Folkloristic News and Traditional Festivities

in antiquity Abruzzo was famed for its witches, wizards and snake-charmers, members of a tribe called the Marsi. Even today snakes feature in a bizarre religious festival in the mountain village of Cocullo : on the first Thursday in May its inhabitants celebrate the feast of S. Domenico: a statue of the saint is draped with jewels and banknotes and festooned with live snakes . It’s borne in procession through the village accompanied by villagers also bedecked with wriggling reptiles (Processione dei Serpari ). Festival Guide

The Demons of Majella from the Vastese area

On top of Majella were gathered a crowd of devils, so many you couldn't count them. They all had shovels, and were shovelling up the snow and rolling it down the slope, while the wind was whistling shrill. The wind carried the snow though the the air, and formed hail, which fell on the fields like waves of the sea. The devils gave themselves no end of trouble over it, saying, `Haste! Let us make haste, for if once the "ciucculalle" begin we'll get nothing done.'
"A good man was passing by, and he heard this saying of the devils. So he said to them, `What are the ciucculalle?' The devils shouldn't have explained the word, but all the same they did, and said, `The ciucculalle are the bells.' So you see that, though devils have their vices, thay are not so sly after all!

"The good man hearing this, set off running to the village, while the hail was battering down worse and worse every minute, and once at the church he seized the rope of the bell and rung it like mad. At the sound of the bell the people knelt down and prayed, and the candles were lit for the feast of the Purification, and the chains of the chimneys were thrown out on the roads. Little by little the hail withdrew towards Majella, and the devils went back to hell."



There was once a village called Misery. In the wretchedest household there a son was born. Said the wife to the husband, `What name shall we give him?' And he answered, `Misery.'
" When Misery had grown to be a young man, he set off to beg his bread. Folks said to him, `Why don't you work? At least you could go as a servant.' `I'd do so willingly,' replied Misery, `if I could find a just master.' Oh, come, come!' they said. `Is that so very difficult?' `Yes,' he answered. `I don't believe there is one anywhere. Tell me, what master is there who shares his wealth with the poor?'

"One day he met a prince, who said to him,` I never saw any one so young and so wretched. Why, if you can't do anything else, don't you find a master?' `Because no master is just.' `Will you come with me?' `No; you are a prince.' `Well what of that?' `Because you are a prince, and I am a poor man, and we should not be equal.'

"Begging his way from place to place, Misery reached Rome. There the Pope said to him, `will you come into my service?' `No; because you are not just.' `What! I not just?' `No you are the head of the priests, and you say you are just.'

"So off he set once more; and he met One who called him by his name, and who said to him,`Will you come into my sevice?' `And how do you know about me?' asked Misery. `I know all things. I am the Eternal Father.' `Then you are the most unjust of all masters.'`What! I unjust!...' `Yes, because you do not make all men equal.' The Eternal Father went back to Heaven, and straightway ordered Death to go forth and meet Misery.

"Death went, and said to Misery,`Is it true that you are looking for a master?' `Yes.' `Will you come with me?' `And who are you?' `I am Death.' `Ah-h-h-h!... Yes, with you I will go, for you alone are just, and treat all men alike. But you'll have to give me good wages, you know.' `As for pay, be easy on that point. You'll come with me to the sick folks. If you see me at the head of the bed, it means the sick man will die; if at the foot, he'll get better.'

"So Misery began to play the doctor; and he never made one mistake. Did he see Death at the head, he ordered the sacrements; at the foot, he ordered cold water; and he won much fame and lots of money. One day, Death said to him, `Now let's go to your country.' `No, no; there's too much misery there.' `And what does that matter?' asked Death. `Well,well,' said the other, `we'll go if you like; but we shan't do good business there. Where there's little to eat, and less to drink, there's a health ----!...'

"So it turned out; and they left again ere long. On the way said Misery to Death, `Where are we going now?' `To my home.' After three days journey they came to a big house. There was a great hall in it full of crosses, some big, some not so big, and one single huge one. `What do these crosses mean?' asked Misery of Death. `They are the crosses which each man has to bear.' `And what is that very big one?' `It is the cross of Misery.' On they passed to another hall still greater that the first. It was full of little lights. `And these little lights?' `These little lights,' said Death, `are the lives of men. Each time one goes out a man dies.' `And that little, little light just flickering out?' Said Death to Misery, `Comrade, that is your light.' `And so I have to die?' `Yes, comrade.' `Ah, but before dying, I beg one grace from the Eternal Father. I would fain say three Ave Marias.'
The Eternal Father yielded this grace--but Misery has never yet said those three Ave Marias. And so he is still above ground."


