Cronnie Wisdom

Crone is "a phase in which you can be more authentic, more capable of making a difference in your family and in the greater world. Life gives you experience, and when you draw from it, that's true wisdom. By the time a woman is in her crone years, she is in an amazing position to be an influence. To change things for the better, to bring what she knows into a situation, to be able to say, 'Enough is enough.' You don't have to just go along with things, which is often a part of the middle years. You're often something of a loose cannon."
Jean Shinoda Bolen

Thursday, April 4, 2024

If you don't like the story...keep it to yourself!


I am saddened and disturbed by the criticism of traditional tellers and the stories they share at events or concerts.  Honestly, I can't even imagine complaining about a story told at a performance any more than I would feel compelled to share my opinion about a play to an actor or about a song to a musician.  It's just plain rude. Yet this seems to be who are today in our de-civilized world. 

But storytelling takes this criticism to another level. It seems to be part of our current cultural debate regarding book banning and history rewriting because what is presented seems “too upsetting” to someone.  At one event, someone from the audience objected to a traditional folktale in which a rabbit was cooked by a farmer. This story can hardly be seen as overly violent in the way that most television and films are today (even those that are G rated).  Let us remember the Bugs Bunny cartoon character in which there was always lots of hunter references and explosives.  I still recall Elmer Fudd, as the hunter, singing or saying, “Kill the Wabbit!”

I have a friend who was an elementary school teacher.  She now reads stories to children at public schools, but each book she reads must be pre-approved.  What can’t be read?  A book about the Civil War perhaps?  A book in which a family is depicted as biracial or in which the parents are gay?  What about the librarians who face prosecution? This is our world and if we can no longer speak of our history of hatred and oppression because our children are too fragile to hear of these things, how do they ever learn empathy? What happens to the storytellers in historical museums?

It reminds me of the debate as to whether you can tell fairy tales to children at all.  While being age appropriate is important, I follow the psychologists who believe that these stories give children a safe place to ponder and make sense of a very unsafe world.  I think it provides that same function for adults.

I like to consider myself as a “keeper” of the old stories.  I like discovering the history, culture, and people within them - learning what was coded and how they spoke truth to power.  I especially treasure the messages within them that need to be heard today. But I’m not sure if I have a story to tell that might not offend someone.  I doubt that the bard or the seanchai of the past ever worried about that. I doubt that the medicine men or grandmothers did either.  Sometimes being offended was the point!  Could they tell a story about a changeling today, or a selkie without nary a complaint?  What about poor Demeter trying to give immortality to the king’s son by placing him in the fire?   What happened to poor Ariadne when Theseus abandoned her on the shore of some deserted island?  Is Tatterhood’s unfeminine demeanor an appropriate role model for girls? 

I love to tell stories, but I don’t want to be censored.  I love to tell stories in a safe environment which is why I like telling in class.  We can stop and talk about what might be disturbing in a story.  We can talk about all the mothers and stepmothers who needed to abandon their children. I love to write about stories and share them in my podcast.  I just turn off the comments, knowing someone somewhere has something negative to say.  I know I’m not the best to ask, because there is something in my core that believes the story is the most important.  I hope that there are tellers throughout the world telling stories of oppression, urging the people to seek justice and peace.  I hope they keep telling them even if people squirm in their seats, even if some walk off in a huff, even if they face prosecution. Perhaps that’s just my 71-year-old crone speaking.

I understand the need to nurture performance storytelling in community. My question is, how can we be both the keepers of the story while also the keepers of the tellers? How can we create a safe place to tell traditional stories, especially the stories that need to be told today? 

Here's my advice.  If you don't like the story, just keep it to yourself!  Or perhaps you'll like it better, once you learn a bit more.


Monday, January 29, 2024

"Tatterhood" - A Norwegian Folktale

Tatterhood is one of my favorite stories!  This tale is rich and unexpected with many twists and turns.  But what makes the story shine most is the character of Tatterhood - a very unlikely female heroine. In the upcoming weeks, we'll be exploring this story from an archetypal perspective on the "Wise Crone Cottage Podcast."  But in the meantime, read the story for yourself, or better yet, read it to a little girl. Tatterhood has much to say to women of all ages


Once upon a time there was a king and a queen who had no children, and that made the queen very sad. She seldom had a happy hour. She was always crying and complaining, and saying how dull and lonesome it was in the palace. "If we had children there would be life enough," she said. Wherever she went in all her realm she found God's blessing in children, even in the poorest hut. And wherever she went she heard women scolding their children, and saying how they had done this and that wrong. The queen heard all this, and thought it would be so nice to do as other women did. At last the king and queen took into their palace an adopted girl to raise, that they might always have her with them, to love her if she did well, and scold her if she did wrong, like their own child.

One day the little girl whom they had taken as their own, ran down into the palace yard, and was playing with a golden apple. Just then an old beggar woman came by, who had a little girl with her, and it wasn't long before the little girl and the beggar's child were great friends, and began to play together, and to toss the golden apple about between them. When the queen saw this, as she sat at a window in the palace, she tapped on the pane for her foster daughter to come up. She went at once, but the beggar girl went up too; and as they went into the queen's apartment, each held the other by the hand. Then the queen began to scold the little lady, and to say, "You ought to be above running about and playing with a tattered beggar's brat." And she started to drive the girl down the stairs.

"If the queen only knew my mother's power, she'd not drive me out," said the little girl; and when the queen asked what she meant more plainly, she told her how her mother could get her children if she chose. The queen wouldn't believe it, but the girl insisted, and said that every word of it was true, and asked the queen only to try and make her mother do it. So the queen sent the girl down to fetch up her mother.

"Do you know what your daughter says?" asked the queen of the old woman, as soon as ever she came into the room.

No, the beggar woman knew nothing about it.

"Well, she says you can get me children if you will," answered the queen.

"Queens shouldn't listen to beggar girls' silly stories," said the old woman, and walked out of the room.

