Picking Nara Pears and The Milk of Wild Beasts (Part III)

Despite the fact that the wonder tale The Milk of Wild Beasts is much more complicated and contains elements typical of the type of wonder tales about marriage tests, it was chosen on the basis that consideration of supernatural helpers appearing in these wonder tales will help shed light on the commonality of early representations of both peoples.

The wonder tale Picking Nara Pears begins as follows: the mother of three sons becomes ill and craving for pears, she sends her elder son to bring them. He goes to the mountains and meets an old woman sitting on a rock. She warns him that no one has yet managed to get these pears and come back alive. However, the young man shows the firmness of his intentions. Then, the old woman shows him the way. Soon the man comes to the pond, next to which grows a pear tree. As soon as he starts to pluck the fruits, a terrible snake appears from the depths and swallows him. The same think happens with the middle brother, who, following his elder brother, goes on a quest.[64]

To begin with, it is very interesting in the context of this study to consider the old woman who sits on a rock. In this case, it should be said about such a character of Japanese mythology as Yamauba (‘the mountain witch’). She watches the lost travellers and invites them to her house, supposedly in order to help. She feeds them, puts them to bed, and when they fall asleep, she attacks them. In most modern Japanese, the term Yamauba is really associated with a mountain witch who devours unsuspecting travellers. In this sense, Yamauba can be considered a Japanese ‘colleague’ of Baba Yaga.[65]

However, this character is very ambiguous. For example, there is a wonder tale describing how Yamauba descends from the mountains to the village and asks the living couples to give her a place for childbirth, where she gives birth to four sons named Haruyoshi (‘Good Spring’), Natsuyoshiko (‘Good Summer’), Akiyoshiko (‘Good Autumn’) and Fuyuyoshiko (‘Good Winter’). After that, she awards the couple with two magic boxes, one of which is filled with gold, the other with yarn. There is also an entry in the diary of Zuikei Shuho[66](1391-1473), who writes that ‘the reason why this summer we have heavy rainfalls is because Yamauba gave birth to four sons’.[67] Here, the reader can see that Yamauba, firstly, is connected with nature, as indicated by the names of her sons and the ability to influence the amount of rainfall, and secondly, it brings wealth to the peasants.

In addition, in the collection of short stories of Muromachi period in the story Blossoming Princess, Yamauba is represented as an elderly woman who was disliked by her own grandchildren and expelled from the house. Since she had nowhere to go, she began to live in the mountains.[68] In connection with this, it is worth mentioning the so-called custom of ‘ubasute’ (‘abandoning an old woman’), possibly existing in ancient Japan, when the conditions of life with a lack of food led to the habit of expelling the old people in the forest or mountains, to the mercy of fate.

According to Hori, the mountains are directly connected with the world of dead, the world where the ancestors live, which is confirmed by ethnographic research. During the Kofun period burial mounds were erected, as a rule, on natural hills, but sometimes the embankment of a large mound, mostly of the imperial mound, was produced on the plain. In the subsequent period of Japanese history, the Heian period, despite the fact that the construction of the mounds had ceased to figure in funeral rites, the mausoleum of the emperor was still called yama (mountain), and the officials responsible for erecting the mausoleum were ‘yama tsukuri no tsukasa’ (‘officials who erects the mountain’). The scholar also says that the idea of the mountains as a place of stay of the deceased is still preserved in rural areas, where the term ‘yama’ is often used in connection with funeral rites.[69] Thus, the reader can see that Yamauba has a certain connection with the world of death, nature, fertility and wealth.

Proceeding from all of the above, one can come to the conclusion that in Picking Nara Pears the old woman who sits on the rock and helps the heroes is none other than the deceased ancestor of the donor, and the mountains are her dwelling place, that is, the kingdom of the dead, in which allegedly departed the initiate during the initiation ceremony. According to Agranovich and Stefanskii, the initiate, who received the right to join human society at the end of the rite, had to prove that he really was a man, and therefore he had no instinct of self-preservation, unlike any animal that consciously would never have condemned itself to death.[70] In the wonder tale, the reader can see that the heroes are not at all alarmed by the warning of the old woman that, to go for pears, this is a sure death. On the contrary, they are full of enthusiasm and continue their journey. In the wonder tale, of course, a similar moment in the rite, when a person voluntarily goes to death, is no longer understandable. Therefore, the behaviour of the characters is motivated by the fact that at home they have an unhealthy mother.