The Creation Of The World

After the creation of the world the eternal Father went in to his palace to rest. And it wasn't little He had had to do, was it? To create all the animals just! Well, He had gone in, and flung Himself down on a seat. Then all the beasts came to pay their respects to the Creator, and to ask a favor of Him.
"The ass came in: 'I thank thee who hast created me and I kiss Thy hands and Thy feet.'

"'Don't speak of it!' replied the Eternal Father.

"And the ass went on: 'I would fain know what is my destiny.'

"'Your destiny? I'll tell you at once. You must work from morning till night, and patiently put up with it however they belabor your back, and not murmur either. Otherwise there'll be nothing to fill your belly. And it will be a feast day for you when they give you a little straw.'

"The ass bowed its head, and began to reflect. 'To work all the time! Little or nothing to eat! To be beaten, and then beaten again! What a life!' He turned it over in his mind, and raised his head. 'I would know for how many years this weary life of mine shall last.'

"'Twenty years,' replied the Creator.

"'Twenty years! Twenty years is too long. I am not worthy to kiss Thy hands and feet; but one grace Thou should'st grant me.'


"'Let me get out of it a little sooner.'

"'And how much would you have cut off?'

"'Ten years would still be too much!'

"'This grace is granted.'

"The ass went and told everything to the dog waiting at the door. The dog entered. 'I have come to thank Thee for having made me, and I would fain know what is my destiny.'

"'Your destiny is to stand barking and often chained; you must be faithful to your master; and if he beats you, then you shall lick his hands. As for eating, you may look for a bit of black bread, and now and then they'll throw a bone out of the window to you.'

"The dog put his tail between his legs and hung his head, thinking 'Always barking! Often chained! To love him who hates me! Dry bread! A stray bone! Ah, Father Eternal!'

"The last words escaped him so loud, that the Eternal father said, 'What's the matter?' And the dog answered-

"'I throw myself at Thy feet. I would know how many years I have to live.'

"'Twenty years.'

"'Too many. O my Eternal Father, cut some off!'

"'And how long would you have?'

"'The half; and the other ten blessed years some other comrade can have.'

"'This grace is granted.'

"Hardly had the dog gone out ere he began to bark out of desperation; and by his barking the other beasts that stood at the door knew of the dog's misfortune.

"Entered the ape, swinging his tail. 'I thank Thee, Father Eternal, for having made me.'

"'Well, and what else do you want?'

"'I would know the fate that awaits me.'

"'You shall never speak. You must live hidden in the woods, and feed on leaves and grass and beech-mast. In short, your mouth will often water. Man- you will either not see him, or you will flee him.'

"Then the ape's legs began to shake. 'Always silent! Alone! Nothing but wretched food!

"The Eternal Father looked on with amusement the while. The ape said 'At least I would know if my life has to last long.'

"'Twenty years!'

"'Oh, in mercy! But I shall die before then.'

"'It isn't your business to order the feast. You shall not die.'

"'I am not worthy to kiss Thy hands and feet. But for charity, make my days shorter.'

"'Will ten years content you?'

"'Yea, my Lord.'

"The ape went out and told all to a child, who was the last to go in. He entered, and knealt before the Eternal Father, who gave a long, deep sigh, saying, 'Well, this is the last of them.'

"The child began, 'I thank thee for having made me in Thy image and likeness. Now tell me what is my destiny.'

"'Your destiny is the best of all. You will be master of all things about you, and free to make and unmake. You alone shall enjoy life and shall rule over all other animals. Are you content?'

"'I am overjoyed. Oh what more could I desire? But tell me, how many years will this good time last?'

"'Twenty years.'

"'It is too little, Eternal Father. A little longer. Find me at least another hundred years.'

"'But there are no more.'

"'Oh, but that is not true. Are there not the ten years that the ass wouldn't have, and the ten years of the dog, and the ten years of the ape?'

"'Would you have them? Take them.'

"And the child went out grumbling also, because to have only fifty years of joyous life was a foolishness.

