Monday, November 02, 2009

The Legend of the Incest-Preventing Fairy

Before Halloween, Mental Floss put up a post titled “Five Scary Places and the Legends Behind Them.” Pretty tame stuff, in the way that a lot of old “scary” stuff doesn’t do much for us jaded types who have so much gore and bloodshed at our fingertips. One, however, stood out, because in addition to being old scary — that is, lame scary — it also exemplifies the sort of simple-minded, buck-toothed, barefoot style of storytelling employed by our ancestors to explain anything they didn’t understand.

Here, according to Mental Floss’s Miss Cellania, is the legend of Serbia’s famous Djavolja Varos. (“Devil’s Town” in English. It’s located between Devil’s Gully and Hell’s Gully, in case you’re passing through the area as you read this.) A quick preface: The location in question isn’t so much a town as it is a series a pointy rocks. Enjoy!
The story goes that the devil placed a curse on the local waters and those who drank it forgot their ancestry. This led to a wedding between brother and sister. A fairy tried to stop the marriage, but the couple refused. The fairy was left with no choice but to turn them into stone, along with all the wedding guests.
And this is how Serbians at some point saw fit to explain pointy rocks. Can we please examine what all has to accepted in order to make this story work?
  1. The devil has nothing better to do than make forget who their parents are.
  2. Even a temporary lapse in the understanding of familial relationships would result in siblings jumping into bed with each other.
  3. In addition to a devil that poisons the local well, Serbia also has fairies.
  4. One particular fairy was somehow saddled with the unusual duty of preventing incest.
  5. Not being able to do so, she did the next best thing: zapping everyone in a moderate radius into stone, which fairies can do.
  6. Finally, this story explains rock formations that basically look like stalagmites: pointy slender spikes sticking up from the ground. No arms, no legs, no confused wedding guest expressions.
That’s a lot of fucking salt to be swallowed. That’s the goddamn Dead Sea.

Before you think I’m bagging on Serbians, know this: I actually love the logic that underlies these kind of stories. And it goes without saying that as I type this now, there’s someone in some isolated part of my homeland who tells a similar story — devil, amnesia water, fairies, incest — to explain magnets.


  1. I love this. Holy legends! It's posts like this that keep me coming back for more...that, and complete and utter boredom at work.

  2. Pointy-headed comment from over-educated guy: Very seldom does a story spring up to "explain" the existence of something. Usually, the story is there already and the physical evidence, such as the pointy rocks, is used by locals to validate the truth of the story. Sometimes also the ethnologist will coax a local to put an explanation on a story that never needed one. Human beings do not need to explain the existence of pointy rocks. They do, however, like to-- or have to-- deal with the anxiety and ambiguity of incest, and I have a feeling that was the original motivation for the story.