The Story of the Sparrow and the Oak Tree

The people regard the sparrow as one of the greatest pests, for he eats up the seeds and the crops. The people believe that the sparrows reach an age of over nine hundred years, and they tell the following tale about it.

In a clearing of a huge oak forest, there grew up a tiny little tree. All the other trees looked upon it with pleasure, it was so green and so tender. Suddenly a sparrow flying over the trees came down and settled on that little sapling, which bent under the weight of the bird. Angrily, the little tree said to the sparrow, “It is a great shame that thou shouldst have come and settled on me, I who am so weak and tender and scarcely able to stand up, why didst thou not go and settle on one of those huge trees of which the forest is full.”

The sparrow, feeling ashamed and angered at the words of the little sapling, replied: “Very well, I am going, but when thou shalt be on thy death-bed I will come back, and thou wilt have to render me account for these offensive words which thou hast spoken to me.” And the sparrow went away.

Now it is known that an oak lives for nine hundred years: for three hundred years it grows in strength and might, the next three hundred it rests quiet, and during the last three hundred it slowly decays and dies. First the heart, that is, the core, dies, then the wood is slowly eaten away, the branches fall off, and at the end of nine hundred years the tree is changed into dust. And so it happened with that little sapling. It grew for three hundred years, it stopped still for the next three hundred years, and finally it decayed and died at the end of the last three hundred years. When the last day of the nine hundred years had come, and scarcely anything was left of the tree but dust, the sparrow came back, and rolling about in the dust it said: “Dost thou remember when thou wast a mere sapling, how thou didst insult me, thou didst believe thou wouldst grow on and live for ever? Dost thou see that my word has come true, thou proud tree of the forest, now thy head is lying low and thou hast been changed into dust, thou hast been humbled, whilst I am still living on in strength, and I am now as I have then been.” This longevity of the sparrow makes him the dread of the peasants and farmers, and among the means taken to save the crops from the inroads of this pest are magical practices and charms.

On the first day of Lent the man must collect all the crumbs and bones from his table after he has finished his meal, and, taking them out in the table-cover, he must strew them upon the field, and say, “O ye birds of heaven, here I have brought you of the food from my table, eat this, and do not touch the food from off the field.” Or, taking a handful of corn and standing with one foot on his field and with the other on the roadside, he must throw the corn on the road outside the field and to say, “O St. Mary, here I have brought food for the birds of heaven. Let them feed on this seed and not on the seed which I sow in my field.”

At the time when the sparrows begin to pick at the corn the youngest of the household must go to the field. He must take off all his garments, then, tying a kerchief over his eyes, he must hold in his hand a candle, which has been burning at the head of a corpse, and carrying also a tuft of hair cut off from the head of the dead, he is to walk with the lighted candle in his hand over the four sides of the field and say, “As I do not see now, and as the dead man does not see, so shall the birds not see this field with the corn growing in it. And the mind of the birds should be taken off from this field, as the mind of the dead is off it.” When he comes to the fourth corner of the field he must tie the hair of the dead round some of the ears of corn and say, “I do not tie up this crop, but I tie the mouth of the birds, that they may not be able to eat it, as the dead man is unable to eat it. And they shall not be able to see the corn, as the dead man does not see the world.”

Updated: November 24, 2013 — 3:50 pm

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