The Devil’s Gift
There are a lot of stories about the origins of tobacco by all kinds of cultures. For example an Huron Indian myth tells that in ancient times, when the land was barren and the people were starving, the Great Spirit sent forth a woman to save humanity. As she travelled over the world, everywhere her right hand touched the soil, there grew potatoes. And everywhere her left hand touched the soil, there grew corn. And when the world was rich and fertile she sat down and rested. When she arose, there grew tobacco..
In Christian Europe God and Lucifer of course were present in the tobacco origin myths. According to these we obviously have to thank the Devil for our beloved weed! When God wanted to create the world he said to Lucifer: “Get me some earth from the depth of the sea!” Lucifer set off and after three days he brought to God a handful of earth. Because the curious archangel wanted to know what God was going to do with it, he put some of it in his mouth. Now God scattered the earth and solemnly spoke: “Let there be a world.” The scattered earth began to grow and grow. God looked at it and saw that it was all right. However, suddenly He was startled by a loud howling and wailing noise. It was Lucifer in whose mouth the earth had also started to grow rapidly. He was in agony and terror and did not know what to do. Quickly God ordered him to spit out the earth. And it was from this earth that tobacco began to grow.
Entirely different is a Flemish folk-tale: One day a farmer, walking along a field, saw the Devil messing around about with a new kind of crop. The farmer was intrigued to come across a plant he did not know. Because a good farmer knows every plant. At last he could no longer control his curiosity and (though in fear and trembling) he asked the devil what he was growing there. “Aha!” said Satan, with a treacherous smile, “You would like to know, now wouldn’t you, you little farmer eh? Well now, here’s what I will do. I will give you three days time to think and pounder. If, after that time, you have found out the name of these plants, the whole field with all the plants is yours. But… If you don’t know the name, your soul is MINE.”
The farmer did get rather a shock and looked very grave. But the beautiful field with rows and rows of plants made him so extremely desirous that he took the bet. For he reasoned that after all, three days was quite a long time to find out the name of the plants. After that the devil went on tending his plants and the farmer went home. On his way a feeling of discomfort came over him. The problem seemed to grow more and more difficult and the possibility that he might have to surrender his soul to the devil (if he should fail to find the answer) made him tremble with fear. Who was to tell him the name of the plant?
At home, his young, clever and pretty wife noticed at once that there was something wrong. It was not long before the farmer had told her about his meeting with the devil and the trouble he had got himself into. Anxiously he watched her, afraid to be yelled at for his rashness. To his amazement she remained perfectly calm and unconcerned, saying: “Oh, is that all? Don’t you worry. I will fix everything for you. Come along, we have a sleep first and I will take counsel of my pillow.” The farmer’s mind was somewhat set at ease. He thought to himself: “Women are exceedingly clever and my wife in particular.” Yet at every moment the terrifying thought kept popping up of running the risk of having to surrender his immortal soul to the devil. So, unlike his wife who slept like an angel, he had a very bad night.
The next morning the farmer was dying with curiosity. How was his wife going to find out the name of the plants?? But she said nothing. She went about her work without a word, never saying anything. And slowly the hours dragged by. But after lunch a sudden change came over her. The farmer watched his wife in amazement. She took off all her clothes and when she was stark naked she started smearing coal and tar residue on her soft, chubby body. Then she ordered him to rip open the feather-bed and began to roll about in it until she was covered with feathers from top to toe.
The farmer’s wife then went to the field with the mysterious plants. There she stood in the middle, bowing down and turning over earth so fiercely that she made the clods fly. All the time she took good care that nobody could see her face. What she had bargained for happened. Soon, the Devil came along to have a look at his plants. To his dismay he saw that a huge bird was damaging his crop. While violently waving his arms he furiously shouted: “Damn-it you cursed bird, get the hell out of my tobacco!” His words had the desired effect for the bird disappeared swiftly.
At daybreak on the third day the devil was convinced he had scored a victory over the farmer. He hurried to the field and impatiently awaited the farmer’s arrival. He did not have to wait for long. When the farmer told him that the name of the crop was tobacco the Devil was simply dumbfounded.. He burst out into a most frightful rage and while wildly swishing his tail he disappeared in a grey cloud. Only leaving behind a nasty sulphurous smell. The farmer and his wife carefully tended the crop and this was how the first tobacco-estate here on earth came into being.