Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories | Annotated Tale

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Why does the little worm glow?

The Story of St. Peter and the Cuckoo.

THE tale of the glow-worm tells us that in olden times the people were better and the earth cleaner than to-day. It was on this account that God's saints used to walk about upon the earth. The saints and the apostles had also their establishments just as we have them now, house, table, cattle, children and everything that appertains to the house of man. The most important of the saints was St. Peter. He used to walk about with God more than any of the others, but, like every Rumanian, he also had his house and all that belongs to it, just as beseems one of God's saints. The tale from our forefathers tells us that, among other things, he also had a stable full of beautiful horses; black of skin like the raven's wing, and quick as the flame, they were eating up the clouds, so fleet were they. In those times, unfortunately, as in our times, besides saints, there were also wicked people, thieves and the like, for the devil has had and will always have his share in this world. But in those times there were only a very few thieves, and they were very much ashamed of their doings. They used to live in forests to which no one else went except evil spirits. To-day--for our sins--the thieves are so numerous that there is not a spot which is free of them. They rob you everywhere; in the very midst of the town and in the open light of day.

               In those days, there lived a great thief, whose name was Cuckoo. I do not know how it came to pass, but he heard of St. Peter's horses and made up his mind to steal them. One day St. Peter had gone on one of his usual journeys to a distant part of the country. Cuckoo, who had learned of it, came in the night and stole the horses and drove them into the forest. On the morrow, by a mere chance, St. Peter came home from his journey and asked about the horses. They were nowhere to be found. Do what he might, he could not find them; they were gone. But who had taken them, and whither had he gone with them? St. Peter asked God to give him some powerful dogs to go with him to the forest. God gave him the wolves, and from that time they have remained St. Peter's dogs.

               He went with them into the forest and searched high and low, but all in vain. All through the day they hunted, but could find no trace of the thief or of the horses. Night fell, and it was one of those dark nights in which you can put your finger into your eye and yet not see it. It was blacker and darker than the blackness and darkness of hell. St. Peter did not know which way to turn, and he asked God to perform some miracle for him to light up his way. God heard his prayer, and before one could wipe one's eyes the whole forest was full of glow-worms. St. Peter greatly rejoiced, and by the light of the glow-worms he searched the forest all the night through, but returned home with empty hands. Then St. Peter cursed the thief Cuckoo, that he should be changed into a black, ill-omened bird, and wherever he should find himself he was to call out his name. Since then the cuckoo became a black and accursed bird, and when it sings (calls) at the back of the house or in the courtyard it betokens death. It speaks nothing else, but calls its own name, Cuckoo. The cuckoo is frightened of the glow-worms, and, as soon as he sees them in the forest he stops calling, for he thinks St. Peter is looking out for him to catch him for stealing his horses. At the same time the glow-worms were blessed by St. Peter and made the guides of the wanderers through the forest. They come out about St. Peter's day. Then the cuckoo keeps silence.


In these glow-worm stories, much of the apocryphal literature concerning the fall of the angels has been preserved. It is not, however, the pride of Satan that causes his downfall, but it is the love of the earthly woman which causes the angel to fall. The story in this form is found in the Hebrew versions preserved in the Chronicles of Jerahmeel (my ed. London 1899, ch. xxv. p. 52 ff.), and in other kindred books, from which it has passed through the Greek into the Slavonic apocryphal literature. The contest between the devil and angels is, however, not unknown. It is referred to here rather humorously in the story of the little devil who wanted to steal slily into heaven in the rush and is detected by the wily Peter. It is also referred to in the Dragon-fly story, No. 14. Curiously enough, very little of it seems to have been preserved in Slavonic literature. In Albanian literature a faint trace is recorded by Hahn (ii. No. 107), where the connection with the Wolf story is entirely missing, and therefore inexplicable there. But the fragmentary Albanian tale is fully set out here in the Rumanian version about the creation of the wolf, Nos. 7, 8, 9.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Why does the little worm glow?
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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