According to Hardacre, such self-sacrifice is specific to the Japanese wonder tale, which is the product of the era in which the narrator lived, that is, in the cultural environment for which the influence of Confucian and Buddhist morals is characteristic. The latter, as is known, above all appreciates the respectful attitude of relatives to each other. [71]

Now, the wonder tale The Milk of Wild Beasts begins as follows. In a certain kingdom a king lives with his son and daughter. Ivan Tsarevich, having learned that the entire nation has died out in a neighbouring state, asks his father to bless him to go there. The father does not agree, and the hero decides to run away. Along with him goes his sister. After a while they come to the hut on the chicken legs, where they meet Baba Yaga. She feeds and put them to bed. In the morning Ivan receives a ball of threads, which help the characters to enter the kingdom where the people died out.[72]

In this wonder tale, as well as in the wonder tale Picking Nara Pears, there is clearly a connection with the initiation rite. First, the very place where the brother and sister go, speaks for itself. This is the state where all people died, that is, the realm of death. In addition, not everyone, but only an initiate, who is consciously sent to the other world, will go to such a state. Secondly, the rite of initiation was mandatory for every person who had reached a certain age, and the unwillingness to let a child to leave from home was a natural fear for his life, since it was believed that during initiation a person was put to death in the truest sense of the word. As can be seen from the text of the wonder tale, the father dissuades his son, but nothing can be done about his decision to go to a dead state. In addition, the reader can see that the heroes cannot just get to the state they need. First, they have to meet with Baba Yaga, which guards the entrance to the realm of the dead.

The fact that Baba Yaga in this text is the guardian of the entrance to the other world, comes from the very boundary location of the hut. Only through it the heroes finally get the opportunity to get to the dead state. It should also be noted that in the wonder tale Baba Yaga ‘lies; in one corner – the feet, in the other the head; lips on the lintel and the nose buried in the ceiling’; that is occupies the whole hut. Baba Yaga here resembles a corpse in a closed coffin; a dead person.[73] In addition, she feeds heroes, this is a typical trait of her, which is mentioned in most of the wonder tales. Moreover, while the hero will not be fed, Yaga often does not seek to help him. This is not just hospitality; food in the realm of the dead has special significance. In mythology, there is often a case when, after eating the food of the Underworld, the living can no longer leave the realm of the dead. So, for example, in the Japanese mythology, food of the Underworld, appears to be the same ‘point of no return’. In Nihongi, in the myth of the heavenly spouses Izanami and Izanagi, the following is said. When Izanami died, Izanagi went after her to the country of Yomi no kuni (‘the land of the dead’, ‘the country of darkness’). There ‘Izanami no Mikoto said: ‘My lord and husband, why is thy coming so late? I have already eaten of the cooking-furnance of Yomi’.[74] In addition, in one of the legends presented in the work of the expert on the culture of the Ainu people, Kubodera Itsuhiko, it is directly pointed out that if a person, after reaching the afterlife, eats food there, he will never be able to return to the world of the living (see Appendix 1). Obviously, having tried the food of the dead, the alien himself is attached to the world of the dead. Since the heroes of the wonder tale represent initiates in the initiation rite, they must prove that not only do they not feel disgust for this food, but they also have the right to it, and thus consciously go to the other world.[75]

Comparing Baba Yaga and Yamauba, the reader can see that both are guards on the border of two worlds and point the way to the realm of death.   Yamauba in this case simply gives advice, while Baba Yaga supplies Ivan with a magic tangle of threads.[76] The tangle of threads performs the same function as a guide to the afterlife, which is also a magical helper.

