Stone soup is a popular folk tale. Many versions exist and this version, highly adapted specifically for the online PaganPath Witchcraft course, remains closely based on the traditional basic story line.
Although this folk tale is included here for reference in the classes, you may simply enjoy the story even if you are not taking the Witchcraft course.
An adventurer was traveling around a vast countryside. Running low on food supplies and becoming weary from the road, he decided to stop at the next village. There, he hoped to trade his labor for some food.
As he rounded the next curve in his path, he came upon a small community of twelve shabby huts. The village was quiet, and obviously poor. There were no children playing in the center clearing, and no adults splitting wood for the coming winter.
"That's odd," he said to himself, "villages around harvest time are usually a bustle of work."
He knocked on the first door.
"We have nothing for you." a stooped and wrinkled crone said before slamming her door.
"The first harvest has been so bad, there's no food to bring in from the fields." said a very tall and very thin man.
"My small family only has a few carrots in the larder." a desperate young woman pleaded.
"You'd better leave!" peeped a small girl covered in dirt.
The traveler visited eleven of the twelve huts and received similar greetings at each door. Doors were slammed, sometimes curses were muttered, and again the village was silent. As he walked to the final hut, he again thought to himself how strange it was that the people in the village were so isolated from each other." Before he could explore that thought any further, his hunger got the better of him and he knocked on the twelfth and final hut.
"I am but a lonely old woman and have no work nor food for you." stated the abrupt woman.
Before she could slam the door on the traveler, he quickly said, "Young lady, I have no desire to ask favors of you, I was simply hoping you could share some salt so that I can make my world famous soup. I have a magical stone, given to me by my great grandmother, that will make a soup fit for a king. I would allow you to have a sample of it in exchange for your salt.
The woman's cold gray eyes studied his face for a moment. Her pinched face began to relax. She scurried back into her hut for a moment and returned with a small crock of salt. "This is all I've got, so you'd better make a soup that really is fit for a king!"
The woman followed the traveler back to the clearing in the center of the village, clinging to her crock of salt as if it were more precious than gold. He began humming a cheery tune and opened his pack. His melody seemed out of place in the church-like stillness of the village, but he continued, louder all the time.
The small, dirty girl appeared with a young (equally dirty) boy to watch the strange traveler. The traveler was making quite a ruckus as he tumbled objects around in his pack, but finally he withdrew a large pot and wooden spoon. His tune became quite loud now and he began belting out a lively song.
"Oh I am a rovin' Journeyman I roam from town to town
And whenever I get a job of work I'm willing to sit doon
My kit's all on my shoulder and my graftin' tool in hand
And 'round the country I will go a rovin' journeyman"1
Sprinting around the outskirts of the village circle, he collected stones and fallen branches. He carted his collection back to the center of the circle and formed a ring with the stones. His song ended as two thin men joined the woman with the salt and the two dirty children in the village circle.
He stacked the fallen branches inside the ring of stones and loudly rummaged in his pack again to retrieve his flint. He could hear the men whispering to each other "fit for a king you say..." and "soup from a stone you say..." as he sparked the flint and blew on a curl of smoke rising from the branches. The fire came to life and he carried the large pot over to the village well to fill it with water. Carting the heavy, water filled pot back to the fire, he balanced the bottom of the pot on the ring of stones. Then he said, almost to himself,
"This soup would be fit for two kings if I only had a few onions to add to it."
One of the tall thin men left quietly, walking toward one of the smallest huts. He returned with his wife who carried a bundle of small, wilted onions in her apron.
"Why thank you!" the traveler exclaimed in a surprised voice, "you shall have some of my world famous stone soup, fit for a king or a queen, in exchange for your gracious generosity." He flamboyantly bowed low.
The traveler then took a small handful of salt from the crock (still held firmly by the woman with the gray eyes) and threw it in the pot. Stirring with the wooden spoon he muttered something inaudible to himself and then rummaged in his pack again. Making loud clattering sounds and humming, he produced a paring knife from the pack with a loud "ah ha!" As he peeled and cut the onions he broke into song again...
"Off to reap the corn,
leave where I was born,
I cut a stout blackthorn,
to banish ghost and goblin
A brand new pair of brogues,
rattlin o'er the bogs
And frightenin' all the dogs
on the rocky road to Dublin."2
The two thin men began tapping their feet, and the stooped, wrinkled crone appeared from her hut.
"What's this I hear about making soup from a stone?" she asked accusingly. Peering into the pot she exclaimed, "There's no stone in this soup!"
The traveler dropped the onions into the pot of water and said,
"Why my good woman, you're right! I've nearly lost my head and forgotten the most important ingredient of all!"
