Thursday, September 10, 2015

Folklore Thursday: Introducing the Peasant Bible, and the Origin of Mushrooms

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

I have been looking for a coherent theme for Folklore Thursday for a while now, and I think I finally found one! It's called the Peasant Bible.

I am borrowing the term from the title of a book (Parasztbiblia), published in Hungarian in 1985. It's a folklore classic. Essentially, it is a collection of folk legends and tales that are based on stories from the Bible. People heard the stories in church, then went off and told and re-told them, and thanks to the oral tradition, some of them took on quite hilarious shapes. The book also includes folk beliefs about the creation of things (animals, plants, the male and the female body, etc.), bits of older lore that became Christianized, as well as a huge number of those "When Jesus and St. Peter walked the earth" type legends everybody loves.

I have mentioned this collection, and these types of stories, to several storytellers around the world, and they always expressed a lot of interest in them. Since there is no English version of most of these tales, I decided that I will post translations for some of them. If you like them, go and have fun!

(Note: Not all the stories will be selected from the book above. When not, I will note the sources. Also, while the stories are the same, the text will be my own re-telling in English, not a mirror translation.)

For starters, here is a short story I love:

The Origin of Mushrooms
(One version collected in 1912, found in online archive here)

Once, when Jesus Christ and St. Peter walked the earth, they came to a small village, and decided to rest there. Sitting under a walnut tree they noticed that one of the houses had the oven fired up; they were making flat bread. The Lord Jesus sent Peter to ask for a bite to eat. Peter asked politely, and took three pieces - one for Jesus, and two for himself, one of which he hid under his cloak.
Jesus and Peter both ate their piece of flat bread, and even though they were not full, they started on their journey again. Peter remained respectfully a step behind the Lord. Thinking that Jesus wouldn't notice, he started breaking pieces off the hidden bread, and eating them... but the moment Peter put a piece of bread into his mouth, Jesus spoke to him, without turning around:
- How long do you think we have to go before the next town, Peter?
Peter, scared that Jesus would hear he was chewing, quickly spat the bread out, and answered. They walked on a little ways, and Peter put another piece in his mouth.
- Peter, aren't we having just an especially warm day today?
Peter spat the bread out again, and answered. And so it went the entire way; every time Peter tried to eat a bite, Jesus asked a question, and he had to spit the mouthful out. Eventually, all the bread was gone, and none of it had made it into Peter's belly.
Then, Jesus turned around.
- Peter, how many pieces of bread did yo receive at the house?
- Two, my Lord.
- Don't lie to me, Peter.
St. Peter was ashamed of himself, and confessed what he had been doing.
- Now look - Jesus said with a smile, pointing at the side of the road - Even if you have been taught a lesson, the Lord doesn't allow food to go to waste.
Every mouthful of soft bread that Peter had spat out turned into mushrooms along the side of the road.
That is why we have mushrooms.

(Shrooms pre-masticated by a saint, anyone?)


  1. I guess that's why I don't like mushrooms! Not a very appealing origin. This book sounds like a lot of fun, I have to say.

  2. Csenge, I love this story. Any concerns about me telling this story? Where is this book? Thanks for sharing. Awesome.

    1. Hi! Take it and tell it :) It's a folktale that exists in some versions around Hungary. I have also heard it with Peter eating cheese instead of flat bread (they got it from a shepherd). I added the dialogue (the original text just says "Jesus asked questions"). I linked the source under the title, but it's in Hungarian.

  3. Hehe! This is a great story. I especially like the idea of St. Peter having sticky fingers. :)

    1. Right? In a lot of these stories, he is the imperfect human that makes mistakes, and learns a lesson from Jesus. He even gets drunk and fights sometimes... :)

  4. This is great, can't wait to hear more from the peasant Bible!

  5. I really enjoyed this, thank you for sharing your research and translations.

    1. Thank you! I am glad you like it! :) There will be more next week!