Originally published in Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin, Vol LV, Number 2, 1991.
An interesting motif in Sorbian (Wendish) and German folklore is that of the Seventh Book of Moses, This is supposedly a magic book which Moses used for purposes of witchcraft. Interestingly, there was also the Sixth Book of Moses, but the motif is termed the Seventh Book. This is undoubtedly due to the magical properties of the number seven. (In other words, the motif should actually be called the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, but folk tradition enshrined the latter number.)
There seem to be few folktales involving the Seventh Book of Moses motif. The following example is from Nielsen (124):
“A story in Texas tells of a master blacksmith in Europe who went to church and left the apprentices alone in the shop. In their idleness they explored the building, found a book, and began to read. As they read, a crow flew in through the open window and alighted on a beam. The reading continued and more crows flew in. At that point the blacksmith returned, saw the birds, too the book, and read it backwards. The crows left in the order in which they had come.”
I had always acted under the assumption that the book did not exist. As Dr. Sylvia Grider expressed it during a conversation on the Texas Wends back in the summer of 1977, “the person talking about the book never actually possesses a copy. It’s always his or her neighbor down the road or someone in the next county.”
Imagine my surprise when I submitted an abstract to the Folklore Section of the South Central Modern Language Association for their 1991 meeting. In my abstract I said “the book did not exist, of course, anymore than elves, etc. exist.” Dr. Carl Lindahl, the chair of the section, wrote back:
“I have a copy in my office, given me by a German-American in southern Indiana whose community entertained widespread belief concerning the Seventh Book. I’ve been told (though I have not confirmed) that Sears Roebuck used to market the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses in some of their mail-order catalogues. To convince you that I’m not pulling your leg, I’ve enclosed a xerox copy of the title page of my edition.”
I wonder if this motif is limited to German and Wendish folklore, or is it found in the folklore of other cultures? Does the belief exist, for example, among the rural whites of Tennessee? Additional research would be illuminating.
1. The term Sorbian should not be confused with Serbian. The Sorbs (or Wends as the immigrants to Texas were called) live in southeastern Germany, as opposed to the Serbs of Yugoslavia.
2. For a discussion of the motif, see the entry “Buch Moses” in Beitl and Beitl 114.
3. For another example, see Slizinski 59-60.
Beitl, Richard, and Klaus Beitl. Wörterbuch der Deutschen Volkskunde. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: Alfred Kroner, 1974.
Lindahl, Carl. Letter to the author. 8 March 1991.
Nielsen, George R. In Search of a Home: Nineteenth-Century Wendish Immigration. College Station: Texas A & M UP, 1989.
Slizinski, Jerzy. Sorbische Volkserzählungen. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1964.]]>