He rummaged in his pack and muttered quietly while more villagers appeared. After several minutes the villagers began shifting around impatiently and he could sense the doubt in the small crowd. Finally he discovered that a small stone had lodged itself in the bottom of the pack. He grasped it triumphantly, stood up quickly and held it aloft.
"Here is the magical stone, passed on to me from my great grandmother, that can make soup fit for a king!" The villagers leaned in close and he dropped it in the soup with a quick plunk!
Steam from the now boiling onions and water wafted around the clearing, and soon every villager was present, drawn by hunger and curiosity. The traveler said, somewhat to himself,
"Soup from a stone is fit for a king, but it would be even better if it had a few carrots in it."
The desperate young woman he'd met earlier, took off briskly to her hut. She returned promptly with a small handful of withered carrots.
"Why thank you my lady!" the traveler cried in a surprised voice, "you too shall share in this magical stone soup, fit for a king." and he bowed low.
He cut the carrots into the soup while singing again,
"Well a Scotsman clad in kilt left a bar on evening fair
And one could tell by how we walked that he drunk more than his share
He fumbled round until he could no longer keep his feet
Then he stumbled off into the grass to sleep beside the street...
About that time two young and lovely girls just happened by
And one says to the other with a twinkle in her eye
See yon sleeping Scotsman so strong and handsome built
I wonder if it's true what they don't wear beneath the kilt"3
His song trailed off as he became aware of the "mixed company" and he said, almost to himself, "This soup would truly be fit for a king if only I could find a few potatoes."
Three older boys (or were they young men?) ran from the village clearing and disappeared behind a hut. The traveler continued to sing a more appropriate song as a heavily bearded man produced a pennywistle and began accompanying him.
"In days of old in a kingdom bold,
there lived a fearsome dragon.
And the King he was in great distress
and the countries spirits flagoned.
Until one day there came a knight,
he was handsome, bold, and charming.
And he slew the dragon with his sword
with a smile that was so disarming.
With a hey and a ho and a hey nany no,
A smile that was so disarming."4
The faces of the tired, hungry villagers began to relax, some even broke into smiles! As the song ended the three boys returned with a large basket of potatoes.
"My my!" the traveler exclaimed, "this will truly make the stone soup fit for a king! You too shall sample this magical brew!"
He began cutting the potatoes into the soup and sang while the bearded man played his pennywistle.
"Now the harvest being o'er the farmer went walkin
Along the Faele River that borders his land
And 'twas there he first saw her twixt firelight and water
The tinkerman's daughter, the red-headed Ann."5
The thin man and his wife began to dance, and the wife threw her apron off into the small crowd. All of the children joined in the dance and a man in rags began singing with the traveler. Then, two women and three more men joined in singing, and all the remaining villagers started to dance or stomp their feet to the tune.
The traveler pulled the stooped, wrinkled crone aside and said, "If you had a few stalks of celery, you could share this stone soup too." She ducked behind one of the huts and reappeared with two beautiful stalks of celery.
The traveler joined in the singing again while cutting the celery up into the soup. Dancing and singing continued for a couple hours. Some of the villagers noticed that the traveler would occasionally pull someone aside, but everyone was having too much fun to dwell on the matter.
As the sun sunk low in the sky, the traveler stood up on a nearby log and shouted over the festivities,
"The magical soup, made from a stone, is finished. Let us all feast on this fine brew like kings and queens!"
The villagers busied themselves getting bowls and spoons. The children were made to wash up and several jugs of water and mead appeared. Everyone ate their fill and as the children drifted off to sleep, the adults began talking.
"It is so good the traveler came to bring us soup from a stone." Said one.
"Yes, we may have all starved if it weren't for him." said another.
"That soup truly is fit for a king!" said many.
Many of the villagers were concerned about the first harvest of the season being poor.
"You know Finn, I noticed that your barley didn't make it this year, but that you have some carrots. My barley did well, but my carrots were eaten by the rabbits. What if we make a trade..."
And soon, many of the problems the village was struggling with didn't seem so terrible. Singing, talking and dancing continued half the night. Late the next morning (everyone slept a bit late) the village was bustling with children playing, villagers working on each other's huts, food and clothing being swapped, wood being chopped and so much more. No one noticed the traveler had disappeared sometime in the night . . .
Many years later, the villagers would still wonder about the traveler who came the year of the bad first harvest. Did he really have a magic stone, or was he just a smooth talking trickster? Still, the stooped old crone would smile wistfully when people spoke of him, knowing the true magic afoot.
The Traveler's Songs:
- The Rovin' Journeyman (traditional)
- The Rocky Road to Dublin (traditional)
- The Scotsman (Mike Cross)
- A Fairy Story (unknown)
- The Tinkerman's Daughter (Michael McConnel)