On the other hand, if the reader looks at the thread from the point of view of its symbolic meaning, he/she can understand why the tangle of threads has become a certain canon in the Russian wonder tales. It is believed that the magic thread is stretched between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The thread is a very ancient symbol of human destiny, known to many peoples, spun by a divine spinner. The Slavs had such a goddess-spinner, Mokosh, who besides this was associated with the world of darkness.[77] In one of the Slavic myths, Mokosh is the wife of the god of thunder and lightning Perun, who punishes her for treason, exiled from heaven to the underworld, into the chthonic waters.[78] Mokosh appears in the image of a woman who lives in a hut and spins at night.[79] It is likely that the complex image of Mokosh associated with the spinning of the thread of life, with the world of the dead and the hut, was reflected in the Baba Yaga, who is also a being of the afterlife, lives in the hut and gives the hero a magic tangle of threads.

Further in the wonder tale The Milk of Wild Beasts the following occurs. After the heroes began to live in a dead state, Zmei Gorynych[80], in the guise of a young man came to the sister of Ivan Tsarevich. They fall in love and decide to kill Ivan.[81]

Now, in the Japanese wonder tale Picking Nara Pears the following happens. Since neither the elder son nor the middle son returned home, the younger son’s turn comes to go to the mountains. There he meets the old woman who says the same things that she said to her brothers, but besides that she hands him a sword. The hero goes further and notices the pear tree and starts to tear the fruits. Suddenly, the snake leaps out of the water and tries to swallow the hero. However, the hero kills the snake with the sword, after which he cuts its belly and finds there his dead brothers. The hero washes them with water from the pond, and they come back to life.[82]

As can be seen from the plot events, in both texts there is a figure of a snake, whose intention is expressed quite clearly – it tries to swallow the hero. Here again it is necessary to mention what sense was given to the ritual absorption in the initiation rite. Ritual absorption symbolically placed the neophyte in the womb of the mother, where he returned to his original state, the state of the embryo. Then, coughed up by the absorber, he is born anew; as an adult possessing sacral knowledge, who has the right to join a tribal union.

In the wonder tale Picking Nara Pears, the reader can see that even before the hero comes, the serpent swallows his brothers, that is, his functions correspond to the functions of the absorber in the initiation rite. Essential is also the fact that the snake-absorber lives in the mountains. Here it seems necessary to consider such a unique mystical teaching as Shugendo, which was born in the Nara period. According to Hori, Shugendo was formed under the influence of ideas about the mountains, as a world of the dead or the world of shamans, which passed through a series of tests[83] to obtain supernatural forces and the possibility of contact with the deities.[84] The center of the activity of the followers of the Shugendo became mountains, the main one being Mount Gassan. For farmers living in the area, this mountain was a place of worship for agricultural deities and the spirits of ancestors. Special ceremonies of Shugendo were held depending on four seasons of the year: ‘fuyu no mine’ (‘Winter Peak’), ‘haru no mine’ (‘Spring Peak’), ‘natsu no mine’ (‘Summer Peak’), ‘aki no mine’ (‘Autumn Peak’). Of particular interest to the study are the rituals during the Autumn Peak, because they contain a rite of initiation for neophytes. The ceremony was conducted as follows. Neophytes in white robes made an ascent to the ‘Autumn Peak’, where they were led by an ascetic mentor, while white clothes symbolized the death state of the neophytes. Climbing to the top, they were in total solitude in the temple. The stay in the temple was accompanied by severe tests: the prohibition of food, speech, sleep. Such austerity continued for ten days.[85] Thus, it can be seen that the the essence of the initiation rite for beginners Shugendo, without any doubt, was symbolic death and the return of the neophyte to the womb of the mother. Here the reader has a vivid and extremely valuable example of a rite whose roots go directly to the ancient rite of initiation. Moreover, all the actions of the rite directly indicate that the neophytes are in a state of temporary death. However, it implies not only death, but also the beginning of a new life.

