Rags and the spirit

Rags was a very small being, but he didn’t mind. The world is full of big creatures who grumble and fight, but if you are small enough, nobody will notice you. Rags had built himself a house of bamboo in an old temple ruin that stood lonely and deserted in the jungle, overgrown with trees and flowers.

The people who had once lived there had believed in immortal gods and eternal heavens to which they would travel after death. Now the people were gone and the gods were forgotten, without a name or a home.

Rags lived a simple life. If you are you small enough, you don’t need so much. There was plenty of fruit in the jungle, and he loved yellow mango above all. The only thing that spoiled his happiness were the great typhoons that frequented the jungle, rain pouring down and wind howling. When they came, he was glad he was small and that he had put a rock on his roof to keep his house from blowing away.

One day, a stray spirit came drifting through the jungle. A spirit can be strong and powerful, or small and harmless, just as he can be good or bad. The more people believe in a spirit and worship it, the stronger it grows and eventually it can perform miracles. If nobody believes in it, it loses its power. Finally, the spirit can be as light and invisible as the wind. And Rags barely heard the spirit when he knocked on the door.

During many long and moonlit nights to come, the spirit would talk to Rags about his adventures but this night, after having shared the short and sad tale about how he became homeless and weak, the spirit said:

‘I’m not a powerful spirit with many followers. I can’t do magic like them, but if you believe in me, light incense and bring me food during the holidays I will protect you in return. I like to sit high where I can see the sun during the day and listen to the stars at night. Take a long bamboo pole and stick it through your roof and plant its root in the floor. After that, I will watch over you and make sure no harm in this world will fall upon you.’

Rags liked what he heard and promised to follow the spirit to the letter.

‘You must promise me one thing,’ said the spirit. ‘If the wind rises and a storm is coming, you must climb up and fetch me. I can’t protect you when I’m not sitting on the pole, but if you forget to fetch me I will blow away and double woe will fall upon you.’

Rags understood and did everything the spirit had said – and everything went well in his life. In the evenings he sat on the roof together with the spirit, contemplating the moon and the stars. Sometimes the moon was full, sometimes half. Sometimes it was nothing but an empty chalice, ready to be filled. Rags and the spirit often talked about that – who emptied the chalice of the moon and who filled it again, time after time? Neither knew the answer but they both found great pleasure talking about it.

Great storms sometimes shook the jungle, just as before, and Rags let the spirit stay snug inside the house with him. Rags felt sad the spirit could not protect him from the wind battling to get in or the rain that hammered the roof. Still he knew that if he left the spirit outside, it would blow away, and then there would be no one there to protect him once the storm had passed.

In a way it was comforting to have the spirit there, knowing he was scared too. It was company, and shared problems are half problems, just as shared joy is double joy. You can’t be lucky all the time. Sometimes you have to make a small sacrifice to gain even more in the long run. And because of that, Rags was careful to bring the spirit down every time the wind began to rise.

Thus weeks and years passed by, like time always passes, slowly growing older without us noticing. Rags enjoyed a long and happy life in his temple ruin, deep in the jungle, far away from the clamouring world. One day he woke from his midday nap, old and bent, with a vague feeling that a storm was approaching.

It was in the middle of the raining season and the storms were frequent, but this time he didn’t manage to climb up the pole and fetch the spirit. He was too tired to climb up and down all the time. And he was tired of being afraid.

The clouds grow darker over the trees, but Rags could not see because his eyes were clouded by age. The wind grew stronger, but he could not hear because his hearing was weak and he was already asleep again.

The wind came, sweeping through the jungle in search of a plaything. It caught sight of the spirit that had blown up like a sail on a mast with Rags’ house as a ship ready to let go. The wind was young and loved to play. It blew right into the spirit and pulled it, Rags and Rags’ house up in the air in a swirling dance.

High above the clouds it flew, up to the moon that was filled to the brim with golden light, ready to drink. Every month the chalice of the moon is filled with flowing light. And every month it is emptied. Who fills the chalice and who drinks from it, no mortals can tell.

This fairy tale in Swedish: Lump och anden.


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