 "What sort of a reply is that?" thought the Cossack, as he put his horse up in the stable. After he had given it its food he went into the cottage. There he saw its inmates, men and women and little children, all sobbing and crying and praying to God; and when they had done praying, they began putting on clean shirts.

                 "What are you crying about?" asked the Cossack.

                 "Why you see," replied the master of the house, "in our village Death goes about at night. Into whatsoever cottage she looks, there, next morning, one has to put all the people who lived in it into coffins, and carry them off to the graveyard. To-night it's our turn."

                 "Never fear, master! 'Without God's will, no pig gets its fill!'"

                 The people of the house lay down to sleep; but the Cossack was on the look-out and never closed an eye. Exactly at midnight the window opened. At the window appeared a witch all in white. She took a sprinkler, passed her arm into the cottage, and was just on the point of sprinkling--when the Cossack suddenly gave his sabre a sweep, and cut her arm off close to the shoulder. The witch howled, squealed, yelped like a dog, and fled away. But the Cossack picked up the severed arm, hid it under his cloak, washed away the stains of blood, and lay down to sleep.

                 Next morning the master and mistress awoke, and saw that everyone, without a single exception, was alive and well, and they were delighted beyond expression.

                 "If you like," says the Cossack, "I'll show you Death! Call together all the Sotniks and Desyatniks [2] as quickly as possible, and let's go through the village and look for her."

                 Straightway all the Sotniks and Desyatniks came together and went from house to house. In this one there's nothing, in that one there's nothing, until at last they come to the Ponomar's [3] cottage.

                 "Is all your family present?" asks the Cossack.

                 "No, my own! one of my daughters is ill. She's lying on the stove there."

                 The Cossack looked towards the stove--one of the girl's arms had evidently been cut off. Thereupon he told the whole story of what had taken place, and he brought out and showed the arm which had been cut off. The commune rewarded the Cossack with a sum of money, and ordered that witch to be drowned.

               Stories of this kind are common in all lands, but the witches about whom they are told generally assume the forms of beasts of prey, especially of wolves, or of cats. A long string of similar tales will be found in Dr. Wilhelm Hertz's excellent and exhaustive monograph on werwolves. [4] Very important also is the Polish story told by Wojcicki [5] of the village which is attacked by the Plague, embodied in the form of a woman, who roams from house to house in search of victims. One night, as she goes her rounds, all doors and windows have been barred against her except one casement. This has been left open by a nobleman who is ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. The Pest Maiden arrives, and thrusts her arm in at his window. The nobleman cuts it off, and so rids the village of its fatal visitor. In an Indian story, [6] a hero undertakes to watch beside the couch of a haunted princess. When all is still a Rákshasa appears on the threshold, opens the door, and thrusts into the room an arm--which the hero cuts off. The fiend disappears howling, and leaves his arm behind.



[1] Afanasief, vii. No. 36 a. This story has no special title in the original.

[2] The rural police. Sotnick = centurion, from sto = 100. Desyatnik is a word of the same kind from desyat = 10.

[3] A Ponomar is a kind of sacristan.

[4] "Der Werwolf, Beitrag zur Sagengeschichte," Stuttgart, 1862. For Russian ideas on the subject see "Songs of the Russian people," pp. 403-9.

[5] "Polnische Volkssagen" (translated by Lewestam), p. 61.

[6] Brockhaus's "Mährchensammlung des Somadeva Bhatta," ii. p. 24.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Witch Girl, The
Tale Author/Editor: Ralston, William Ralston Shedden
Book Title: Russian Fairy Tales
Book Author/Editor: Ralston, William Ralston Shedden
Publisher: Hurst & Co.
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1873
Country of Origin: Russia
Classification: unclassified

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