In the wonder tale, the reader can notice that the actions are also developing in the mountains. Heroes are absorbed by the serpent and remain in his stomach as dead. According to Propp, in ancient societies initiation rites were often held in special zoomorphic huts, the inner space of which was the stomach of a monster and was conceived as a mother’s womb.[86] Thus, the initiation rite for the neophytes of Shugendo is another confirmation that such ideas of death and rebirth by return to the embryonic state did indeed take place. The fact that such representations can be traced also to the example of Japanese ritual practice seems to be especially important in the context of this work. Now it is even more certain that heroes in the wonder tale pass through the initiation rite and stay in the stomach of the monster is equivalent to the state of death and simultaneously the state of the embryo in the womb of the mother.

Further in the text, the hero cuts the snake up and animates his brothers by washing them with water from red cups. Red is the colour of death and rebirth. In most peoples, it was associated with blood, the most important life-meaning value of which could not be known to early people. Numerous rituals associated with initiation and sacrifice serve as sufficient evidence. According to Croucher, red-coloured skeletons were found in many countries, including Japan in the Neolithic period. This is the earliest case in Japan of backfilling dead bodies with ochre. The scholar says that backfilling with ochre symbolized, as it were, the reality of the afterlife and the continued existence of the deceased ‘in flesh and blood’.[87] This is also indicated by the similar composition of the funerary inventory, suitable only for a living person. In addition to the magic cups, there is the animating force of water in the wonder tale, and the action of the wonder tale takes place next to the water source.

The mountains in Japan are a natural reservoir and a source of water flows. Since the mountains were endowed with a special sacral meaning, the same sacral meaning was given to the water flows flowing from the mountains. According to Hori, these sacred waters were usually called ‘harae-gawa’ (‘rivers for purification) or ‘mitarashi-gawa’ (‘rivers of divine girdle’). The river streams encircling the sacred mountains were perceived as the boundary between the earthly and sacred world. Therefore, those wishing to possess a magical power or to communicate with the mountain gods had to go through the initiation in the sacred waters.[88] The rite of the initiation of Shugendo ended with a purification ritual. After that, the neophytes made a loud scream, which symbolized the first cry of a child at birth. At the end of the ritual, it was believed that they were reborn into new initiates of the Shugendo doctrine, they were given new names and secret knowledge was communicated.[89]

In the wonder tale, the reader can see that the brothers of the hero come to life only after he washed their dead bodies with water. Obviously, water plays the same role here as in the Shugendo rite. It must be said that the purifying rituals associated with water are a distinctive feature of Japanese ritual practice. Since the idea of death is inseparable from the concept of filth in the Japanese consciousness, water is called upon to purify a person from everything connected with death. This is confirmed by the myth about Izanagi and Izanami, in which Izanagi goes after his deceased spouse to the land of darkness:

Izanagi no Mikoto […] looked at her. Putrefying matter had gushed up, and maggots swarmed […] Izanagi no Mikoto was greatly shocked, and said: ‘Nay! I have come unawares to a hideous and polluted land.’ So he speedily ran away back.[90]

Returning from the country of darkness, Izanagi says ‘Having gone to Nay! A hideous and filthy place, it is meet that I should cleanse my body from its pollutions’.[91] After that he bathes in the waters. Izanagi, thus, is born again, leaving the world of the dead, and through cleansing completely separates himself from the other world. All this once again confirms that the speech in the wonder tale is about death and rebirth in a new capacity, which ultimately goes back to the initiation rite.

If in the wonder tale Picking Nara Pears, there is an absorption of characters by a snake, then in the wonder tale The Milk of Wild Beasts, such absorption does not occur. The snake only threatens to swallow the hero, but does not have time to do it – the magical helpers of the hero kill it. In addition, in the case of the Japanese wonder tale, absorption is indirect, since the snake swallows the eldest and the middle son, and not the protagonist who fights with it.