Then the queen got angry, and wanted again to drive out the little girl; but she declared it was true every word that she had said.

"Let the queen only give my mother something to drink," said the girl; "when she gets tipsy she'll soon find out a way to help you."

The queen was ready to try this; so the beggar woman was fetched up again, and treated with as much wine and mead as she wanted; and so it was not long before her tongue began to wag. Then the queen came out again with the same question she had asked before.

"Perhaps I know one way to help you," said the beggar woman. "Your majesty must make them bring in two pails of water some evening before you go to bed. Wash yourself in each of them, and afterwards throw the water under your bed. When you look under your bed the next morning, two flowers will have sprung up, a beautiful one and an ugly one. Eat the beautiful one but leave the ugly alone. Be careful not to forget this last bit of advice." That was what the beggar woman said.

Yes, the queen did what the beggar woman advised her to do; she had the water brought up in two pails, washed herself in them, and emptied them under the bed; and when she looked under the bed the next morning, there stood two flowers; one was ugly and foul, and had black leaves; but the other was so bright, and fair, and lovely, she had never seen anything like it, so she ate it up at once. But the pretty flower tasted so sweet, that she couldn't help herself. She ate the other one too, for, she thought, "I'm sure that it can't hurt or help me much either way."

Well, sure enough, after a while the queen was brought to bed. First of all, she had a girl who had a wooden spoon in her hand, and rode upon a goat. She was disgusting and ugly, and the very moment she came into the world she bawled out "Mamma."

"If I'm your mamma," said the queen, "God give me grace to mend my ways."

"Oh, don't be sorry," said the girl on the goat, "for one will soon come after me who is better looking."

After a while, the queen had another girl, who was so beautiful and sweet that no one had ever set eyes on such a lovely child. You may be sure that the queen was very well pleased. The elder twin they called "Tatterhood," because she was always so ugly and ragged, and because she had a hood which hung about her ears in tatters. The queen could hardly bear to look at her. The nurses tried to shut her up in a room by herself, but it did no good. She always had to be where the younger twin was, and no one could ever keep them apart.

One Christmas eve, when they were half grown up, there arose a frightful noise and clatter in the hallway outside the queen's apartment. Tatterhood asked what it was that was making such a noise outside.

"Oh," said the queen, "it isn't worth asking about."

But Tatterhood wouldn't give in until she found out all about it; and so the queen told her it was a pack of trolls and witches who had come there to celebrate Christmas. So Tatterhood said that she would just go out and drive them away. In spite of all they could say, and however much they begged and asked her to leave the trolls alone, she just had to go out and drive the witches off. She begged the queen to be careful and keep all the doors shut tight, so that not one of them would open the least bit.

Having said this, off she went with her wooden spoon, and began to hunt out and drive away the hags. All the while there was such a commotion out in the gallery that the like of it had never before been heard. The whole palace creaked and groaned as if every joint and beam were going to be torn out of its place. Now I can't say exactly what happened; but somehow or other one door did open a little bit, and her twin sister just peeped out to see how things were going with Tatterhood, and put her head a tiny bit through the opening. But, pop! up came an old witch, and whipped off her head, and stuck a calf's head on her shoulders instead; and so the princess ran back into the room on all fours, and began to "moo" like a calf. When Tatterhood came back and saw her sister, she scolded them all, and was very angry because they hadn't kept better watch, and asked them what they thought of their carelessness now that her sister had been turned into a calf.

"But I'll see if I can't set her free," she said.

Then she asked the king for a ship with a full set of sails and good load of stores, but she would not have a captain or any sailors. No; she would sail away with her sister all alone. There was no holding her back, and at last they let her have her own way.

Tatterhood sailed off, and steered her ship right up to the land where the witches lived. When she came to the landing place, she told her sister to stay quite still on board the ship; but she herself rode on her goat up to the witches' castle. When she got there, one of the windows in the gallery was open, and there she saw her sister's head hung up on the window frame; so she jumped her goat through the window into the gallery, snapped up the head, and set off with it. The witches came after her to try to get the head back. They flocked around her as thick as a swarm of bees or a nest of ants. The goat snorted and puffed, and butted with his horns, and Tatterhood beat and banged them about with her wooden spoon; and so the pack of witches had to give up. So Tatterhood got back to her ship, took the calf's head off her sister, and put her own on again, and then she became a girl as she had been before. After that she sailed a long, long way, to a strange king's realm.

Now the king of this land was a widower, and had an only son. When he saw the strange sail, he sent messengers down to the beach to find out where it came from, and who owned it; but when the king's men came down there, the only person they saw on board was Tatterhood, and there she was, riding around and around the deck on her goat at full speed, until her strands of hair streamed in the wind. The men from the palace were all amazed at this sight, and asked if more people were not on board. Yes, there were; she had a sister with her, said Tatterhood. They wanted to see too, but Tatterhood said no.

"No one shall see her, unless the king comes himself," she said; and so she began to gallop about on her goat until the deck thundered again.

When the servants got back to the palace, and told what they had seen and heard down at the ship, the king wanted to set out at once to see the girl that rode on the goat. When he arrived there, Tatterhood brought out her sister, and she was so beautiful and gentle that the king immediately fell head over heels in love with her. He brought them both back with him to the palace, and wanted to have the sister for his queen; but Tatterhood said "No," the king couldn't have her in any way, unless the king's son would take Tatterhood. That, as you may guess, the prince did not want to do at all, because Tatterhood was such an ugly hussy. However, at last the king and all the others in the palace talked him into it, and he gave in, promising to take her for his queen; but it went sore against his grain, and he was a very sad man.

Now they began making preparations for the wedding, both with brewing and baking; and when all was ready, they went to church. The prince thought it the worst church service he had ever been to in all his life. The king left first with his bride, and she was so lovely and so grand, all the people stopped to look at her along the road, and they stared at her until she was out of sight. After them came the prince on horseback by the side of Tatterhood, who trotted along on her goat with her wooden spoon in her fist. To look at him, he was not going to a wedding, but to a burial, and his own at that. He seemed so sad, and did not speak a word.

