A Story from The Hartz Mountains, Germany
Retold by Sheryl Ann Karas
Once upon a time a miner who had a wife and seven children was confined to his bed with a terrible illness. They were a poor family. As days went by and the man did not recover, there was soon no meat in the cupboard or fire on the hearth.
The miner’s wife was getting desperate and finally told her husband that she would go into the woods on the hill of Hubinchenstein to gather fir cones. “With some fir cones I could make a fire and perhaps I could sell the others to buy meat,” she said.
She took a large basket and climbed the hill into the deep dark forest. As she walked and gathered she thought about her troubles until at last they overcame her. She sat down on a tree stump weeping.
“What is the matter with you and why are you stealing my fir cones?” said a voice right beside her.
The woman jumped up with fright and saw a frowning dwarf with a long white beard standing before her. She fell to her knees to beg forgiveness and blurted out her sad story.
The dwarf’s expression softened with kindness. “Please get up, my good woman. Troubles come to us all. But you must leave these fir cones here as they belong to me. Go into the next forest. The fir cones you pick up over there will suit you much better.”
So the woman replaced the fir cones she had gathered and went to the next forest as the dwarf had instructed. It was a long way. By time she got there she was very tired and needed to set her basket down to rest a bit. As soon as she did fir cones fell like hail out of the trees and filled her basket.
She was frightened and ran home as fast as she could. On the way the basket grew heavier and heavier until, just as she reached her door, she could hold on to it no longer and she dropped it, spilling its contents on the ground.
Then she saw why the basket was so heavy. Every one of the fir cones had turned to silver.
At first she thought the little man must have been Satan, but after talking with her husband she realized he was Gubich, King of the Dwarfs and helper of the poor. She went into town and sold some of the fir cones and returned with everything her family needed. Although her husband was sick and could not eat they all went to bed with happy hearts.
The next day the woman went back into the forest. She found Gubich near the same tree stump and poured out her thanks to him. “Thank me no thanks, my good woman!” he laughed. “I am happy to be of service.”
He stooped to pick a plant from the ground and gave it to her. “Take this home and strip it of its leaves. Put the leaves in a pot and boil them. When the water turns green give it to your husband to drink.” And then he disappeared.
The woman was still a little afraid to follow the dwarf’s advice. “What if he really is Satan? This might be poison.” she thought. But when she returned home her husband was worse and seemed close to death. “I must trust that the dwarf is good.”
She boiled the leaves of the plant into a green tea and gave it to her husband to drink. Almost immediately color came back to his cheeks and strength flowed through his body. He leaped out of bed a well man.
They had enough fir cones to never want again in times of trouble. They never saw Gubich again but thanked him in their hearts daily and kept one of the silver fir cones on the dresser to remember him by. The children kept the silver cone when they were older and their children kept it after them.
The people of the same region of the Hartz Mountains keep a silver fir cone in their dressers to this day as a reminder of the kindness of Gubich, the King of the Dwarfs.
“Silver Fir Cones” comes from a time when the old earth-based religions had all but vanished except in fairy tales. There’s something very subversive about stories like this. While on the surface it would appear that Europe had been converted to Christianity, children were (and are) still indoctrinated into the old ways through the stories that were told in private.
Source: This story is adapted from Myths and Legends of Flowers, Trees, Fruits and Plants in All Ages and In All Climes by Charles M. Skinner, Lippincott, 1911,1925. It appears in The Solstice Evergreen: The History, Folklore and Origins of the Christmas Tree by Sheryl Ann Karas. Aslan Publishing, Boulder Creek, Co, 1991. Posted here with permission of the author. Purchasing information available at http://www.aslanpublishing.com/aslan/books/solstice-evergreen.html.
Sheryl Karas is a writer, artist, counselor and healer. She holds a B.A. in Communications and an M.A. In Transpersonal Psychology and has a special interest in sharing empowering information on a wide variety of topics. More information available at http://www.aslanpublishing.com/aslan/Authors/sheryl-ann-karas.html.