A gentle voice answered, "A friend."
Wearily, the old woman rose and opened the door of her tiny, one room house. There stood a beautiful woman dressed as a pilgrim.
The beautiful pilgrim asked, "Will you give me lodging? All the houses down the hill in the village are full with those here for the festival of San Giovanni . May I rest here? The Regina della luna e della stella will bless you."
The old woman opened the door and let the pilgrim in.
"Have you no fire?" asked the pilgrim.
"No," answered the woman. "I never have wood for the fire."
"That will never do. A storm is coming tonight," said the pilgrim, "I'll gather you some." She left before the little old woman could respond.
The pilgrim returned fairly quickly with an armload of dry kindling. She laid the wood in the hearth and murmured a prayer. Soon a nice fire was crackling on the stones.
"Thank you," said the old woman.
"Now, I'll get some more wood so there is plenty, and you can start some supper."
The old woman looked embarrassed. Then she said, "I've nothing to cook. I'm very sorry. I only had an old crust of bread left, and I ate it today before you came." The old woman looked down sadly. "I'm only a poor beggar, and I've felt too sick today to go to the village to ask for anything."
"Oh, never mind that," said the pilgrim. "I have something we can share. Let me gather some herbs for soup and some more wood. You just rest there."
The pilgrim returned with more wood and some wild onions and mint.
"How did you manage that?" asked the old woman. "You were not gone long. The sun's not fully even set."
"You have a bunch of wild onions and mint out back of your home. And I hurried to beat the storm."
"Ah, I know it's been coming," answered the woman. "I've been feeling it in my joints all day."
The old woman rubbed her knees as the heat of the fire eased the ache. "I am glad for the fire."
The old woman peered at the piled, neatly stacked wood, for it seemed at least three times as large as what the pilgrim had carried in. She rubbed her eyes and thought, I did not see how much she brought. Then she thought, I do not remember any wild onions or mint out back. I am a silly old thing.
The pilgrim busied herself filling the woman's pot with water and setting it over the fire--murmuring her prayers as pilgrims are wont to do.
"Where did you get the water? I thought the water jar was nearly empty."
"No," answered the pilgim. "It is nearly full."
The old woman looked and indeed the jar was full.
"Take your rest," said the pilgrim.
The old woman sat back down, thinking, How foolish I am. I must have filled it from the fountain. Perhaps yesterday? I am a silly old thing that cannot keep things straight.
The pilgrim poured some grain from a pouch into the water with the wild onions and mint and stirred and stirred.
Outside, a summer rain began and lightning flashed and thunder cracked. Inside, the fire blazed in the hearth.
The pilgrim asked, "Have you any wine? The soup is almost ready."
The old woman said, "In truth, I have a little. They gave me a bottle at the eating shop in charity." She rose and noticed, happily, that the rest and the heat of the fire had caused the ache to go out of her joints. However, she added, "I don't think there is much left, as I have already drank some."
She set the bottle before the pilgrim, who had laddled the soup into two bowls.
The pilgrim bowed her head in prayer before the humble feast, blessed the wine and opened the bottle. She said, "Why, there is plenty of wine here! You have hardly touched it."
Indeed, when the old woman held the bottle, it was nearly full. She thought, I am a silly old thing. I must have felt so ill today that I drank no wine. That is odd, for I thought I'd had some with the last of the bread.
The old woman tasted the soup. "This is wonderful," she said. "I thank you." In truth, the old woman was very grateful for the simple fare, for it was filling and hot.
"It is an old recipe I picked up in my wanderings--barley, wild onions, and mint. I shall leave you the pouch with the rest of the barley in it."
"That is very kind," said the old woman, "but I should hate for you to have given it all to me."
"Nonsense," answered the pilgrim. "I have another pouch with me. Besides, I should be outside in the rain had you not taken me in."
Indeed, outside the house a cold rain fell and the wind shivered the air.
"Well, then I thank you again," answered the little old woman as the pilgrim poured her another cup of wine and filled the bowl with soup.
The old woman ate and then said, "I have only one bed. Would you like it?"
