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Leaving the gnomes, we will now proceed to the wood-spirits, who may properly be classed among the nature-spirits, though they are not exactly spirits of the elements.
THIS is a story of a man who went into the forest to fell wood, but each tree begged for mercy in a human voice, and he desisted. Afterwards an old man emerged from the thicket. He had a long grey beard, a shirt of birch-bark, and a coat of pine-bark, and p. 126 he thanked the woodcutter for sparing his children, and gave him a golden rod, which would fulfil all wishes that were not so extravagant as to be impossible.
If he wanted a building erected, he was to bend the rod down three times towards an ant-hill, but not to strike it, for fear of hurting the ants. If he wanted food, he must ask the kettle to prepare what he wanted; and if he wanted honey, he must show the rod to the bees, who would bring him more than he needed, and the trees should yield sap, milk, and salve. If he needed fabrics, the loom would prepare all he needed. Then the old man declared himself to be the wood-god and disappeared.
But the man found a quarrelsome wife at home, who abused him for bringing no wood, and wished that all the birch twigs in the forest would turn to rods for the lazy hide. “Let it be so,” said the man to the rod, and his wife got a sound birching.
Then he ordered the ants to build him a new storehouse in the enclosure, and next morning it was finished. He now lived a happy life, and left the rod to his children; but in the third generation it fell to a foolish man, who began to demand all sorts of absurd and impossible things. At length he p. 127 ordered the rod to fetch the sun and stars from heaven to warm his back. But although the sun did not move, God sent down such hot rays from it, that the offender and all his house and goods were burned up, so that no trace of them was left. What became of the rod is unknown, but it is thought that the trees in the wood were so terrified by the fire that they have never spoken a word since.
There is a short Christian variant of this story (Jannsen: Veckenstedt), in which the woodcutter meets not Tapio, but Jesus, who deprives the trees of speech. But a gentle sighing and rustling of leaves is still to be heard in the woods when the trees whisper together. When the first fir-tree was felled, she shed bitter tears, which hardened into resin. But her children, the fir cones, vowed to avenge her wrongs on men, so they transformed themselves into bugs, which crept into men’s houses, and still plague and torment them.