A Tale from Switzerland
Retold by Sheryl Ann Karas
There once was a master woodcarver who lived in the village of Reckingen in the canton of Valais. Many of the churches in this region were beautified by this special handiwork, which was the carving of sacred figures of the saints, and church pews decorated with wooden foliage.
One evening when the church bell of Recking rang for the hour of prayer the woodcarver heard strange but beautiful singing. He went to his window to listen and noticed it seemed to be coming from the forest of Hohbach which covered the steep hills that rose above the village.
The singing stopped as soon as the bell stopped ringing. “My imagination is running away with me,” the woodcarver muttered to himself as he put away his tools and hurried to church. But the next night he heard the singing again. And the night after that he heard it once more. In fact, the strange music began every time the church bell rang for evening prayers and ended when the bell stopped ringing every night for the next several nights. The woodcarver was understandably relieved to discover that many other villagers heard it as well.
One evening during prayer time, he climbed the hill to the forest of Hohbach determined to find the source of the mysterious music. He wandered about among the huge trees for a long time. At last the singing led him to a giant fir hundreds of years old. To his astonishment the sound seemed to come from out of its trunk! When it was again quiet he ran to the village to report his discovery. After that, each evening several of his neighbors climbed the hill to the miraculous tree and stood in reverent amazement beside it.
The woodcarver visited the tree often and ran his hands across its bark. The giant fir was constantly in his thoughts, even appearing in his dreams. He became obsessed with the idea of making a carving out of it, to be the most magnificent work he had ever done.
The parish finally agreed to cut down the tree and let him work on it. But the woodcutters harbored a secret misgiving as they felled the magnificent fir, and their hearts grew heavy as they dragged it down to the valley with horses.
The master carver cut himself a huge block from the heart of the tree. He told the parish he was going to make a statue of the Virgin Mary and set to work that very night. He toiled day in and day out and in his zeal almost forgot to eat. People flocked from miles away to watch the Holy Mother slowly emerge from the wood. The woodcarver was truly talented and his work a veritable masterpiece. All said that no artist had ever made Mary look so beautiful and alive.
When the statue was finished it was presented to the church of Reckingen. The priest took the statue and placed it on the alter as the people watched in silent awe. Then suddenly the wooden figure of Mary opened its mouth, and once more the familiar dulcet tones of the miraculous music were heard.
But that was the last time the fir tree sang.
“The Singing Fir Tree” is my favorite from among many stories included in my collection, The Solstice Evergreen: The History, Folklore and Origins of the Christmas Tree. At first glance it seems Christian but, in my opinion, is quite pagan in origin. The woodcutter finds a tree on the hillside that sings every Sunday when the church bells ring. This is quite miraculous in itself but this woodcutter decides that he will make it into something “better,” a statue of the Virgin Mary. He succeeds in creating his masterpiece and everyone is wowed by the statue singing in church on the day it was installed….but that is the last time the fir tree, now a statue, sang.
I believe the real moral of the story is that when we refuse to see the spirituality inherent in every living thing and disregard that spirit by attempting to shape it into our short-sighted image of what spirituality is all about, we wind up disconnected from the true source of spiritual power.
This story appears in The Solstice Evergreen: The History, Folklore and Origins of the Christmas Tree by Sheryl Ann Karas. Aslan Publishing, Boulder Creek, Co, 1991. http://www.aslanpublishing.com/aslan/books/solstice-evergreen.html
Story and commentary are posted here with permission of the author.
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