Have you ever noticed that pumpkins somehow resemble large golden eggs? Many fairy tales speak about such wondrous eggs. They are more valuable than anything in the world and it is the thing to have. Once upon a time, people in Switzerland seem to have believed that pumpkins bring forth new beings, just like eggs. In the following you’ll find an extract from my book “The True Hero’s Journey in Fairy Tales and Stone Circles.” It talks about my research into Swiss folklore.
Excerpt from Chapter 5:
“Both of our children were in a camp one weekend, so my husband and I made reservations in a hotel up in the mountains. Since I needed to hand in suggestions for the article series, I had brought a stack of Swiss folk tales of the region we were going to visit. Maybe I could combine our mini-vacation with some research sur place. Our hotel was in beautiful Leysin, which is located in the mountains near Lake Geneva.
I made myself comfortable on a sofa by the window. The view was gorgeous, clear blue sky behind snow-white mountain peaks. The leaves had already started to turn yellow and washed the scenery with a golden glow. The air was crisp and made the tip of the Dent du Midi seem very close. I started to read the tales I had brought with me. There was one from Lötschental about pumpkins. It probably caught my eye because the bright orange hue of pumpkins was shining right next to the entrance of the hotel as they were stacked up there for decoration. Lötschental is a remote mountain valley known for its strong traditions and rustic folklore. Especially during carnival, the hidden valley attracts many tourists, because people there put on large, scary, wooden masks and dress all in fur, skin, and rags. By doing that, they seem to be shapeshifting into another time and age when paganism was stronger than Christianity. Even the tourists get drawn into this other world. It could well have been a world where people believed things were born out of pumpkins. Was this tale conveying such an old worldview?
The Pumpkin Birth
The people from Lötschental wanted to have a scribe, just like the other villages had. They held a council and decided to send delegates down to the Rhone Valley with the order to find a scribe. They assumed that a scribe would be born into this world like a chicken out of an egg, and so they went to the market. Upon seeing a large, round pumpkin, they figured it must be exactly such an egg. They asked the vendor, “Are these the eggs out of which scribes are hatched?” The vendor nodded, and the delegates bought the pumpkin. It was a heavy pumpkin and it took them quite a long time to carry it back to their village in the Lötschental, high up in the mountains. There they positioned it on the market place and three were called on to hatch it. Two of them sat on either side of the pumpkin and the third one on top. But it so happened that suddenly, when they rotated their position, the pumpkin started to roll. It rolled and rolled down the hill until it finally came to a halt in the bushes, where it startled a hare. The hare took flight and the astonished men called out: “Our scribe has hatched! Our scribe has hatched!” And when they saw the hare’s long ears, they nodded in a satisfied manner: “Just see, the quill is already behind his ear.”
That evening over a candle-light dinner in Leysin, there was much for us to talk about. The restaurant was cozy and somewhat old-fashioned, in a rustic chalet style. Fondue and raclette were served, typical local dishes. It was the perfect setting to dive into a discussion about the beliefs of our forefathers. Did people really think that things were born out of pumpkins? We tried very hard to see the world through mountain-valley people’s eyes. What an interesting concept this was, people who believed humans were born from eggs the size of golden pumpkins. But how far back into the past did we have to go? One hundred years or a thousand? If we were touching on paganism, it would have had to be prior to the introduction of Christianity. In remote areas, however, where people lived a simple life close to nature, we knew that the belief in nature’s magic existed up until very recently side-by-side with the Christian church. In fact, the pastor had to accept that his flock put bowls of cream for the little people out on the windowsill and that they expected to meet Mother Hulda in the woods on their way to church. Also, he had to consider that they were afraid to be drawn into the creeks by water spirits or enchanted by fairies. Only industrialization, radio, electricity, and TV started to put an end to this and brought the modern age to their world. This was as recent as the 1940s.
'Oh, and what about Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage?' my husband threw in. ‘Couldn't you say that Cinderella was hatched into a princess, while riding it?’ He was absolutely right. The pumpkin definitely had something to do with Cinderella's change back and forth between her old self, the abused stepdaughter, and her new self, a princess. There certainly was transformational magic in that pumpkin.”
So, as we celebrate Halloween today and carve large golden eggs called “pumpkins”, we just might want to invite some transformational magic into our lives as well.
Copyright Andrea Hofman, 2019