[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Chinese Fairy Tales unit. Story source: The Chinese Fairy Book, ed. by R. Wilhelm and translated by Frederick H. Martens (1921).
The Girl with the Horse’s Head or the Silkworm Goddess
So it happened that one day she said in jest to the horse: “If you will bring back my father to me, then I will marry you!”
No sooner had the horse heard her say this than he broke loose and ran away. He ran until he came to the place where her father was. When her father saw the horse, he was pleasantly surprised, caught him, and seated himself on his back. And the horse turned back the way he had come, neighing without a pause.
“What can be the matter with the horse?” thought the father. “Something must have surely gone wrong at home!” So he dropped the reins and rode back. And he fed the horse liberally because he had been so intelligent, but the horse ate nothing, and when he saw the girl, he struck out at her with his hoofs and tried to bite her. This surprised the father; he questioned his daughter, and she told him the truth, just as it had occurred.
“You must not say a word about it to any one,” spoke her father, “or else people will talk about us.”
And he took down his crossbow, shot the horse, and hung up his skin in the yard to dry. Then he went on his travels again.
One day his daughter went out walking with the daughter of a neighbor. When they entered the yard, she pushed the horse-hide with her foot and said: “What an unreasonable animal you were—wanting to marry a human being! What happened to you served you right!”
But before she had finished her speech, the horse-hide moved, rose up, wrapped itself about the girl and ran off.
Horrified, her companion ran home to her father and told him what had happened. The neighbors looked for the girl everywhere, but she could not be found.
At last, some days afterward, they saw the girl hanging from the branches of a tree, still wrapped in the horse-hide, and gradually she turned into a silkworm and wove a cocoon. And the threads which she spun were strong and thick. Her girl friend then took down the cocoon and let her slip out of it, and then she spun the silk and sold it at a large profit.
But the girl’s relatives longed for her greatly. So one day the girl appeared riding in the clouds on her horse, followed by a great company, and said: “In heaven I have been assigned to the task of watching over the growing of silkworms. You must yearn for me no longer!”
And thereupon they built temples to her in her native land and every year, at the silkworm season, sacrifices are offered to her and her protection is implored. And the Silkworm Goddess is also known as the Girl with the Horse’s Head.
Next: The God of War