"Why don't you talk?" asked Tatterhood, when they had ridden a bit.

"Why, what should I talk about?" answered the prince.

"Well, you might at least ask me why I ride upon this ugly goat," said Tatterhood.

"Why do you ride on that ugly goat?" asked the prince.

"Is it an ugly goat? Why, it's the most beautiful horse that a bride ever rode," answered Tatterhood; and in an instant the goat became a horse, the finest that the prince had ever seen.

They rode on a bit further, but the prince was just as sad as before, and couldn't say a word. So Tatterhood asked him again why he didn't talk, and when the prince answered, he didn't know what to talk about, she said, "Well, you can ask me why I ride with this ugly spoon in my fist."

"Why do you ride with that ugly spoon?" asked the prince.

"Is it an ugly spoon? Why, it's the loveliest silver fan that a bride ever carried," said Tatterhood; and in an instant it became a silver fan, so bright that it glistened.

They rode a little way further, but the prince was still just as sad, and did not say a word. In a little while Tatterhood asked him again why he didn't talk, and told him to ask why she wore the ugly gray hood on her head.

"Why do you wear that ugly gray hood on your head?" asked the prince.

"Is it an ugly hood? Why, it's the brightest golden crown that a bride ever wore," answered Tatterhood, and it became a crown at once.

Now they rode a long way further, and the prince was so sad, that he sat without making a sound or uttering a word, just as before. So his bride asked him again why he didn't talk, and told him to ask now why her face was so ugly and gray?

"Yes," asked the prince, "why is your face so ugly and gray?"

"Am I ugly? You think my sister beautiful, but I am ten times more beautiful," said the bride, and when the prince looked at her, she was so beautiful, he thought that she was the most beautiful woman in the world. After that it was no wonder that the prince found his tongue, and no longer rode along with his head hanging down.

So they drank the bridal cup both deep and long, and, after that, both prince and king set out with their brides to the princesses' palace, and there they had another bridal feast, and drank once more, both deep and long. There was no end to the celebration. Now run quickly to the king's palace, and there will still be a drop of the bridal ale left for you.

Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, Lurvehette, Norske Folkeeventyr (Christiania [Oslo], 1842-1852), translated by George Webb Dasent (1859).

Lauren Hill beautiful version of Tatterhood is now out of print.  Search for it in libraries and used book stores.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

"Go I Know Not Whither, Fetch I Know Not What" (Part II)


(Because this is a long story, our discussion was broken into two parts.  The story was shared in the October 29, 2023 blog post. This posting furthers the discussion.)

Just like every other story, this one has many interpretations.  Most commentators see this as an initiation tale – a hero’s journey in which a young man's actions determine if he is worthy of his magical bride.  Fedot is young and skillful as an archer. But he hasn’t been tested in the ways of life.  We don’t know if he can distinguish right from wrong.  Is he marriage material?  Will he make a worthy husband?

One day Fedot unexpectedly comes upon a magical bird.  Is this his destiny?  He shoots the bird and breaks her wing. Before he can wring her neck, she begins to speak and convinces him to save her life.  As we later determine, she is magical and can shapeshift at will.  The unusual and detailed instructions given to Fedot are not necessary. So why does she appear so vulnerable here?  She’s determining his nature.  The stage is set for the archer’s adventure.  In the hero’s journey cycle, Fedot now finds himself at the threshold.

The two marry, and the story moves to their future.  The bird maiden does not want a hunter as a husband.  The archer’s wife wants to make a rug that will provide the couple with enough money, so he no longer needs to be in the king’s service.  He sells the rug without haggling. He is told not to offer a price. He is an honest seller who doesn’t know the value of the rug.  The steward sets a price, half of the rug's value.  But that’s not enough, the greedy steward wants more.  He seeks her out, tells the king and then both the steward and the king fall under her spell.  The only male in the story who isn’t dumbstruck by her beauty is Fedot.  Perhaps this also speaks to his character, for Fedot finds virtue beyond superficial beauty.

The king in his lustful and envious state wishes Fedot harm. He gives the task to the steward who doesn’t know what to do until he runs into Baba Yaga.  Is that a fortuitous event or was Baba Yaga waiting for him?  It may appear to be a random turn of events but what if Baba Yaga is the bird maiden’s mother or aunt? If so, she knowingly comes up with the impossible task that will determine his worth.  It’s what crones do, after all.

In folktales, Baba Yaga speaks cryptically.  Her words both test the protagonist while also sharing information that will prove valuable later in the story. It’s sometimes a test, sometimes a prophecy, and sometimes a warning. She starts Fedot’s adventure by saying he needs to “go I know not where and fetch I know not what.” It will be a difficult adventure, but if Fedot succeeds, he will be rewarded.  Fedot doesn’t know this, He’s just wanting to save his life and get back to his wife.

This is how most hero’s journeys begin.  It’s how most lives play out. We start in the ordinary world.  But somehow, we are pushed into more than a poorly defined task.  We are entering the road of obstacles and challenges.  It might be a health challenge, a relationship trial, or losing a job. There are many times we feel a bit lost. What do we do?  Where do we look for a solution?  We often feel as if we are going I know not where to get I know not what!

Baba Yaga’s advice is taken.  Fedot’s wife sends him off with some of the king’s gold, her handkerchief, and a ball.  It’s going to be an 18-year journey. The bird maiden doesn’t tell him to go to her homeland.  But she tells him to throw a magical ball before him and follow wherever it goes. She tells him to use only her handkerchief to dry his face. Fedot’s course is set, and he arrives at the magical palace, the home of his bird maiden wife.

