The Imps with the Bags

Swearing is said to feed the Devil, and swearing during Christian holidays must be extra nourishing for him. Here is a moral tale of just that:

It is said that a long time ago, in a valley in the north of Iceland which is no longer inhabited, there were once seven farms. It happened that one Christmas Eve the farmer who owned the farm nearest the mouth of the valley was guarding his sheep while they grazed. In the twilight he noticed seven half-grown boys walking on the bank of the river and heading towards the valley. All were dressed in black, with caps on their heads and carrying folded-up bags. They were moving very fast and running with a strange and grotesque gait. 

The farmer felt very uneasy upon seeing this sight and stared after the lads until they disappeared around a hillock. He wondered who they could be, and finally came to the conclusion that they must be imps, come to collect all the swearing people did over the Christmas holidays, to feed their master and themselves. 

When he came home that night the farmer spoke to his people and told them to avoid all swearing until Twelfth Night was over, promising to give them a nice treat if they were able to do this. The people promised to behave and everyone watched themselves carefully over the Christmas season and no-one swore at all. 

But on the morning of Twelfth Night when the milkmaid walked into the cow byre everything was topsy turvy in there: the cows were all loose and tied together by the tails and so wild that she could hardly handle them. During her struggle to get everything settled she got angry and said: “What a damned mess!”

That same day the farmer was tending to his sheep in the same spot as on Christmas Eve, and in the twilight that night he saw the same seven lads coming down the valley. Six of them were fat and glossy-looking and ran down the river bank with much noise and laughter, carrying very full bags. Behind then stumbled the seventh, skinny as a rake and sullen-looking. His bag was empty except there seemed to be a little something in one corner of it. His companions teased him relentlessly and laughed at him. 

That night the farmer told the people what he had seen and gave everyone a nice, big extra serving of food.

Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.


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