Japanese folk tale, 'paraphrased' from the version found in Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola

Once there was a young woman who lived in a fragrant pine forest at the base of a mountain. Her husband had been away at the wars for many years, and when she heard that he was coming home, she was overjoyed. She shopped and cooked and cleaned and cooked to prepare for his arrival. But when her husband reached the edge of the trees, he refused to come closer. He stayed outside.

So the young wife gathered up the bowls of food, put them on a tray, and shyly carried them out to him. She laid them all out beautifully. But her husband kicked the food over and yelled at her. “Go away,” he roared, “and leave me alone. Get away from me.”

The young woman, shaken and upset, went back to the house. The next day she made more food and took it to her husband but the same thing happened. This went on for a while. The husband would not come inside or eat her food. He was comfortable with the ground after his many years away. The young woman got very discouraged. So one morning she went out to the outskirts of the village, to the hut of the local healer.

This old woman invited her inside and asked her about her troubles. “It's my husband,” said the young woman. “Since he came home from the wars he is very changed. He won't come into the house. I wonder if you could make me a special potion that will make him gentle and loving again.”

The healer thought for a moment and said, “Yes. Well, I can make you such a potion. But there's one hitch. I am all out of the most important ingredient. I need a hair from the moon on the throat of the Crescent Moon Bear. You would have to go and get me such a hair.”

“Where is the bear?” asked the young woman. The healer pointed to the snowy peaks of the mountains off in the distance. Another woman might have been completely discouraged and despairing at this news. But this young woman loved her husband. She was glad that there was a solution to her problem. So she went home and packed up a few things and set off for the mountain tops, and the bear.

At first the walking was easy. Then she came to a boulder field with rocks as large as huge loaves of bread. “Arigato zaisho,” she said, as she crossed the rocks. “Thank you for letting me cross.” Then she came to a thick forest of pine trees with drooping branches full of leaves shaped like little stars. “Arigato zaisho” she said, and the trees lifted their branches for her to walk beneath them.

Now the way got much more difficult. The mountain got steeper and steeper and the rocks got sharper and sharper. She cut her hands, and scratchy, thorny little plants grabbed at her clothes and tore them. But she kept going. “Arigato zaisho,” she said. Just as dusk began to fall, a flock of large, dark birds swooped down around her, circling her head. The birds frightened the young woman. She knew that they were the spirits of people who did not have relatives to bury them. “I will be your relative” she said to the birds. They flew away.

Now snow began to fall and the wind blew hard. The young woman's clothes got heavy with snow. It blew into her eyes and ears and mouth. “Arigato zaisho” she said. Finally she reached the mountain top. Groping her way through the wet darkness, she found a little hollow just big enough to fold her body into. Although she had a pack full of food, she did not eat, but fell asleep.

The sun was shining when the young woman woke up the next morning, and she could even see little green plants poking up here and there, through the snow. She got up, stretched, and set out to find the crescent moon bear. The woman walked all day. Near evening, she found a huge pile of scat, and heard a low rumbling growl. Just off in the distance she could see the bear, lumbering into a cave.

The young woman took off her pack and made a bowl of food. Carefully, quietly, she crept near the mouth of the cave and set the bowl down. Then she turned and ran back to her own little hollow. The bear smelled the food. He came to his doorway and looked around. He cautiously sniffed the air. Finally he approached the bowl and circled it several times. When he was sure there was no threat, he gobbled the food in one gulp and went back into his cave.

The next day, the woman left another bowl of food. The bear did a cautious survey, then ate it. The same the following day. Every day the woman left a bowl of food for the bear, and every day she stayed just a little bit closer to the cave. Her food was near gone. She decided that the time had come. She took a deep breath, screwed up her courage, and made another bowl of food. As usual, she set it down near the mouth of the cave. But this time she didn't hide. She stood right next to the doorway.

The crescent moon bear emerged and he saw the bowl of food. He also saw a pair of small human feet. The bear roared so loud that the woman felt the rocks rumble. She was very scared but she didn't move. The bear stood up on his hind legs and loomed over her. The tips of his long claws glanced the top of her head. He growled and snarled and showed his teeth. The woman was shaking like a leaf but she didn't run. In a small voice she said, “Please dear bear. I've come all this way to see you and fed you all these nights because I need a cure for my husband. Please help me.”

The bear dropped back down onto all fours and looked the woman hard in the face. She would be so easy to kill. But he felt sorry for her. The woman looked into the bear's brown eyes and suddenly she saw every village, every town, every life flash in an instant, the whole round of the world. Suddenly, she was at peace.

“What do you need,” asked the bear. “I need one hair, just one hair from the crescent moon at your throat,” she answered. The bear thought a moment and said, “Ok, you can have one hair. But take it and be quick about it. Get it and run.” The bear raised his head and the woman put one hand on his throat. She could feel his heart beating and blood pounding. With the other hand she grasped a hair and yanked. The bear growled. She had the hair!

“Thank you, oh thank you, of thank you,” said the woman, bowing. The bear growled and roared loud and deep and shook his head and the woman remembered and she ran. She ran and ran. She tumbled down the steep mountainside with the sharp rocks and the prickly plants. “Arigato zaisho.” She raced under the trees with drooping boughs. “Arigato zaisho.” She climbed over the boulders as large as loaves of bread. “Arigato zaisho.”

The young woman reached the village. Her hair was a mess, her clothing was torn and dirty, but she didn't stop. She went straight to the hut of the healer and knocked on the door. The old woman answered and let her in. “I got it, I got it,” said the young woman, “I've brought a hair from the moon on the throat of the crescent moon hair.” She held out the hair.

“Why it looks like a genuine crescent moon bear hair,” said the healer. She took the hair and weighed it in her hand. She held it up to the light. She smiled and said “Congratulations my dear. You have succeeded.” Then with a quick flick of the wrist she tossed the hair into the fire and it burned up, poof, in an instant.

“Oh no, what have you done?!” cried the young woman, “what have you done with the hair?” The healer said, “My dear, do you remember the journey that you just made?” “Yes,” said the young woman, “I remember every step.” “And you remember all that happened with the bear?” asked the healer. “Yes,” the young woman said. “Well,” said the old healer, “Now go home to your husband with what you have learned.”

back to top

You could leave a comment if you were logged in.
  • Last modified: 2017/02/14 04:18
  • by janus