There he finds three lovely damsels.  They begin to ask him questions which he refuses to answer.  Instead, he tells them to offer him something to eat, and drink and give him time to rest.  Only then will he speak to them.  This part of the story seems a bit out of character, for Fedot has not been assertive before.  But his behavior fits with the pattern of Baba Yaga stories in which there is a male hero.  In many stories, the protagonist is sent to find Baba Yaga.  Her standard question is, “Are you here of your own free will or by compulsion, my good youth?” It’s the first test of the soon-to-be hero.  If he replies he is sent, his interaction with Baba Yaga goes quite poorly; but if he shows agency, he will succeed.  Here he is more confrontational. The young beauties respond as Baba Yaga often does when the hero does the unexpected.  When he tells them what to do, they comply.

The next day, the beauties offer him a basin to wash his face.  He dries his face on his wife's handkerchief.  They recognize it as being associated with their family – just as seeing a family crest.  The beauties call for their mother and the old woman identifies the handkerchief as belonging to her daughter.  But who is this old woman? She has no name.  Many Baba Yaga stories have two old women characters.  One is Baba Yaga who appears in her more ferocious aspects and the other is a grandmotherly figure who acts kind and helpful. But are they both Baba Yaga?  Remember, Baba Yaga is not a singular figure.  We discover in other stories that she has sisters and children too. In this tale, the bird maiden’s mother could be the first Baba Yaga, her sister (that is the second Baba Yaga) or some random magical old woman. The latter is unlikely. It’s more probable that she is one of the Baba Yagas.  In this instance, Baba Yaga #2 becomes Fedot’s donor – the one who gives him just the magical object needed.

Russian folklorist and scholar, Vladimir Propp, writes in his book “Morphology of the Folktale”:

“Baba Yaga guards the boundary of the other world and the entrance to it.  She lets only the worthy pass through. The hero is never disturbed by her welcome.  This is the benevolent type of Yaga, the gift-giver and advisor.  She shows the hero the path.  From now on, he knows where to go. She gives the hero magical objects or a magical helper, and the action moves to a new stage. Yaga belongs to the broad category of the folktale donor.  Meeting with a donor is a canonical form of development of the action.  He/she is always met by chance, and the hero earns or somehow otherwise obtains a magical object.  Possession of the magical object defines success and the story’s outcome.”

And that is exactly what we see in this story. Fedot’s mother-in-law (and the entire family) is magical.  After he tells her his story, she asks her magical servants for their help and advice.  Scholar, Joanna Hubbs contends that Baba Yaga represents a powerful female deity.  Maria-Louise von Franz agrees, believing that Baba Yaga represents an aspect of the Great Mother.  It’s easy to make that comparison in this story.  Fedot’s mother-in-law goes with him to the center of the earth. It’s a place of transition to the other world.  She is the one who can request help from all the universe.  She is the one to whom the old lame croaking frog speaks.  He is the only one who has the answer to “Go, I know not where, and fetch I know not what.”

But the frog is old and lame, how can he guide the archer?  It’s the wisdom of the wise crone that appears now.  Fedot’s mother-in-law knows to put the frog's feet in milk.  It may seem to be an odd act, except that it was an ancient Russian way of keeping milk from going sour. (BTW, science is showing that might be true!)

Obviously, Fedot’s mother-in-law is a Baba Yaga, too!  She gives him the help he needs just when he needs it most. And so even though the story continues for the hero, his success is assured as soon as she finds the frog.  Fedot meets an invisible servant (Shmat-Razum) who agrees to come with him because he treats the genie with kindness and respect.

Instead of going straight home, they return first to his mother-in-law’s house. The story says that Fedot “made his new servant regale the old woman and her daughters right royally.” The genie “feasted them so bountifully that the old woman very nearly danced for joy and ordered the frog three jars of fresh milk every nine days for his faithful services.  The archer then took leave of his mother-in-law and wended his way homeward.”

And as Fedot takes his leave, we do too, for this is the end of the story of Baba Yaga and his Yaga-in-law. Throughout the tale, we see her hand in crafting the events that followed.  And yet, throughout, we see Fedot showing kindness and respect again and again.

Folklorist Jack Zipes writes in his book The Irresistible Fairy Tale, “At times, she can also be generous with her advice, yet her counsel and help do not come cheaply, for a Baba Yaga is always testing the people who come to her by chance or choice. Demands that young men or women deserve her help. But what Baba Yaga also defends in the nineteenth-century tales are qualities that the protagonists need in order to adapt and survive, such as perseverance, kindness, obedience, integrity, and courage.”

Fedot proved his worth as husband to the bird maiden, son-in-law to Baba Yaga, and ruler of the land. Zipes argues that “Baba Yaga is not portrayed as malignant in any of these tales. Of course, she is dangerous and wary of anyone who enters her terrain.  She has enormous powers and is inscrutable.  Without her assistance, the protagonist, female, or male, cannot overcome evil.”

Perhaps we need a little more Baba Yaga in the world today to overcome the evil that we face. If you have questions about how to do that, it’s best not to ask.  For as Baba Yaga says in her folktale “Vasilissa the Beautiful.”

“Well,” said the old witch, “only remember that every question does not lead to good.  If thou knowest overmuch, thou will grow old too soon.  What wilt thou ask?”

Nothing, my dear Yaga, nothing at all.


 "Go I Know Not Whither and Fetch I Know Not What." Adapted from Bain, R. Nisbet, Russian Fairy Tales: From the Skazki of Polevoi. 3rd ed. London: A. H. Bullen, 1901.
 Image:   Russian Wonder Tales, illustrated by  Ivan Bilibin (1902) . 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

"Madeleine" - a Film by Raquel Sancinetti

This film by Raquel Sancinetti is magnifique!  It's the perfect expression of the wise crone living in her own cottage - always learning in the present moment. I'll speak more about it in an upcoming blog post.  For now, enjoy!

