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Why is the bee black, and why is it making honey? How did the bee outwit the devil?


IN THE beginning only water and God and the devil existed. These two were all the time moving about upon the surface of the waters. After some time God, feeling rather tired of this flitting about without rest or peace, said to the devil, "Go down to the bottom of the sea and bring up in my name a handful of the seed of the earth." The devil did as he was told, but whilst he was plunging in the depths he said to himself, "Why shall I bring up the seed in his name? I will take it in my own." And so he did. When he came up God asked him, "Hast thou brought the seed?" The devil replied, "Yes, here it is." But when he opened his hand to show the seed to God, lo, it was quite empty. The water had wasted the seed away.

               Then God told him to plunge again and bring up the seed of the earth in his name. The devil, however, again took the seed from the bottom of the sea in his own name, and when he opened his hand to give the seed to God the waters had again washed his hand clean. For a third time God sent him down to the bottom of the sea to bring up seed. This time the devil bethought himself, and instead of taking the seed in his own name as he had determined, now took it in God's name and in his own. He would not do it in God's name alone. When he came up the waters had this time also washed everything away that he had taken in his hand. Only a few grains, however, remained under the nails of his fingers. God asked him whether he had brought the seed up, and he replied "To be sure." But when he opened his hand it was again empty. Still, there were the few grains which had stuck under the nails. God greatly rejoiced at these few, which he carefully scraped out from under the nails, and made of them a small cake which he put upon the water, where it floated, and God sat upon it to rest. Being now very tired, God fell asleep on that little cake of earth. When the devil saw God fast asleep, what did the unclean one think? "What a lucky thing that is for me," he said to himself, "I can now drown him." And so he tried to turn the cake over, so that God should fall into the water. But what happened? In whatever direction God rolled, the cake of earth expanded and stretched under him. He first rolled him towards the east, and the earth grew under God. The devil then tried to upset the cake towards the west, and again the earth stretched under God. Now, said the devil, "Now there is also room for me to rest," and he sat down on the opposite side where the earth had grown bigger. There again he endeavoured with all his weight to press down the earth, so as to make the earth turn turtle, once towards the north, once towards the south; and God rolled towards them and the earth grew in all directions.

               Now by this continual rolling the earth grew so big that it became wider and larger than the waters. When God awoke and saw what the devil had done he did not know what to do with this huge earth, which had become far too big. The devil, seeing what he had done, and being afraid of God's wrath, ran away and hid himself in one of the clefts of the earth. God then decided to ask the devil what he was to do with this earth, which had become so big.

               Now, of all the beasts and creatures which God had made, none was more pleasing in his sight than the bee, which was then playing in Paradise.

               The bee was white, and not black as she is now, and I will tell you presently how it came about that she changed her colour.

               God sent the bee to ask the devil what he was to do and what good advice he could give him. The bee, at once, went as she was commanded, and came to the place where the devil lived.

               "Good morning, uncle," said the bee.

               "Good morning, sister," said the devil. "What has brought thee to me?"

               "Well, you see, God has sent me to ask what he was to do with this huge earth."

               But the devil grumpily and sneeringly replied, "If he is God he ought to know better than to ask a poor devil for advice. I am not going to tell him. Let him find it out for himself."

               The bee, who was a clever little thing--it was not for nothing that God's choice had fallen upon her--pretended to fly away. But she soon crept back quite stealthily and settled noiselessly on the upper beam of the door. She knew that the devil cannot keep any secrets, and he would surely speak out. So, indeed, it happened. No sooner did he believe himself alone, than he started muttering to himself, chuckling all the time.

               "A clever man that God really is. He asks me what to do. Why does he not think of mountains and valleys?" You must know that the earth when first made was quite flat, like a pancake.

               "Let him take the earth in his arms and squeeze it a bit, and it will fit all right."

               The bee overheard what he said, for he spoke loud enough, and rejoicing that she had got the answer, spread out her wings and started flying away. The buzzing of her wings betrayed her, and the devil, hearing the noise, rushed out of his cave with his whip in his hand and said: "O you thief! So that is the way you have cheated me. Mayst thou feed on what comes out of thy body." And he struck the bee with his whip.

