October 0004

There’s an enormous mythology and folk culture in the centre and east of Europe which is scarcely known to the English – speaking world. Some of it is accessible in folklorist’s recordings, but these aren’t much good as stories. They often sound arbitrary and inconsequential, so I thought it might be a good idea to fatten up a few of them. Here’s

How Perkunos Learned Not To Trust People Any More.

Perkunos was the chief of the gods, and the god of thunder, lightning and oak trees. His name is given as Piorun, Perkun and Perkunas in different languages. He appears to be closely related to Thor and Jupiter.

A velnia is a demon. When the world was created, the god created everything useful and beautiful. The devil tried to imitate him, and failed, producing everything ugly and dangerous. Because of this, demons are often presented as stupid, and sometimes have the character of a jester.

One day, a peasant called Max was hungry, so he got his gun, and went out looking for rabbits. He didn’t know it, but Perkunos was watching him from above with idle curiosity. Another thing he didn’t know was that there was a velnia near him, and this velnia was watching him too. As Max walked along the path towards it, the velnia climbed out from its hole in the ground, and was getting ready to spring on him, but before he was ready Perkunas spotted him. Perkunas didn’t care about Max much, but he thought the velnia was really nasty, so he threw a bolt of lightning at him. Just in time, the velnia scuttled under a bush, but Max saw the sudden movement. “Aha, a rabbit!” he thought, and he shot at it. He was lucky, and killed the velnia at once!

Perkunos was suddenly interested in Max. He wasn’t just a lucky shot. That gun was really special. Maybe he should talk to him, and see what could be done. In the meantime, Max had gone up to his kill, and seen, not a rabbit, but an ugly creature something between a cat and a piglet, with two sharp horns on its head, and covered with blood.

While he was puzzling over it, Perkunos disguised himself as a farmer, and went up to Max.

That’s a really good gun you’ve got”, he said. “Whenever I shoot at something that moves as quickly as that, I always miss. Shall we swap guns?”

Max looked at the gun the farmer was offering him, and thought

That’s a nice gun he’s offering me. It’s beautifully made, and much better than mine. I expect the old fool just doesn’t know how to use it. But I’ll see if I can get something else out of him as well.” So he said:

I like your gun, but mine’s a very good one too. You’ll have to give me something else as well to make it fair.”

Perkunos was a bit annoyed at Max’s cheek, but remembered that he’d disguised himself, so Max didn’t know who he was talking to.

But my gun’s very special too. All you have to do is to point it at whatever you want to kill, and it’ll drop down in front of you. You don’t even need to pull the trigger, and in fact that’s one thing you mustn’t ever do. Don’t ever, ever pull the trigger, or something terrible will happen. You can hunt geese and rabbits with it, and even wolves if you have to.” Max was impressed.

All right, I’ll agree to the exchange” he said.

Here you are, but remember, never pull that trigger”, Perkunas said.

For five years, Max was very happy with his gun. He could hunt anything with it, not just rabbits, but big animals like deer, and even fish. His family always had something to eat, and he had lots of spare food he could take to the market and sell. He hardly needed to bother with his fields any more. But then he started to become curious about the gun.

Why can’t I pull that trigger?” he thought. “I bet it makes the gun even more powerful. I’m sure I could kill lots more animals with it and become really rich. Next time I see something good, I’ll just pull that trigger, and see what happens.”

A few days later he saw a huge brown bear. “Mmm”, he thought, “I could shoot that, and sell the skin. I might get four or five gold pieces for it.” So he pointed his gun at the bear and pulled the trigger. There was an enormous clap of thunder. The bear wasn’t just killed, it flew into tiny pieces! The bang was so loud, Max was knocked over. Perkunos re-appeared. He was angry. “What have you done? You pulled the trigger didn’t you? Did you know you’ve knocked over almost half the world? Here, give me my gun back, and have your own”.

Max went sadly back home. He’d have to start working hard again. His farm had been flattened, and he needed to rebuild it. He’d used up so much thunder with that one bang, there were no more thunderstorms for seven years afterwards.

And Perkunos? He decided that he’d never trust a human being again.


Once upon a time, people knew when they would die. If they were going to die in ten years time, they knew it, and if they were going to die in ten minutes, they knew it too. They were used to it, so they didn’t mind.

One day, a worker took an order to build a fence, forgetting that he was going to die the next day. When he remembered, he was very annoyed with himself. “I’ve agreed to build a fence, so I’ll have to do it, but I won’t have time to enjoy the money I’m going to be paid for it” he said. “I know, I’ll build it out of straws. That way, it won’t be so much work. I can get it finished easily, and go home, and die with my wife and children and grandchildren around me. That’ll be much nicer than slaving away over a stupid wooden fence”

And that’s what he did. I must say, if you like useless fences, his was pretty good, but it wasn’t any use for anything at all.

While he was building it, God decided to go for a walk through the village, and saw the worker building his fence out of straws.

Why are you building that fence out of straws?” God asked, and the worker replied that he’d agreed to build the fence, but he was going to die anyway, so he might as well make it easy for himself.

That’ll never do!” Said God, and from that day to this, death has always taken people by surprise. And you know what? They like it that way too.

God Makes the Devil Look Silly

You probably know that the Devil was pretty good at inventing things, and that meant that he often had the best tools. As you can imagine, God wasn’t very pleased with the situation, but what could he do?

One year it was harvest time, and there was the Devil cutting his hay with a scythe. At that time, only the Devil had a scythe, and he wasn’t going to tell anyone else how to make one. “Why should I help these people out? They’ll have to pay me a really good price for me to give away a secret as good as scythes” he said to himself.

Poor God only had a chisel to cut his hay with, and so did all the people. Harvesting was very long and slow, and very hard work then. So there was God, slaving away in his field, cutting the hay one stalk at a time, while the Devil was cutting his hay really fast, and God started to be envious of the Devil, and to think about how to get hold of a scythe for himself. Eventually, he had an idea.

Since the Devil was working really fast, he was getting tired, and God made him go to sleep. It was a really good, long, deep, satisfying sleep, and the Devil didn’t wake up for a very long time. While the Devil was snoring away, God went and took his scythe, and used it to cut his own hay. It was difficult to use the scythe at first, but he soon learned how to use it, and cut it faster than he’d ever done before. Then God put the scythe back where he’d found it.

When he woke up from his sleep, the Devil yawned and stretched, and looked around him. God had finished half his field already! His chisel must be better than the scythe! And so the Devil rushed up to God and started to nag him to exchange tools. At first, God pretended to be very unwilling, but after a while, he let the Devil get his way.

After this, God finished his field in no time, and the Devil found the work harder than ever before, but there was nothing he could do about it now. Very soon after this, the people saw what God had, and after a bit of persuasion, God let them know the secret of scythes too.

And that goes to show how God made a fool of the Devil again, and why we often say “As silly as the Devil.."