Sunday, October 29, 2023

"Go I Know Not Whither - Fetch I Know Not What" - A Russian Tale


Go I Know Not Where, Fetch I Know Not What 

llustrated by N.Kochergin (1897-1974)

This Russian tale features Baba Yaga, the Slavic witch crone. (She was discussed earlier in the story "Vasilisa the Beautiful.”)   Although Baba Yaga has only a small part to play, her suggestion shifts the tale’s entire trajectory.  And once again there are her enigmatic words “Go I know not whither and fetch I know not what” to ponder.

By the blue sea, in a certain empire, there dwelt once upon a time a king who was a bachelor and had a whole company of archers.  The archers used to hunt with him and shoot the birds that flew about and provided meat for their master’s table. In this company served a youthful archer named Fedot, a clever marksman was he, never missing his aim.  It was for this reason that the King loved him better than all his comrades.

One day he chanced to go a-hunting very early, before the break of day. He went into a dense, dreary forest, and saw a dove sitting on a tree. Fedot stretched his bow, took aim, fired, and broke one of the dove’s little wings. The bird fell from the tree down upon the damp earth. The marksman picked it up and was about to twist its neck and put it in his pouch when the dove spoke to him.

“Alas! young marksman! do not twist my poor little silly neck. Drive me not out of the bright world. It is better to take me alive. Carry me home, put me in your little window, and right when slumber comes over me, at that very moment, I say, stroke me the wrong side down with your right hand, and good fortune shall come to you!”

The marksman was amazed. “Why, what is this?” thought he. “My eyes tell me it is a bird, and nothing else, yet it speaks with a human voice! Such a thing has never happened to me before.” 

So, he took the bird home, placed it on the windowsill, and waited and waited. It was not very long before the bird laid its head beneath its wing and began to doze. Then the marksman raised his right hand and stroked it, quite lightly, the wrong side down. The dove instantly fell to the ground and became a maiden, and so beautiful that the like of it can only be told in tales but is neither to be imagined nor guessed at.

She spoke to the good youth who was the royal archer and said: “You are clever enough to win me and have wit enough to live with me. You are my predestined husband; I am your pre-ordained wife.”

They were immediately of one mind. Fedot married, lived at home, and rejoiced in his young wife. Yet he never forgot his service to the king. Every morning, before the break of the day, he took his weapon, went into the forest, shot various kinds of wild beasts, and took them to the royal kitchen.

But it was plain that his wife was much tormented by these hunting expeditions, and one day she said to him: “Listen, my friend! I am fearful for you! Every blessed day you go into the forest, wander through the marsh, and return home wet through and through. We are none the better for it. What sort of a trade do you call this? Look, I have a plan that you can benefit from. Get me now one or two hundred rubles, and I’ll manage all the rest.”

Then Fedot hurried to his comrades, and borrowed a ruble from one, and two rubles from another till he had collected about two hundred rubles. Then he brought it to his wife. “Now,” said she, “buy me various kinds of silk with all this money!”

The archer went and bought various kinds of silk for two hundred rubles. She took them and said: “Be not sorrowful! Pray God and lie down to sleep, the morning is wiser than the evening!”

 So the husband fell asleep, and the wife went out upon the balcony, opened her book of spells, and immediately two invisible youths appeared before her and said: “What is your command?”

To which she said, “Take this silk, and in a single hour weave me a carpet more wondrous than anything to be found in the whole wide world, and let the entire kingdom be embroidered on this carpet, with all its cities and villages and rivers and lakes.” 

Then they set to work and wove the carpet, and it was wondrous to behold, wondrous above everything. In the morning the wife handed the carpet to her husband. “There,” she said, “take it to the marketplace and sell it to the merchants. But look now! Don’t haggle about the price but take whatever they offer for it.”

Fedot took the carpet, turned it round, hung it over his arm, and went to the marketplace. A merchant saw him, ran up to him at once, and said to him: “Tell me, honored sir, will you sell me that carpet?”

 “Willingly!” he replied.

“And what then is the price?”

The archer responded, “You frequent these markets, what do you think is a fair price?”

The merchant fell a-thinking and a-thinking, he could not figure out a price for the carpet.  He was at his wits’ end.

Another merchant came running up and after him a third and a fourth till a great crowd of them collected; they looked at the carpet, marveled at it, and could not set a price. At that moment the royal steward passed by, saw the crowd, and wanted to know what all the merchants were talking about.

So, he went up to them and said, “What is the matter?”

“We cannot price this carpet,” they replied.

The steward looked at the carpet, and he was amazed. “Listen, archer!” he said, “tell me the real truth; where did you get this royal carpet?”

The archer smiled and said, “My wife made it!”

“How much do you want for it?”

“I don’t know the value of it. My wife asked me not to haggle over it, but to take whatever was offered,” the archer explained.  

“Then what do you say to 10,000 rubles?” The archer took the money and gave up the carpet. 

Now this steward was always by the King and ate and drank at his table. So, he went to dine with the King and took the carpet with him.

“Would it please your Majesty to look at the carpet I have bought today?” The King looked and saw there his whole realm just as if it were on the palm of his hand, and he heaved a great sigh.

“Why, what a carpet is this! In all my life I have never seen such a cunning craft. Say now, what will you take for this carpet?” The King drew out 25,000 rubles and put them into the hand of the steward, but the carpet they hung up in the palace.

“That is a mere nothing,” thought the steward, “I’ll make a much better thing out of the second chance.” So, he immediately searched for the archer, sought out his little hut, and entered the dwelling room.  The moment he saw the archer’s wife, at that very instant he forgot all about himself and the errand on which he had come. Nevertheless, the steward forced himself to return home. Afterward, he bungled over everything he took in hand, and whether asleep or awake, he thought only of one thing, the wonderfully lovely little archeress.

The King observed his change, and asked him, “What the matter? What has happened to you to make you so sad?”

“Alas! My king and father, I have seen the archer's wife—such a beauty the world knows not, nor has ever seen!” The King himself was seized with a desire to fall in love with her, and he also went to the abode of the archer. He entered the living room and saw before him a lady of such unspeakable loveliness.  The King suddenly understood what had happened to his son.

