The authors R. Gordon Wasson and Valentina Pavlovna Wasson spent a great deal of time and effort investigating why some cultures (such as the husband’s American culture) loathed wild mushrooms, while other cultures (such as the wive’s Slavic culture) adored them. Below, they share a Bohemian (the Western part of the Czech Republic) folktale that tells the origins of mushrooms. It comes from their book Mushrooms, Russia, and History.
One of the loveliest mushroom stories is the legend about their origin that we find in Bohemia, which we retell from the recension recorded by the Czech folklorist, Mrs. Bozena Nemcova.
It seems that Jesus and Peter were passing through a Czech village and heard the sound of wedding music in a humble cottage. They joined the party, but not before Jesus had warned Peter to accept no food save only bread and salt, for the people were poor. Jesus and Peter were made most welcome. They partook of the bread and salt that were offered to them, declining however the cakes [koldce]. But a little later, when no one was looking, Peter slipped some cakes into his pouch. After a while Jesus and Peter continued on their way, Jesus immersed in his thoughts and Peter lagging behind, that he might nibble on his cakes. But at each bite, Jesus would wheel around and ask him what he was eating. Peter would spit out the mouthful and reply, “Nothing.” This happened again and again, until there was no cake left. Then Jesus said to Peter, “Go back, and pick up all that you have spat out, and I will wait for you.” When Peter returned he said to Jesus, “I found nothing except this that I show you. I thought it was food, but lo! it was a growth, rooted in the soil.” Jesus said, “It is a growth, and it grew from the food you threw away.” Then Peter asked for forgiveness, and it was granted to him. Then they went to the cottage of a poor woman and asked her to cook what Peter had found, and it turned out to be mushrooms, and they were good. Because the mushrooms had sprung from the food of poor people, Jesus bestowed them on the poor, and he taught the poor woman where to seek them. And because poor people need help, mushrooms multiply and abound. And because Peter, eating them, nevertheless remained hungry, mushrooms are not filling.
The quote above is excerpted from the fantastic book Mushrooms, Russia, and History available here for purchase on Amazon (at quite an expensive price) or here (Volume 1 and Volume 2 both as PDF files)to be read free of charge. I strongly recommend this book for those with an interest in a discussion of Slavic culture with an emphasis on Russia and also with discussion of European and world culture in general.
Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.