"All the words of the Father Eternal came true. In the first twenty years, man is master and can do whatever he will. He listens to no one's reproofs. He will have a wife, and he takes her. Then his father says to him 'Get out of the house and bear your own burdens. Work, work, work, if you would live.' And then the man passes those ten years that the ass would not have. And then children come. One is crying here, another there, and he is scolding and shouting all the time. Often he is forced to stop the whole day at home so that no harm may come to them. Often that his family may eat, he touches nothing himself. And these are the ten years the dog would not have. Then the sons grow up, take wives to themselves, and thrust their father aside. And when the father makes an observation, his sons say, 'Be quiet!' And when some visitor comes to the house, 'Don't you see how dirty you are? Keep to your own room.' These are the ten years that the ape refused. And after fifty years, what is life worth to you?
Who has had it has had it!" 1

1 De Nino, vol.iv. p.3.

The Land Where Death Is Not

There was once a young man. Oh, but he was ugly, ugly, ugly. A fairy kissed him and he grew beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Then the fairy said to him 'Go, seek for a world where death is not.'
"So the young man went looking for the world where is no death; and nowhere did he find it. When he came to a village and heard the death-bell ring, he set out again at once on his travels. There seemed no end to his seeking.

"One day he came to a wood, where the trees were old, oh, but old, old; and he said to himself, 'Would this be the world where death never comes?' But then he found a tree fallen on the ground, and there was a great coming and going of ants about it. So he concluded 'If trees die here, so must men too.' On he went again, and he entered a valley. There were a great many beasts about, all of them old, old, so old. Said the young man, 'Now this, for sure, is the world where there is no death.' But it was not true, for he saw a dead lion. So he went on again, and came to a great plain.

"There an old man, so old, old, was ploughing the ground. Said the young man to the old, 'Could you tell me where there is the world where folk never die?' The old man answered 'Go you on a little way, and you'll meet my grandfather. Perhaps he'll be able to tell you.' And so the young man went on still, and found another old man, old, but so old, and he too was ploughing the ground. The young man asked the same question 'I am looking for the world where folks never die. Be so good as to tell me the way there!' The other answered "Ih-h-h! Who knows? But you might ask my grandfather who is ploughing a little farther on.' The young man came up to this third old man, old, old, he was; asked the same question and had the same answer. And so did he have from a fourth, a fifth, and a sixth, all of them old, old, old. The seventh had a white beard down that came down to his feet.

"Said this old man to the young one, 'Here in truth is the world where folks never die. If you would stay among us, you must earn your bread by the sweat of your brow.' Just think of it! The young man began to dance on one foot, so great was his joy. Then the old man said, 'Go to that house you see up that mountain, and say to my grandmother there to prepare two plates of soup and a boiled hen, so that this evening when we all come home, we shall find everything ready.

"Off set the young man; but by the way he thought to himself, 'Two plates of soup and just one hen, and seven old men who work from morning to night! Besides, who knows how many sons and grandsons there may be? And now there's another mouth to fill. Am I to eat nothing tonight? Oh, but this is a poor kind of housekeeping!" So when he went to the house of the seven old men, he said to the grandmother of the old man with the long, long, long beard, 'Your grandson bids me say that you are to prepare four dishes of soup and two hens.' The old woman crossed herself with her left hand. But all the same she prepared the two hens and the four dishes of soup.

"Evening came, and into the house came a whole caravan of people. The seventh old man said to his grandmother, 'Who bade you make ready all of this?' She answered, 'The fine young man told me.' And the old, old carle said to the fine young man, 'Bravo! You have begun well.

"'Ours is the world without any sin;
Be off to the cheaters- they'll let you in.

"Ah! you know nothing, nothing!

"'Ho mangiato sempre broccoli,
Ho portato sempre zoccoli,
Poco cervello alla mia perlencocola.'

["I have always eaten cabbage, I have always worn clogs, and there's little wit in my head."]

"And so the young man took his long way back; and if he isn't dead by this time, he'll die one day.

"'Patre nostre de ji senze
Alla trippe se cumenze;
Se fernisce a ju spedale:
Sette libre noss' a male.'"

["Pater noster of the senses. Give in to the stomach and it's at the hospital you'll end.
Sed libera nos a malo" 1]

1 De Nino, vol.iii. p.368.

Source: "In the Abruzzi" by Anne MacDonell. [F.A.Stokes Co., NY, U.S.A. 1909] (Out of print)
Library of Congress: "In the Abruzzi", Anne MacDonell, London, Chatto and Windus, 1908; Amy Atkinson, illustrator. Subject: Abruzzi--Description and Travel.