“Love’s burning chilblain captured his heart.” “But what does that matter? Why should I remain a bachelor any longer?” he thought. “I know. I’ll marry this beauty for she’s too good to be a mere archer’s wife. From her birth, she was evidently meant to be a Queen! My Queen!”

The King returned to his palace and said to the steward, “Take heed! You were smart enough to show me the archer’s wife, that unspeakable beauty. Now you must be smart enough to get her husband out of the way. I want to marry her myself. And if you don’t remove him, look out! For even though you are my faithful servant, you will be hanged upon some gallows!” Then the steward went about much more afflicted than before and thought as he would, he could not devise a method of getting rid of the archer. He wandered about the broad marketplaces and the narrow lanes.  There he met one day a witchy old hag known as Baba Yaga.

 “Stay, you King’s servant!” cried she. “I can see all your thoughts. You’ll want some help against your unavoidable woe.”

“Ah, help me, dear Baba Yaga! I’ll pay you whatever you want!”

“You’ve been commanded to get rid of Fedot the archer. That thing is not so very easy to do. He indeed is simple, but his wife is frightfully artful. Well now, we’ll need to hit upon an errand that cannot be accomplished quickly. Go to the King and say that he must command the archer to go I know not whither, and fetch I know not what. Such a task as that the archer will never accomplish, though he lives forever and ever.  Either he will vanish altogether, or if he does come back, it will be without arms or legs.” 

The steward rewarded the old hag with gold and hastened back to the King, and then the King sent and commanded the archer to be brought before him.

“Well, Fedot! You are my young warrior and the first in my corps of archers. Do this for me! Go I know not whither, and fetch me I know not what! And mark me, if you don’t bring it back, it is I the King, who tells you that your head shall be severed from your shoulders.”

The archer turned and left the palace.  He came home very sad and thoughtful. And his wife asked him: “Why are you so sad, darling; has any misfortune befallen you?”

“The King has sent me I know not whither to fetch I know not what. It is through your beauty that this ruin has come upon us!”

“Yes, indeed!” she said. “This service is no light one! It takes nine years to get there, and nine years to get back again, eighteen years in all, and God only knows if it can be managed even then!”

“What’s to be done then, and what will become of me?” he cried.

“Pray God and lie down to sleep, the morning is wiser than the evening,” she said. “Tomorrow you will know all.” 

The archer lay down to sleep, and his wife sat watching till midnight, opened her book of spells, and the two youths immediately appeared before her.

“What is your pleasure, and what do you command?” they cried.

“Do you know how one can manage to go I know not whither, and fetch I know not what?” she asked.

“No, we do not know.” She closed the book, and the youths disappeared from before her eyes. In the morning the archeress awoke her husband.

“Go to the King,” said she, “and ask for gold from the treasury for your journey. You have a pilgrimage of eighteen years before you. When you have the money, return to me to say farewell.”

The archer went to the King, received a whole purse full of money, and returned to say goodbye to his wife. She gave him a pocket handkerchief and a ball. Then she said: “When you go out of the town, throw this ball in front of you, and wherever it rolls, follow it. Here too is my pocket handkerchief; when you wash yourself, wherever you may be, always dry your face with this handkerchief.”

The archer took leave of his wife and his comrades, bowed low on all four sides of him, and went beyond the barriers of the city. He threw the ball in front of him; the ball rolled and rolled, and he followed it.

A month or so passed away, and then the King called the steward and said to him: “The archer has departed to wander about the wide world for eighteen years, and he will not return alive. Now eighteen years are not two weeks, and no little disaster may have befallen him by the way. Go then to the archer’s house and bring his wife to the palace!”

So, the steward went to the archer’s house, entered the room, and said to the beautiful archeress: “Greetings wise woman! The King commands you to come to the court!” So, to the court, she went.

The King received her with joy and led her into his golden halls. “Will you be a Queen? I will make you, my spouse!” he said.

The archer’s wife was indigent. “Where was such a thing ever seen, where was such a thing ever heard of, to take a wife away from her living husband? Though he is nothing but a simple archer, he is for all that my lawful husband.”

“If you don’t come of your own accord, I’ll take you by force!” the King roared.

But the beauty laughed, stamped upon the floor, turned into a dove, and flew out of the window.

The archer passed through many countries and kingdoms, and the ball continued rolling. Whenever they came to a river the ball expanded into a bridge, and whenever the archer wished to rest, the ball widened into a downy bed. Whether the time was long or whether it was short, the tale was quickly told, although the deed was not quickly done. Suffice it to say that the archer finally came to a vast and wealthy palace.  The ball rolled right up against the door and vanished. The archer begins to think. “I had better go straight on.”  So, he went up the staircase into a room, and there he found three lovely damsels.

“Where have you come from and for what reason are you here, good man?” they said.

“Alas! Lovely damsels, you ask me not to rest from my long journey, but you begin to torment me with questions. First, you should give me something to eat and drink and let me rest, and only then should you ask me of my journey!” They immediately laid the table, gave him something to eat and drink, and made him lie down to rest. The archer slept away his weariness, rose from his soft bed, and the lovely damsels brought him a washing basin and an embroidered towel. He washed himself in the clear spring water, but the towel he would not take.

“I have my handkerchief to wipe my face,” said he, and he drew out the handkerchief and began to dry himself.

And the lovely damsels started questioning him. “Tell us, good man! Where did you get that handkerchief?”

“My wife gave it to me.”

“Then you must have married one of our kinswomen.” Then they called their old mother, and she looked at the handkerchief, recognizing it in the same instant.

She cried, “This is indeed my daughter’s handkerchief!” Then she began to put all manner of questions to the archer. He told her how he had married her daughter, and how the King had sent him I know not whither, to fetch I know not what.

“Alas! My dear son-in-law, not even I have heard of this marvel. But come now, perchance my servants may know of it.” 

