Hope you had a wonderful Christmas!
This is one of my three drawings inspired in the lovely Scandinavian fairy tale The moon painter. It’s a beautiful story, very interesting also in the way it relates more to mythology than to fairy tales.
I might post the other two pictures in a near future (the original Sun and the other the original Moon, portrayed in that beautiful vision of the Kalevala of the Moon being made of gold and the Sun of silver), but I wanted this one to be my last post of the year.
The sun comforts the tainted moon
When the Lord God had created the whole world, He was not totally satisfied, for there was an insufficiency of light. In the daytime the sun pursued his course through the firmament, but when he sank at evening, when the evening glow faded into twilight, and all grew dark, thick darkness covered heaven and earth, until the morning redness took the dawn from the hand of the evening glow and heralded a new day. There was neither moonlight nor starlight, but darkness from sunset to sunrise.
The Creator soon saw that what was needed, and knew what He had to do. He called Ilmarine, the Smith-God, and said, ‘See to it that it should be light on earth by night as well as by day’. Ilmarine listened to the command, and went to his forge, where he had already forged the firmament. He threw in silver, and cast it into a large round ball. He covered it with thick gold, lighted a bright fire inside, and ordered it to proceed on its course across the sky. Then he forged innumerable stars, covered them thinly with gold, and fixed each in its place in the firmament.
Now began a new life for the earth. The sun had hardly set, and was borne away by the evening glow, when the golden moon arose from the borders of the sky, set out on his blue path, and illuminated the darkness of night just as the sun illumines the day. Around him twinkled the innumerable host of stars, and accompanied him like a king, until at length he reached the other side of the heavens. Then the stars retired to rest, the moon quitted the firmament, and the sun was conducted by the morning redness to his place, in order that he should give light to the world.
After this, ample light shone upon the earth from above both by day and by night; for the face of the moon was just as clear and bright as that of the sun, and his rays diffused equal warmth. But the sun often shone so fiercely by day that no one was able to work. Thus they preferred to work under the light of the nocturnal keeper of the heavens, and all men rejoiced in the gift of the moon.
But the Devil was very much annoyed at the moon, because he could not carry on his evil practices in his bright light. Whenever he went out in search of prey, he was recognised a long way off, and was driven back home in disgrace. Thus it came about that during all this time he only succeeded in bagging two souls.
So he sat still day and night pondering on what he could do to better his prospects. At last he summoned two of his companions, but they could not give him any good advice. So the three of them consulted together in care and trouble, but nothing feasible occurred to them. On the seventh day they had nothing left to eat, and they sat there p. 162 sighing, rubbing their empty stomachs, and racking their brains with thought. At last a lucky idea occurred to the Devil himself.
“Comrades,” he exclaimed, “I know what we can do. We must get rid of the moon, if we want to save ourselves. If there’s no moon in the sky, we shall be just as valiant heroes as before. We can carry out our great undertakings by the dim starlight.”
“Shall we pull down the moon from heaven?” asked his servants.
“No,” said the Devil, “he is fixed too tight, and we can’t get him down. We must do something more likely to succeed. The best we can do is to take tar and smear him with it till he’s black. He may then run about the sky as he pleases, but he can’t give us any more trouble. The victory then rests with us, and rich booty awaits us.”
The fiendish company approved of the plan of their chief, and were all anxious to get to work. But it was too late at the time, for the moon was just about to set, and the sun was rising. But they worked zealously at their preparations all day till late in the evening. The Devil went out and stole a barrel of tar, which he carried to his accomplices p. 163 in the wood. Meantime, they had been engaged in making a long ladder in seven pieces, each piece of which measured seven fathoms. Then they procured a great bucket, and made a mop of lime-tree bast, which they fastened to a long handle.
Then they waited for night, and as soon as the moon rose, the Devil took the ladder and the barrel on his shoulder and ordered his two servants to follow him with the bucket and the mop. When they reached a suitable spot, they filled the bucket with tar, threw a quantity of ashes into it, and dipped in the mop. Just at this moment the moon rose from behind the wood. They hastily raised the ladder, and the Devil put the bucket into the hand of one of his servants, and told him to make haste and climb up, while he stationed the other under the ladder.