"Oh, no," answered the pilgrim. "That would shame me to put a dear old soul out of her bed. No, indeed, a dry floor out of the rain is good enough for a pilgrim like me. I have slept in caves and in the woods under trees."
So the little old woman laid down in her bed as the pilgrim tossed a few more sticks in the fire.
The old woman rubbed her eyes, thinking, The wood pile looks just as big as it did when we sat down to eat. I am a silly old thing whose eyes are weak and memory is bad.
The little old woman fell into a deep, comfortable sleep with a full belly and painless joints.
In the middle of the night, the woman was roused gently from slumber by a brilliant white light, which seemed to be filling the whole room, so that it was sweetened and perfumed.
She opened her eyes and it was very, very quiet. The beautiful pilgrim stood at a window with the shutters open.
"I'm sorry," said the pilgrim, turning towards her. "Did I wake you?"
"What was that light?" asked the old woman.
"Yes, the beautiful light that filled the room," persisted the little old woman.
"It must be the moonlight. The rain has stopped and the full moon is shining. It is beautiful."
Indeed, there was a patch of white moonlight shining on the floor.
"No," said the old woman. "It was--more."
"Perhaps you were dreaming," answered the pilgrim, gazing again at the moon.
"Perhaps," said the little old woman, for she suddenly felt very drowsy again. She yawned and drifted back asleep, dreaming of sweet flowers scenting the moonlit air.
In the morning, the little old woman awoke to find the pilgrim already awake and having reheated the soup for some breakfast.
"Ah," said the pilgrim. "I am glad you are rested. I've plucked some more wild onions and mint for you and they are hanging to dry. There is the pouch with the barley in it. I'm sure you will find it enough. There is the last of the soup, but your jar is filled with water. I must be off before the lanes are crowded."
The old woman thanked the beautiful pilgrim almost tearfully for the great help and said, "I will try to repay your kindness with kindness to other pilgrims."
The beautiful pilgrim smiled and said, "Here are also some beads to say your prayers upon to Regina del cielo e della terra. She is the protector of the unfortunate. They are but simple wooden beads with no fancy metals, but remember it is the prayers of gratitude that are important. Let the Regina never be far from your lips and from your heart. Following her, you will never sink into despair. If you have need, pray to the Regina." Thus, the pilgrim departed.
Now, here is the most extraordinary thing. Over the years, when a wandering pilgrim or two would come, the little old woman would invite them in and share with them whatever charity she had from the village as well as some soup and a bit of wine, for it seems she always had some dried barley in a pouch.
If anyone asked about whence she got the barley, she explained that a kind-hearted beautiful pilgrim gave it to her not long ago. She explained that her kindness was a blessing of the Regina in heaven. She poured out her gratitude while fingering the wooden beads. She pointed also to the wood heaped on the woodpile, the water jar, and the dried herbs hanging from the ceiling.
As she poured her guests some wine from an old bottle, she would often add, "I'm a silly old thing and my memory's bad, so I can't quite remember when she was here, but it must have been quite recent, because all that she did for me has still not run out."
copyright 2007 Myth Woodling
This story is not an Italian folktale exactly--it is inspired by various stories of visiting saints, angels, and holy men.
The name Regina della luna e della stella translates as "Queen of the Moon and Stars" and the name, Regina del cielo e della terra translates as "Queen of Heaven and Earth." Both titles could be applied to the Madonna, but I plucked them from Leland's Aradia. They are titles for Diana.
Many Wiccans claim that La Bella Pellegrina, "the Beautiful Pilgrim" was an epithet of Aradia, daughter of Diana. In this fictional story, Aradia was a compassionate visitor to an old woman.
The white light accompanied by a scent of flowers is a common motif used to indicate a divine or blessed presence--as are supplies of never diminishing water, wine, wood, and/or food.
Barley grew better in Greece than in Italy, hence I thought a pouch of barley that never became empty would be an interesting gift for the "pilgrim" to leave behind. A bag of food that never runs out is a common motif in folktales as a gift from the Faerie as well.
Secret Story of Aradia
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