In literature, it is often suggested that the motif of fighting with snakes is very ancient and that it reflects old ideas. According to Propp, this statement is completely erroneous; the motif of fighting with snakes arose as a change in the motif of absorption that had existed before it and was layered on it.[92] As it was already established, the rituals associated with absorption were included in the initiation system, and the absorber was not originally conceived as a creature that only brings harm. On the contrary, the absorption and mystical death of the neophytes did not carry a negative charge. The death of a neophyte meant his return to an embryonic state. This is not a repetition of maternal pregnancy and carnal birth, but a temporary return to the cosmic world, followed by a rebirth. According to Eliade, the need for periodic repetition of cosmic events is a characteristic feature of ancient, early thinking. In addition, being in a state of temporary death, being among the ancestors, enriches the neophyte with new knowledge. Thus, during the rite of initiation of the neophyte, myths of the tribe, representing ‘knowledge’ of a special kind, were reported. Speech in this case is not about external, abstract knowledge, but about knowledge that is ‘experienced’ ritually along with the reproduction of the myth during the ritual. Therefore, such knowledge was associated with the acquisition of magical power. For example, knowledge of the origin of an animal or plant, reported in the myth, meant the acquisition of a magical power over them, allowing the man to dominate and, at his own desire, to control their reproduction.[93] The neophyte also learned the rules of behaviour in society, production techniques and organization of public life. Also, what is especially important, during the initiation, he was attached to the totem ancestor-patron and thus received the opportunity to enter the totemic genus. Thus, initiation introduced the neophyte simultaneously into the human family and the world of spiritual values. Only after that he was recognized as a full member of the tribal alliance.

According to Propp, with the development of human society, the ritual decays and dies, as absorption and expectoration no longer correspond to either the forms of social life or the ideology of peoples.[94] However, in wonder tales, this rite is preserved in some forms or another.

If one talks directly about the absorption of the serpent in wonder tales, then in Picking Nara Pears he/she encounters both the process of decomposition of the rite and its complete withering away. The decomposition of the rite in this text is represented as the absorption of secondary characters – the brothers of the protagonist. The narrator at the same time does not know why the characters must necessarily die (be swallowed) and motivates it by the fact that they need to get pears for the unhealthy mother.  The swallowed characters are no longer coughed up, they are forcibly removed from the stomach of the serpent, and then the hero himself revives them. Exhortation, thus, is rationalized and took the form of liberation, and the fact that the liberated are then animated proves that the wonder tale presents a typical form of temporary death in the initiation rite. The main hero in the text is not swallowed up, because the shift that occurs in the social life of the people in the process of historical development, turns into a wonder tale, and the center of gravity shifts to the personality of the hero himself. To a person who is at a higher stage of development, there is no need to prove that he is a person, society accepts him on the fact of birth, religion gives him the necessary protection, and the myth ceases to be taboo and becomes public.

With the withering away of the rite, the absorber that brings death is now seen as an enemy, with which it is necessary to fight. Propp states thay if in the past the hero was the one who was swallowed and couched up, because with the existence of the rite, this was tantamount to obtaining magical weapons, now the hero is the one who could kill the absorber.[95] With the complete disappearance of the rite, both the swallowing and the expectoration disappear in the wonder tale, and the fight with a snake appears in its typical forms. Therefore, in the wonder tale The Milk of Wild Beasts there is already neither one nor the other. In the wonder tales there is only a clear intention of monsters to swallow the heroes. Thus, it can be said that in the motif of the fight with a snake, there is no massacre with a monstrous absorber, but the victory of new ideas over old ones that have become obsolete.

It should also be noted that in the Russian wonder tale The Milk of Wild Beasts, the reader can find a connection between the snake and the rituals, designed to affect fertility. After the hero wins the snake, he collects its remains, burns them and scatters the ash over a field.[96] This, according to Propp, resembles the rituals performed during Maslenitsa, when a straw doll was made, which was then rattled and torn, and its parts burned at the stake. Then, the ash was scattered over all adjacent crops. Obviously, spreading of the ash over the crops should have provided them with a successful growth.[97] In the wonder tale the reader notices that the hero is doing with the snake the same thing as with the doll during Maslenitsa.