Then the old woman fetched her book of spells, turned over the leaves, and immediately there appeared two giants. “What is your pleasure, and what is your command?”

“Look now, my faithful servants, carry me together with my son-in-law to the wide sea Ocean, and place us in the very center of it—in the very abyss.” Immediately the giants caught up the archer and the old woman, and bore them, as by a hurricane, to the wide sea Ocean, and placed them in the center of it—in the very abyss. There they stood like two vast columns and held the archer and the old woman in their arms. Then the old woman cried with a loud voice, and there came swimming up to her all the fish and creeping things of the sea so that the blue sea was no longer to be seen for the multitude of them.

“Hark! Fish and creeping things of the sea. You who swim everywhere, have you heard how to go I know not whither, to fetch I know not what?

And all the fishes and creeping things exclaimed with one voice, “No, we have never heard of it.”

Suddenly a lame old croaking frog forced its way to the front and said, “Kwa, kwa; I know where this marvel is to be found.”

“Well, dear, that is just what I want to know,” said the old woman, and she took up the frog and told the giants to carry her and her son-in-law home. 

In an instant, they found themselves in their own courtyard. Then the old woman began to question the frog. “How and by what road can my son-in-law go?”

And the frog answered, “This place is at the end of the world—far, far away. I would gladly lead him myself, but I am so frightfully old, that I can scarcely move my legs. I could not get there in fifty years.”

The old woman sent for a big jar, filled it with fresh milk, put the frog inside, and said to her son-in-law, “Hold this jar in your hand and the frog will show you the way.” The archer took the jar with the frog, said goodbye to his mother-in-law and his sisters-in-law, and set out on his way. On he went, and the frog showed him the way. Whether it be far or near, long or short, matters not; suffice it that he came to the fiery river.  Beyond this river was a high mountain, and on this mountain, a door was to be seen. “Kwa, kwa,” said the frog, “let me out of the jar, we must cross over this river.”

The archer took it from the jar and placed it on the ground. “Now, my good youth, sit on me. More firmly. Don’t be afraid. You will not smash me.” The youth sat on the frog and pressed it down to the ground. The frog began to swell; it swelled and swelled until it was as large as a haystack. All that the archer now thought of was the risk of falling off.

“If I fall off it will be the death of me,” thought he. The frog, when it had done swelling, took a leap and leaped with one big bound right across the fiery stream, and again made itself quite little.

“Now, good youth, go through that door and I’ll wait for you here. You will come into a cavern and will need to hide yourself well. In a short time two old men will enter; listen to what they are saying, and see what they do, and when they are gone, say and do as they did.” 

The archer went into the mountain, opened the door, and found the cavern. It was dark enough to put one’s eyes out. He fumbled his way along and felt all about him with his arms until he felt an empty chest, into which he hid himself.

And now, after he had waited some time, two old men entered and said: “Hi! Shmat-Razum! come and feed us.”

At that very instant—there’s no telling how—lightning flashes lit candelabras, thundered plates and dishes, and various wines and meats appeared upon the table. The old men ate and drank, and then they commanded “Shmat-Razum! take it all away.” And immediately there was nothing, neither table, nor wine, nor meats, and the candelabras all went out. 

The archer heard the two old men going out, crept out of the chest, and cried: “Hi! Shmat-Razum!”

“What is your pleasure?”

“Feed me.” Again, everything appeared. The candelabras were lighted, the table was covered, and all the meats and drinks appeared upon it. The archer sat down at the table and said, “Hi! Shmat-Razum. Come, brother, and sit down with me, let’s eat and drink together. I can’t stand eating all alone.”

And an invisible voice answered him: “Alas! good man, where have you come from? It’s thirty years since I have served the two old men here, and during all that time they have never once asked me to sit down with them.”

The archer looked around and was amazed. He saw nobody, yet the meat disappeared from the dishes as if someone was sweeping them away, and the wine bottles lifted themselves up, poured themselves into the glasses, and in a moment the glasses were empty.

Then the archer went on eating and drinking, but he said: “Listen, Shmat-Razum! Will you be my servant? You will have a good time of it with me.”

“Why should I not? I have been growing weary here, and I see, you are a good man.”

 “Well, get everything ready and come with me,” said the archer.

The archer came out of the cave and looked around him.  There was nothing. “Shmat-Razum, are you there?”

“I am here. Fear not. I’ll never desert you.”

“Right,” replied the archer, and he sat him on the frog. The frog swelled out and leaped across the fiery stream.  He placed it in the jar and set off on his return journey. He came to his mother-in-law and made his new servant regale the old woman and her daughters right royally. Shmat-Razum feasted them so bountifully that the old woman very nearly danced for joy and ordered the frog three jars of fresh milk every nine days for its faithful services. The archer then took leave of his mother-in-law and wended his way homeward. He went on and on till he was utterly exhausted, his swift feet trembled beneath him, and his white arms sank by his side.

“Alas!” said he, “Shmat-Razum, do you not see how weary I am? My legs fail me.”

“Why didn’t you tell me long ago? I will bring you to the place alive and well.” And immediately the archer was seized by a whirlwind and carried through the air so quickly that his hat fell from his head.

“Hi! Shmat-Razum! Stop a minute. My hat has fallen from my head.”

“Too late, master. You can’t get it. Your cap is now 5,000 miles behind you.” Towns and villages, rivers, and forests, melted away beneath the feet of the archer.

And now the archer was flying over the deep sea, and Shmat-Razum told him: “If you will let me, I would make a golden bower on this sea, and you will be able to rest and be happy!”

“Do so then,” said the archer, and straightway they began descending towards the sea. For a moment, the waves splashed high, and then a small island appeared, and on the island was a golden pleasure-house.

Shmat-Razum said to the archer: “Sit in this pleasure house and rest and look out upon the sea. Three merchant vessels will sail by and stop at the island. You must invite the merchants in and hospitably entertain them.  Exchange me for three wondrous things which the merchants will bring with them. In due time I will return to you again.”

