To-day I went, yesterday I came; I found an egg among the tree-stumps; I knocked it against somebody’s head, and gave him a bald place, and he’s got it still.
I found a truly fascinating tale from Bohemia (Western Czech Republic) today. In my haste to add more content here, I clicked on the first interesting title I saw at the top of the page – and what a gem it is. Given that Jurjevo, the festival of St. George (Slavic May Eve), is but a week away, this story can teach us all something about the significance of the celebration and the deep place it held in spiritual lives of our ancestors. It can also provide us a clearer lens with which to view other folk tales – keeping an eye toward decolonization and reconstruction, so that we might write the “Eddas” of a new Slavic Polytheist cannon in our day.
The first thing you will notice when reading is there appear some christian motifs, though nothing related to Jesus or any of the apostles. Rather this seems to be a peasant’s fable that speaks to the function of the Slavic God Jarilo, or ‘Green George’, who like Jesus, was also a dying god. The narrative details his quest to court a princess, a personification of the Earth Goddess, who is “incapable of laughing”. In other words, she has yet to find a suitor to her liking. George is the son of a shepherd (think Veles) who bequeaths him a magic goat before the two part ways. The goat has the power to attract and bind anyone it’s owner desires. A universal symbol of masculine virility, it is clear that the goat represents young George’s sexual mystique.
While on this journey George meets three magical pals on the road; one has the power to leap a hundred miles, another has the power to see for a hundred miles, and yet another can project water for a hundred miles. A footnote at the end of the text suggests the Leaper is a metaphor for a rainbow, the Seer a metaphor for lightening, and the water worker a metaphor for a cloud. Together these three possess the powers of Perun – Jarilo’s long-lost biological father in Ivanov and Toporov’s reconstruction of the Slavic mythic cycle.
Next, George attracts three young maidens by means of his magic goat – Katye (Lada?), Dodla (Dodola?), and Manka (Makosh?) who are bound by its mesmerizing power. An innkeeper, a cow and a bull also get added to the troupe. Oddly enough, the three maidens play no further role in the plot development. They simply tag along for the journey to the princess’s castle. These women could represent several of the cyclical fertility goddesses, or could just as easily be personifications of the three fates (Sudice/Sudjenice).
Unlucky for George, the King is not too keen on giving up his daughter to a low born shepherd’s boy, no matter how much his goat makes her laugh. He puts George though a number of trials which he passes with the help of his trusty travel companions. Alas, he is asked to slay a pesky unicorn that has brought recurring trouble to the village, so he ventures to the forest to find it. When he does he orchestrates a ruse so that it’s horn gets stuck in a nearby tree, thereby affording him the opportunity to cut off its head. This calls to mind the ritual sacrifice of a horned animal that likely occurred on May Eve in honor of Jarilo, probably in a sacred grove somewhere deep in the forest. There an adolescent boy exhibiting certain strange behaviors would be chosen from the lot, given a crown of hazel and a mandate to lead the procession back to the village as an embodiment of the fertility god.
Feeling even more threatened, the King again refuses to give his daughters hand, so he resorts to more nefarious actions. George prevails yet again, this time having dismissed warnings that the King planned to “clear him out of the world” (think the cutting of the annual grain crop). George responds by saying, “Oh, I’m not afraid. When I was only just twelve years old, I killed twelve of them with one blow!” Note the numbers twelve and one here, and how this might relate to the thirteen lunations that happen in a lunar year. This may be a reference to the fact that most pagans celebrated the new year on the first full moon following winter solstice.
Finally our hero George gets his well earned wedding, yet still the King plots his murder – this time ordering his soldiers to shoot the shepherd’s son. But again, George escapes unscathed after he implores his pal to bring torrential rain down on the festivities. This represents the first rain of late summer where Perun defeats Veles, along with the forces of growth and drought. Being that Jarilo’s story is a paradox – he is immortal, yet nonetheless a ‘dying god’ – the storyteller offers this final detail,
“So, when they perceived that nothing else was to he done, they told him to go, for they would give him the damsel. Then they gave him a handsome royal robe, and the wedding took place. I, too, was at the wedding; they had music there, sang, ate, and drank; there was meat, there were cheesecakes, and baskets full of everything, and buckets full of strong waters. Today I went, yesterday I came; I found an egg among the tree-stumps; I knocked it against somebody’s head, and gave him a bald place, and he’s got it still.”
The last sentence is haunting in its implications. In saying ‘Today I went, yesterday I came’ the bard throws the passage of time on its head. The egg he finds amid the tree stumps is the seed that has fallen upon the sheared fields. He cracks it over the head of another and, in so doing, regenerates the grain crop and the entire mythic cycle, passing the spirit of the vegetation god onto another humble young man. In this way, we find that our storyteller is the shepherd – and you know who that is! So the story ends where it began as all things come full circle.
Read the George With The Goat at Sacred Texts.