The connection of the Russian wonder tale The Milk of Wild Beasts with agrarian rites is also traced in the further development of the plot. After the victory over the snake, the hero goes to another kingdom. There he learns that the kingdom is split in two parts and that each part takes turns to feed the twelve-headed snake that has lodged on the lake and eats people every night. He sees that half of the people are having fun and singing songs, and the other is in a flood of tears. The hero also discovers that during that night, the princess is going to be sacrificed to the serpent. However, when the serpent is about to eat the princess Ivan kills it.[98]

In this passage one can find a certain similarity to the holiday of Kostroma, which was often performed on public holidays on the Rusalii week or Kupala Night. Kostroma was embodied in the form of a doll, or the role could be played by a girl. According to Propp, in the Penza and Simbirsk provinces, the girls selected from their environment one, called Kostroma, and carried to a river or pond. This procession was usually accompanied by lamentations and laughter. The participants were divided into two parties, one of them lamented and the other laughed.[99] This holiday is clearly a cult of water, which is associated with the sacrifice of water in the form of female dolls, a cult of vegetation and fertility. Herewith, the farcical imitation of a funeral procession in which some lament, the others cry and laugh at the same time is very revealing.

Propp states that in the emergence of agriculture, concepts of the vital force of laughter were transferred to the field of agrarian cults. The power of laughter was supposed to provide fertile power to the earth. Laughter during the fertility rites influenced nature not directly, but through the resurrection of the mortified anthropomorphic personifications of the feast, which allegedly created their own harvest by their death and their resurrection. Therefore, lamentation during the ritual showed that the creature died and laughter, provided the killed creature with a new life and a new incarnation in the grains.[100] Thus, it is impossible not to notice that in the wonder tale there is practically the same thing as in the ritual of Kupala Night.

First, these rites were conducted mainly in the evening or at night. In the wonder tale it is clearly stated that the serpent appears at night. Secondly, the holiday of Ivan Kupala was accompanied by the sinking of an anthropomorphic being, the personification of the feast, which was conceived as a sacrifice to water. In the wonder tale, the reader can see that the girl is given to be eaten by the serpent, which lives in the lake, that is, has a water nature, in fact, it is the embodiment of water. Thirdly, the killing of an anthropomorphic creature took the form of a funeral, during which some lamented, while others laughed and danced. In the wonder tale it immediately catches the eye that one half of the people are having fun and singing songs, and the other is flooded with tears. This strange behaviour is explained by the fact that there is supposedly a certain order for eating by the serpent, and those who fed the monster are happy, while others are crying. The narrator no longer understands why it is necessary to cry and laugh and come up with his own motivations.

In addition, in the wonder tale The Milk of Wild Beasts there is a motif for sacrificing an innocent girl to the water snake. This motif is the oldest. This is evident from its prevalence, in particular, it is also present in the Japanese myth about the god Susanoo and his victory over Yamata no Orochi[101]: when Susanoo descends from the sky to the country of Izumo, he sees an elderly couple crying at the headwaters of the river, and between them a girl is sitting. Susanoo finds out that before him are the gods of this country, and that before, they had eight daughters, but they were all devoured by the Serpent. There is only one daughter left, Kushi Inada Hime and the Serpent is going to devour her.[102] Susanoo promised to kill the serpent, and when it appeared: ‘he drew the ten-span sword which he wore, and chopped the serpent into small pieces’.[103]

In this regard, it should be noted that according to Norishiro Kanda, the serpent in Japan has always been worshipped both as deity of water and as the deity of agriculture, since the management of agricultural economy could not do without water.[104] Proceeding from this, it is especially interesting to note the following. At the festival of Amaya, which is held in the territory of the Sanctuary of Kamo, the central event is the famous miare rite, during which the deity in the image of the serpent and the chosen girl allegedly enter into sexual intercourse and then simulate childbirth. The scholar affirms that the word ‘miare’ represents the Great Birth, and the chosen girl is called ‘are otome’, literally ‘a woman in labor’, which indicated that the chosen girl performs the part of the woman in labor. Pregnancy and childbirth from the connection with the serpent deity are a condition for abundant harvest.[105] In addition, in various places on the coast of the Sea of Japan, a fertility rite was conducted, connected with the deity of fields, which was thought of as a giant snake. In the course of the action, a ritual marriage of a serpent with a virgin, which in the rite was called Inazuru hime, was concluded. Ina in the name of Inazuru hime means ‘rice’. In this vein, it is necessary to look again at the myth of the Yamata no Orochi. The girl that Yamata no Orochi should eat is called Kushi Inada Hime which translates according to Aston as ‘the Wondrous Princess of the Rice Fields’.[106] In addition, this girl is one of eight sisters, which indicates a connection with the so-called ‘yaotome’ (a group of eight miko shamans), who in ancient times often participated in rituals. Therefore, it would be appropriate to assume that Kushi Inada Hime was a sacred girl dedicated to the deity.[107]