               This changed her white colour into black. Moreover, he hit her so badly that he nearly cut her in two. That is why the bee has such a narrow waist, that she looks as if she were cut in two and barely hanging together by a thread.

               Limping and sore, the bee came back to God and told him what she had overheard from the devil. God was greatly pleased and, squeezing the earth in his arms, he made mountains and valleys, and the earth grew smaller.

               Then turning to the bee he said, "Out of thy body henceforth shall come only honey to sweeten the life of man and he shall bless thee for that gift; also shalt thou bring forth wax for candles on the altar."

               And God went on to ask the bee what reward she would claim for the errand which she had so well fulfilled. The bee, impudent and greedy, replied: "Why should man share in my gift and have my honey? Give me the power to kill with my sting."

               And God was angry at the impudence of the bee, and replied: "All the honey shall be thine alone, if thou art able to make a gallon of it during the summer: if not, man may share it with thee. And because thou hast asked for the power of killing with thy sting, meaning to kill man by it, thine own death shall be by thy sting."

               This is the reason why the bees work so industriously and indefatigably during the summer. Each hopes to make a gallon of honey, but they can never succeed. And this, too, is the reason why the bee dies when it stings anyone.

               There is another variant of the cosmogonic part.

               The place of the devil is taken by the mole [1] whom the Rumanians believe to be a very deep fellow.


               The story then runs as follows:

               When God had made the heavens there was as yet no earth. So God took a ball of string and measured the span of heaven. Then he called the mole and told him to keep the ball whilst he was busy making the earth, according to the measure which he had taken. But whilst God went on measuring by the string which he had rolled off the ball, the mole very slyly let the ball roll on whilst God was tugging at the string. And so it came to pass that the earth made thus by God was larger than the span of heaven, and could not be got under it.

               The mole, seeing what he had done, went away and hid himself in his earth. Hither the bee was sent to get the secret from him how the earth could be made smaller.

               The story then runs on like the one just told, without the explanation of the dark colour and of the narrow waist. Nor is any reference made in that version to the sting and the gallon of honey.

               The dualistic conception of the creation of the world is here clearly set out. The people believe in it. In the formation of the earth the devil has his full, nay an equal share, though he always is fooled in the end and is cheated even by a little bee.

               To this creation story a few variants can be found among the Bulgarians and Letts, but they are neither so full nor so complete as the Rumanian version.

               They are given by Dähnhardt, Natursagen, i. pp. 127-128 (Leipzig and Berlin 1907). The first part of the story of the devil being sent down to bring up seed from the bottom, and only that part, is found among the Gipsy tales from Transylvania, published by Wlislocki, Zigeuner-märchen aus Transylvania, p. 1, No. 1.

               Among the Russians, Ralston gives a short variant in which only God and the devil are mentioned, nothing of the bee, and even the first part is extremely short. (Russian Folk Tales, p. 329, London 1873.)

               The existence of hills is accounted for by legendary lore in this wise. When the Lord was about to fashion the face of the earth he ordered the devil to dive into the watery depths and bring thence a handful of the soil he found at the bottom. The devil obeyed, but when he filled his hand he filled his mouth also. The Lord took the soil, sprinkled it around, and the earth appeared, all perfectly flat. The devil, whose mouth was quite full, looked on for some time in silence. At last he tried to speak, but choked, and fled in terror. After him followed the thunder and lightning, and so he rushed over the whole face of the earth, hills springing up where he coughed, and sky-cleaving mountains where he leaped.




[1] The Rumanian word used here is “ariciu,” literally hedgehog, but no doubt the mole who burrows under the ground is meant. It is for this reason that I have substituted mole for hedgehog. In the Bulgarian legend it is the hedgehog, where probably the two animals are also confused with one another.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Why is the bee black, and why is it making honey? How did the bee outwit the devil?
Tale Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Book Title: Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories
Book Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1915
Country of Origin: Romania
Classification: unclassified

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