Now the Devil and his servant were standing under the ladder to hold it, but the servant could not bear the weight, and it began to shake. The other servant who had climbed up missed his footing on a rung of the ladder, and fell with the bucket on the Devil’s neck. The Devil began to pant and shake himself like a bear, and swore frightfully. He paid no more attention to the ladder, and let it go, so it fell on the ground with a thundering crash, and broke into a thousand pieces.
When the Devil found that his work had prospered so ill, and that he had tarred himself all over instead of the moon, he grew mad with rage and fury. He washed and scoured and scraped himself, but the tar and soot stuck to him so tight that he keeps his black colour to the present day.
But although the first experiment had failed, the Devil would not give up his plan. Next day he stole seven more ladders, bound them firmly together, and carried them to the edge of the wood where the moon stands lowest. In the evening, when the moon rose, the Devil planted the ladder firmly on the ground, steadied it with both hands, and sent the other servant up to the moon, cautioning him to hold very tight and beware of slipping. The servant climbed up as quickly as possible with the bucket, and arrived safely at the last rung of the ladder. Just then the moon rose from behind the wood in regal splendour. Then the Devil lifted up the whole ladder, and carried it hastily to the moon. What a great piece of luck! It was really just so long that its end reached the moon.
Then the Devil’s servant set to work in earnest. But it’s not an easy task to stand on the top of such a ladder and to tar the moon’s face over with a mop. Besides, the moon didn’t stand still at one place, but went on his appointed course steadily. So the servant tied himself to the moon with a rope, and being thus secure from falling, he took the mop from the bucket, and began to blacken the moon first on the back. But the thick gilding of the pure moon would not suffer any stain. The servant painted and smeared, till the sweat ran from his forehead, until he succeeded at last, with much toil, in covering the back of the moon with tar. The Devil below gazed up at the work with his mouth open, and when he saw the work half finished he danced with joy, first on one foot, and then on the other.
When the servant had blackened the back of the moon, he worked himself round to the front with difficulty, so as to destroy the lustre of the guardian of the heavens on that side also. He stood there at last, panted a little, and thought, when he began, that he would find the front easier to manage than the other side. But no better plan occurred to him, and he had to work in the same way as before.
Just as he was beginning his work again, the Creator woke up from a little nap. He was astonished to see that the world had become half black, though there was not a cloud in the sky. But, when he looked more sharply into the cause of the darkness, he saw the Devil’s servant perched on the moon, and just dipping his mop into the bucket in order to make the front of the moon as black as the back. Meantime the Devil was capering for joy below the ladder, just like a he-goat.
“Those are the sort of tricks you are up to behind my back!” cried the Creator angrily. “Let the evil-doers receive the fitting reward of their offences. You are on the moon, and there you shall stay with your bucket forever, as a warning to all who would rob the earth of its light. My light must prevail over the darkness, and the darkness must flee before it. And though you should strive against it with all your strength, you would not be able to conquer the light. This shall be made manifest to all who gaze on the moon at night, when they see the black spoiler of the moon with his utensils.”
The Creator’s words were fulfilled. The Devil’s servant still stands in the moon to this day with his bucket of tar, and for this reason the moon does not shine so brightly as formerly. He often descends into the sea to bathe, and would like to cleanse himself from his stains, but they remain with him eternally. However bright and clear he shines; his light cannot dispel the shadows which he bears, nor pierce through the black covering on his back. When he sometimes turns his back to us, we see him only as a dull opaque creature, devoid of light and lustre. But he cannot bear to show us his dark side long. He soon turns his shining face to the earth again, and sheds down his bright silvery light from above; but the more he waxes, the more distinct becomes the form of his spoiler, and reminds us that light must always triumph over darkness.
Until next time,
Tale reproduced from Scandinavian Ghost Stories and Other Tales of the Supernatural, edited by Joanne Asala, 1995.