November 25, 2008

Ever since I first encountered the opera Tannhäuser I have been familiar with the type of folktales which tell of such extraordinary sin that no human being believes redemption possible: yet God's grace is great enough to encompass even this. However, the variant that follows below was new to me. Have the times really changed? - T

Once there was a pastor's wife who was afraid to have children. Other women are concerned when they have no children, but she was constantly afraid that she could have children.

One day she went to a wise woman, a wicked witch, and asked her what to do to avoid having children. The wise woman gave her seven stones and told her if she would throw them into the well she would be spared from having children.

The pastor's wife threw the stones into the well. As each stone splashed below, she thought that she heard the cry of a child, but still she felt a great sense of relief.

Some time later the pastor and his were walking across the churchyard by the light of a full moon, when the pastor suddenly noticed that his wife did not have a shadow. This frightened him, and he asked her for an explanation, stating that she must have committed a dreadful sin, a sin that she would have to confess to him.

He continued to press her for a confession, until finally she admitted what she had done. Upon hearing her story, he angrily proclaimed, "Cursed woman! Flowers will grow from our slate roof before God forgives you of this sinful deed!" With that he sent her away, telling her to never again step across his threshold.

One night, many years later, a wretched and tattered beggar woman approached the parsonage and asked for shelter. The housekeeper gave the poor woman a bit to eat and made a bed for her next to the kitchen stove.

The next morning the pastor found the beggar woman dead on the kitchen floor. In spite of her rags, he recognized her immediately as the woman he had cursed and disowned. As he stood there contemplating her lifeless, but serene face, his housekeeper burst into the room. "Pastor!" she exclaimed. "Come outside! A miracle has happened during the night!" The pastor followed her outside and saw that his slate roof was covered with blossoming flowers.

- From Folktales of Forgiveness and Redemption


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