Vanapagan painting the Moon

An Estonian folk tale

Creator made sun – light, warmth – but not at night.
Asked blacksmith Ilmarine to do something.
Ilmarine didn’t want to outdo Creator – so made sphere, gold-plated outside and silver-plated inside, filled with fire. Hurled into sky where it crossed the heavens at night.
Smaller globes – stars.
So darkness banished. People worked in soft moonlight, avoided fierce sun.
All happy except Vanapagan and his co-devils – had to stop their work of enslaving souls for their kingdom – only possible in dark.
Vanapagan longed to be rid of moon – paint it black! Tar – won’t shine!
Stole great iron pot and filled with tons of tar. Made brushes.
Made ladder. But ran out of tree branches – used thorny bushes for top part.
All ready – raised ladder, waited for moon, two devils started up with tar and brushes. Top one pricked by thorns, yelled, ladder swayed, knocked hot tar over all looking up.
Vanapagan furious but determined – another ladder (leaving out thorns) – Vanapagan this time went up to do job himself.
Slowly painted tar over moon – big blotches.
Creator, looking up, saw moon not as bright as usual, saw Vanapagan at work.
“As punishment, you’ll stay there”
Vanapagan in fury at success so close denied, hurled tar across moon, stamped in a fit of rage. Smashed great ridges into surface, splotched it with tarry footprints. But as tar cooled, he was trapped – still seen today: trying to free himself from tar.

When I needed some space-related folk tales, Fran Stallings of the Storytell listserv pointed me to this Estonian folk tale, which she knew from Lynn Moroney’s book Moontellers: Myths of the Moon from around the World.
Internet research led me to two other sources online, one even the text of a 1930s collection of Estonian tales. Unfortunately both now seem to have been removed (or at least I cannot find them again). Consequently I am uploading the skeleton I made of the tale.

And the audience? They were the 120 space scientists, engineers and astronauts attending the European Space Agency council meeting in Germany, 2014.
The Estonian attendee told me that tales of Vanapagen (meaning “old pagan”) are still widely told in Estonia – as I found out myself when at last visiting the country four years later.


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