Folk-Lore/Volume 26/Folklore of the Waldenses Valley

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Folklore of the Waldenses Valley.

Even in the twentieth century belief in the "little people" or fairies still lingers, particularly in mountainous and primitive districts. On the slopes of the Alps and down into the Valley of the Waldenses much delightful folklore may be found, which has been collected to form an interesting book, Legendes Vaudoises, or Légendes des Vallées Vaudoises (August Coisson, editeur).

Sometimes these stories give some vivid glimpses into local life and usages.

Lichen.—Lichen, as is well known, contains very little nourishment and presents a withered, dried-up appearance. Formerly this was not so, it was a beautiful plant, and such excellent fodder that a cow feeding on it could give enough' milk for the wants of a big family. One day an old woman was invited to a wedding. After having milked her goat she began adorning herself, when she noticed the animal was nibbling at the lichen. This necessitated her re-milking it before her departure, and in her impatience she cursed the plant, and from that time neither goat nor cow could feed from it again. If they did they gave no milk. Thus the people of Val S. Martin call lichen "Old women's herb."

Dead Leaves.—Another legend with two versions is current about dead leaves. An old woman was picking violets near Lake Envy, one of the thirteen lakes in Waldenses Valley. After filling her apron with the fragrant flowers she was returning home, when she chanced to approach a hollow trunk. An enormous goat emerged from within it, and demanded her lovely bunches of violets one by one, offering in return only a few dead leaves. When she reached home the dead leaves which she had hidden in her shoes had turned into solid gold.

The second version is that a young girl had noticed some beautiful tinted dried beech leaves which were spread on a stone plate at Riail (Augrogne). So she filled her apron with them, and was returning home when a large goat met her, and demanded half of her treasure. He browsed on it so heartily that soon very few leaves were left. Despairing of keeping any she emptied her apron crying, "Please eat them all, enchanted goat!" Some leaves, however, that had fallen into her shoes were found on removing them to have turned into pieces of gold. Reproaching herself for laying such slight value on the others she rushed back, but all traces of them had disappeared.

The old tree trunk where the magic goat is supposed to have lived is still pointed out to tourists, and tradition avers that he who climbs down into its recesses will find a locked door, and on turning the key will find not only beautiful ladies but heaps of gold. If people are silent they are allowed to fill their pockets and leave unhurt, but if they speak a single word to the fairies a spell is cast over them, and they are never heard of again.

The Punishment of Avarice.—Another legend deals with the punishment of avarice and self-seeking. Two women, mother and daughter-in-law, lived together. Both were misers, and the older woman had amassed a great hoard of gold, which she was so afraid might be stolen that she wrapped it up in linen bags which she tied round her legs. The daughter-in-law, almost mad with spite and greed, cast the evil eye over the old crone, and thus hastened her death. Scarcely had her victim breathed her last when the daughter-in-law discovered where the treasure had been placed, and, after making sure no one was about, proceeded to try and secure the bags, but they were tied on to her body with so many knots that she lost patience and taking a saw she cut off the old woman's leg. This revived the supposed corpse, who cried in a hollow voice, "Give me my leg." The daughter-in-law was so horrified at this manifestation that she fell back lifeless herself.