Thus, the relationship between Yamata no Orochi and Kushi Ianada Hime is nothing more than the myth of the god of water, who came to people to join the goddess of fields and rice in a sacred marriage, contributing to an abundant harvest. Also, the myth about the victory of Susanoo over Yamata no Orochi appeared as a result of people stopping to revere the serpent as a deity of water and agriculture, and took the form of the struggle of a stronger god with a malicious deity-serpent.[108]

Such a process of rethinking is well illustrated by the Japanese legends about Mount Miwa. The ‘legend A’ tells about the marriage between the serpent deity and the girl, the ‘legend B’ tells how the serpent, having adopted the human form, deceived the girl into entering into a relationship with him, and when it was exposed, it killed her, dragging her under the water. In ‘legend C’, a girl and a serpent enter into a relationship by mutual consent, but, in the end, it is not only denounced, but also killed. Obviously, all these legends tell of a ritual marriage between a deity and a girl, but when the belief in the serpent deity was exhausted, the meaning of the sacred marriage became incomprehensible, and the story of the sexual relationship between the ordinary snake and the woman could only be perceived as strange and unpleasant. In order to get rid of this, the narrator had no choice but to add to the narrative an element in which the evil snake deceives the girl. Moreover, since the snake was originally worshipped as the deity of water, the natural result was that the moment the narrative in which the snake gets a girl was interpreted as when ‘it drags the girl into the water’. The chosenness of the girl remained, as the central moment of the narrative, but the girl herself became a victim for the serpent.[109] The same thing happened with the myth of Yamata no Orochi.

It is also interesting to note the fact that in Slavic mythology the god Volos, who is connected with the fruit-bearing function, with cattle breeding and farming, is also connected with water, since it has a ‘snake’ nature. Thus, in the miniature of the Radziwiłł Chronicle in the depiction of the oath of Prince Oleg, Volos is represented by a snake at his feet.[110] In addition, there is a myth about the quarrel of Volos with the god Perun, in which the god of storm Perun pursues his serpentine enemy. The reason for their strife is the abduction by Volos of livestock, people, and in some cases the wife of the Perun. The duel ends with Perun’s victory over Volos, as a result of which the rain begins, bringing fertility.[111]

Thus, the motif of fighting with a snake in wonder tales appears from the opposition to rituals that were once considered sacred and significant, but due to changes in society, they turned into scary and condemned. In Picking Nara Pears, of course, there is no girl who would play the role of a snake’s victim, but its functions as an absorber are still present, and since with the withering away of the rite, absorption has ceased to be perceived as something necessary and bringing good, with a serpent fighting in a wonder tale.

After the victory over the serpent, Ivan Tsarevich cuts out the tongues of all twelve snake heads and presents them as evidence that he is the deliverer of the princess, to which he then marries.[112] The hero, marries only after numerous trials, and the serpent tongues, in this case, play the role of a stigma applied after the initiation rite. The wonder tale Picking Nara Pears also ends with a safe return home and corresponds to the three-stagestructure of the initiation rite. Heroes leave the house, are in a state of temporary death and return back.