The archer kept watch, and lo! From the west three ships came sailing up, and the merchantmen saw the island and the golden pleasure house.  “It’s a marvel!” they said, “how many times have we sailed here, and nothing was to be seen but the sea! And now, behold! a golden pleasure house is here. Come, friends, let us put to shore and feast our eyes upon it!” So immediately they lowered the sails and cast the anchor, three of the merchants climbed into a light skiff, and they came to the shore.

“Hail, good man!”

“Hail, wayfaring merchants, you men of many marts! Be so good as to turn in to me, stroll about at your ease, make merry, and repose. This pleasure house was built expressly for guests that come by the sea!” The merchants entered the bower and sat them down on footstools.

“Hi! Shmat-Razum!” cried the archer; “give us something to eat and drink.” The table appeared, and on the table was wine and savory meats; whatever the soul desired was there with the wishing. The merchants sighed in envy.

“Come,” said they, “let us make an exchange. Give us your servant, and take from us what marvels you like best.”

“But what marvels have you then?” the archer asked.

“Look and see!” One of the merchants drew out of his pocket a little casket, and he had no sooner opened it than a lovely garden spread out all over the island with fragrant flowers and pleasant paths. But when he shut the casket, the garden immediately disappeared. The second merchant drew from beneath the folds of his garment an axe and began to tap with it. “Rap-tap!” out came a ship. “Rap-tap!” out came another ship. A hundred times he rapped and made a hundred ships with sails and guns and crews complete.  The ships sailed, and the sailors stood by the guns and took orders from the merchant. The merchant gloried in it for a while, but then he concealed his axe and the ships vanished out of sight just as if they had never been. The third merchant produced a horn, blew into one end of it, and immediately an army appeared, both horse and foot, with cannons and banners, and through all the ranks went the roll of martial music, and the armor of the warriors flashed like fire in the sunlight. The merchant rejoiced in it all, then he took his horn and blew into the other end of it, and there was nothing to be seen, the whole of that martial might was no more.

“Your marvels are well enough, but they are of no use to me,” said the archer; “your hosts and your fleets would do honor to a Tsar, but I am only a simple archer. If you would change with me, then must you give me all your three wonders in exchange for my one invisible servant.”

“But won’t that be too much?”

“Know that I’ll make no other exchange.”

The merchants considered among themselves: “What’s the use of this garden, these ships, and these hosts to us? ’It will be better to do the exchange. At any rate, we shall always be able to eat and drink our fill without the least trouble.”

So, they gave the archer their wonders and said: “Well, Shmat-Razum, we’ll take you with us.  Will you serve us well and loyally?”

“Why should I not serve you? It is all the same with me with whom I live.” The merchants returned to their ships and regaled all their crews right royally.

“Hi! Shmat-Razum! Rouse yourself!”

And everyone on board ate and drank their fill and lay down and slept heavily. But the archer sat in his golden bower and grew pensive and said: “Alas! My heart yearns after my faithful servant, Shmat-Razum. I wonder where he is now!”

“I am here, master!” he said, and the archer was glad.

“Is it not time for us to hasten home?” And he had no sooner spoken than a whirlwind seized him and bore him into the air.

The merchants awoke from their sleep and wanted to drink away the effects of their carouse. “Hi! Shmat-Razum, give us some more drinks by way of a pick-me-up!”

But no one answered, no one rendered them that service. Order and shout as they might, things remained precisely as they were. “Well, gentlemen! This conman has fooled us! The devil take him, and may the island vanish and the golden bower perish.” Thus, the merchants lamented and lamented, and then they spread their sails and departed for where their business called them.

The archer flew back to his country and descended into a waste place by the blue sea. “Hi, Shmat-Razum, can we not build a little castle here?”

“Why not? It shall be ready immediately.” And immediately the castle sprang up, more beautiful than words can tell.  It was twice as good as a royal palace. The archer opened his casket and a garden immediately appeared round the castle with pleasant country paths and marvelous flowers. The archer sat at the open window and quite fell in love with his garden. Suddenly a dove flew in at the window, plumped down upon the ground, and turned into his lovely young wife. They embraced and greeted each other.

And the wife said to the archer, “Ever since you left home, I have been flying as a blue dove among the woods and groves. How happily we will now live together forevermore!”

Early the next morning the King came out onto his balcony and looked towards the blue sea and behold! On the very shore stood a new castle, and round the castle was a green garden. “Who then is this presumptuous stranger who builds on my land without my leave?”

Then his couriers ran over, asked questions, and returned.  They told him that this castle was built by the archer, and he himself dwelt in the castle and his wife with him. The King was angrier than ever.  He ordered them to assemble the troops.  “Go to the shores of the sea, root up the garden, smash the castle into little bits, and bring the archer and his wife to me,” he screamed. The archer saw the King’s army coming against him, which was very strong.  Then he seized his axe quickly and rapped with it, “Rap-tap!”

Out came a ship. He rapped one hundred times and made one hundred ships. Then he seized his horn and blew it once, and several footmen rolled out. He blew in the other end, and many horses rolled out. The commanders of all the corps came rushing up to him and asked him for orders. The archer bade them to begin the battle. The music struck up, the drums rolled, and the regiments moved forward against the royal army. The infantry, like a solid wall, broke down their center, the horse cut them off at the wings and took them captive, and the guns from the fleet played upon the capital. The King saw that all his army was flying, and rushed forward to stop them—but how? He could not do it, and in a moment, he was swept from his horse during the fierce fight and trampled underfoot. When the fight was over the people assembled and begged the archer to accept the whole realm from their hands. To this, he consented and ruled that kingdom peaceably throughout his life.

There is much more to say about this story but we’ll leave that until next month!

Adapted from Bain, R. Nisbet, Russian Fairy Tales: From the Skazki of Polevoi. 3rd ed. London: A. H. Bullen, 1901.