A brief retrospective review allows the reader to arrive at the conclusion that Russian and Japanese wonder tales of this type are undoubtedly similar, since they go back to the initiation rite. They are a reflection of the three-part structure of this rite, and individual motifs leave no doubt that the heroes of wonder tales are in a state of temporary death, corresponding to the imitation of death in the initiation rite. In addition, the motif for obtaining magical objects and helpers, in wonder tales of both peoples, goes back to the idea of a totem ancestor-patron, which again indicates that the heroes of wonder tales are being initiated.

A certain similarity is achieved through the presence of agrarian and magical rituals, which are reflected in wonder tales. For example, the same animals in wonder tales of different peoples are endowed with a force capable of influencing the fruitful power of nature. The main difference is in particular the Japanese perception of death, which is inseparable from the concept of filth. This view was reflected in the plot of Picking Nara Pears, in which ritual purification is performed with the purpose of final revival.


[64] Picking Nara Pears. [online] Available at: http://hukumusume.com/douwa/pc/jap/08/31.html

[65] Reider, N. (2005). Yamauba: Representations of The Japanese Mountain Witch In The Muromachi and Edo Periods. International Journal of Asian Studies, 2(02). p. 239.

[66] Zen monk, poet and traveller.

[67] Reider (2005), pp.241-242.

[68] Ibid., p. 243.

[69] Hori, I. (1968). Folk Religion in Japan: Continuity and Change. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press. pp. 152-153.

[70] Agranovich, S.Z. and Stefanskii, ‎E.‎E. (2003). Mif v slove: Prodolzhenie zhizni (Ocherki po mifolingvistike). Samara: Izd. Samarskoi gumanitarnoi akademii. pp. 34-48.

[71] Hardacre, H. (2014). Lay Buddhism in Contemporary Japan. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 80.

[72] Afanasʹev (1984), Volume 2, pp. 82-83.

[73] Propp (1998), p. 163.

[74] Aston (1896), p. 24.

[75] Ibid., p. 161.

[76] Afanasʹev (1984), Volume 2, p.83.

[77] Monaghan, P. (2014). Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. California: New World Library. p. 305.

[78] Taylor, B. (2008). The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Nature. London: A&C Black. p. 1558.

[79] Larrington, C. (1992). The Feminist Companion to Mythology. London: Pandora. p. 103.

[80] Three-headed green snake/dragon.

[81] Afanasʹev (1984), Volume 2, p.85.

[82] Hukumusume.com.

[83] Hori (1968), pp. 177-178.

[84] Ibid., p. 155.

[85] Hori (1968), pp. 170-174.

[86] Propp (2013), p. 47.

[87] Croucher, K. (2012). Death and Dying in the Neolithic Near East. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 246.

[88] Hori (1968), pp. 164-166.

[89] Ibid., p. 174.

[90] Aston (1896), p. 25.

[91] Ibid., p. 26.

[92] Propp (1998), pp. 306-307.

[93] Eliade, M. (2001). Aspekty Mifa. Moskva: Akademicheskii proekt. pp. 42-46.

[94] Propp (1998), pp. 317.

[95] Ibid., p. 319.

[96] Afanasʹev (1984), Volume 2, p. 85.

[97] Propp (1995), pp. 84-87.

[98] Afanasʹev (1984), Volume 2, pp. 85-86.

[99] Propp (1995), pp. 99-104.

[100] Ibid., pp. 121-123.

[101] Eight-headed eight-tailed serpent.

[102] Aston (1896), p. 52.

[103] Ibid., p. 53

[104] Kanda, N. (1988). Kodai Izumo to Shisha no Sekai: Shinwa ni Miru Izumo-zō no Kyojitsu. Tokyo: Tairiku Shobō. p.105.

[105] Ibid., p. 109.

[106] Aston (1896), p. 53.

[107] Kanda (1988), p. 112.

Ibid., pp. 113-114.

[109] Ibid., p. 107-110.

[110] Lichačëv, D. S. (2014). The Poetics of Early Russian Literature. Lanham: Lexington Books. pp. 49-50.

[111] Kropej, M. (2012). Supernatural Beings From Slovenian Myth and Folktales. Ljubljana: Založba ZRC. p. 34.

[112] Afanasʹev (1984), Volume 2, pp. 86-87.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s