An Old Woman as the Devil's Helper

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1353
edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2002-2011


  1. The Devil's Tyranny Against a Married Couple (Germany, Martin Luther).

  2. An Old Woman Worse Than the Devil (Germany, Karl Bartsch).

  3. Katie Grey (Sweden, G. Djurklo).

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The Devil's Tyranny Against a Married Couple

Germany, Martin Luther

In stories we read about two young married people who loved one another with all their hearts and got along ever so well together. Now the devil wanted to sow discord between them so they would no longer love one another.

He went to an old whore, a wicked woman, and offered her a pair of red shoes if she could sow discord between the married people.

The old slut accepted the challenge, then went to the man and said, "Listen, your wife is planning to kill you."

The man said, "That cannot be true. I know that my wife loves me sincerely."

"No," said the old woman, "she is in love with someone else, and she intends to slit your throat."

Thus she succeeded in making the man afraid of his wife. He thought that something horrible might happen to him.

Soon afterward the old slut went to the man's wife and said, "Your husband does not love you."

When the wife answered, "I have a pious husband, and I know that he loves me," the old slut responded, "No, he wants to take another woman, so you should stop him. Take a razor, put it under his pillow, and kill him."

The wife believed the old slut, and the poor, crazy fool became furious with her husband.

The husband grew suspicious, and, learning from the old whore that his wife had hidden a razor under his pillow, he waited until his wife was asleep, found the razor, and killed his wife.

Then the old woman came to the devil and demanded the pair of red shoes. The devil reached the shoes to her, but he did so on a long pole, for he was afraid of her. He said, "Take them. You are wickeder than I am."

An Old Woman Worse Than the Devil

Karl Bartsch

Once upon a time there was a married couple who lived peacefully with each other. This irritated the devil, so he went to an old woman in the village and said to her, "If you can bring discord between these two married people, you shall have a pair of leather slippers."

She said, "We shall see."

Then she went to the wife when she was home alone and said, "Do you have a good husband, and do you get along well with him?"

"Yes," she answered, "I could never find a better husband in my whole life."

"Good," said the old woman. "I will tell you a means of guaranteeing that you will never quarrel with him. This evening, after he has gone to bed and fallen asleep, take a knife and cut off a few of the hairs that grow on his Adam's apple. If you do that, you will never quarrel with one another."

Then she left the house and went to the husband in the field and said to him, "Do you have a very good wife?"

"Yes," said the husband.

"Oh," replied the old woman, "I would not trust womenfolk. Don't trust your wife too much. You should know that tonight while you are asleep she intends to slit your throat."

The husband took notice of this, and that evening he pretended to be asleep. He did indeed see that his wife was silently approaching him with a knife. Then he jumped up, ripped the knife from her hand, and slit her throat.

When the devil brought the red leather slippers to the old woman he held them out to her on a long beanpole.

The old woman asked, "Why are you doing that?"

"You are much, much worse that I am," said the devil, "and not worthy for me to give you the slippers with my hand."

Katie Grey

Sweden, G. Djurklo

There were once upon a time a man and a woman who agreed so well together that a harsh word had never passed between them since the beginning of their married life; for whatever the husband did the wife thought right and proper, and everything that she did the husband thought the best that could be done. They had not much to manage with, so they had to be very careful, even with the crumbs. But no matter how black things looked, they were always happy and contented.

But envy seems to find her way into every corner, be it ever so humble, and if there is no one else who begrudges people living in peace, Old Nick [the devil] always tries to get his foot inside. So he lay in wait outside their house, wondering how he should be able sow ever so little dissension there.

He tried in one way, and he tried in another, and he tried in every way; but although he was always hovering about the house, they kept so well together that he could not find a single chink through which he could slip in, however small he made himself.

But what Old Nick himself cannot accomplish, wicked women may manage. In the same neighborhood there lived one called Katie Grey who was one of the right sort. To her he went, and asked if she could set the old couple against each other.

That wouldn't be very difficult, she thought; and if only he would give her a new jacket and petticoat with red and green and blue stripes she would be sure to manage it so that Old Nick himself should not be able to do it better. Well, Old Nick agreed to that, and so they parted.

Early next morning, as soon as the husband had set out for the forest, Katie Grey rushed off to see the wife.

"Good morning, and well met!" she said, making herself as pleasant as possible.

"Good morning!" said the wife.

"You have a very good husband, you have, haven't you?" said Katie Grey.

"Yes, the Lord be praised!" said the wife. "When the first snow falls this autumn it will be six and thirty years since we were married, and never during all these years has a single harsh word fallen from his lips."

Katie Grey quite agreed with her, as you may guess. "Yes, he is no doubt one of the best men one can meet in a day's walk," she said. But I know people who have got on just as well as you two, and yet trouble came in the end."

"Poor people!" said the wife. "But just as soon will the mouse lie down with the cat, as such things will be heard about us," she said.

Well, that might be. Katie Grey was not one to believe all that people said, but "better wise beforehand than hasty afterwards," and "those who remedies know, can well kill illness, I trow." And as she knew of a remedy against such a misfortune, she thought she ought to mention it, for when they had lived together like a pair of turtledoves for six and thirty years it would be both "sin and shame" if they were now to begin to bicker and quarrel.

The wife could not say anything to that.

"Well, you see," said Katie Grey, for now she thought she had got the better of the wife, "if you take a razor and draw it three times along a strop against the sun, and then cut off six hairs from your husband's beard just under his chin one night when he is asleep, and afterwards burn them, he will never he angry with you."

The wife said she did not think she would ever be in need of that remedy, but she thanked her for her good advice all the same.

Katie Grey then set out for the forest, where the husband was making osier bands.

"Good morning, and well met!" she said.

"Good morning to you!" said the man.

"What a very kind and good wife you have got!" she said.

"That's true enough," said the man. "There isn't a better woman on this side of the sun, nor has there ever been one either."

"That may be," said Katie Grey, "but so was Eve also before the Evil One got the better of her."

"Yes, that's true; but my wife, you see, is not one of that sort, for she never puts her foot where such wickedness is going on," he said.

"Don't be so sure about that, for the Evil One can creep through the eye of a needle," she said, "so that no one is secure against him. Not that I want make any mischief between people -- no one can say that about me -- but those who will run into danger had better be well looked after. 'All is not gold that glitters,' and 'outside mild, inside wild,' often go together," she said.

"You talk according to the sense you have," said the man, who began to feel angry. "My wife is no more likely to wish me evil than the sun to shine in the middle of the night -- that I may tell you," he said.

"Thinking and believing do no harm to anybody," she said. "But I think you will do a wise thing in not closing your eyes tonight when your wife comes and draws a razor across your throat. But not a word about this to anyone, do you hear?" she said, and off she went.

One gets to hear a good deal before one has done with this world -- but did one ever hear the like of this? Could it be possible? The man felt as strange in his head as if he had rolled down the church steeple. But whatever it was that ailed him, there he stood pondering and brooding.

Pshaw! She was after all only a wicked woman who wanted to set them against each other. Yes, that was it; and he was very sorry he had not given her a good thrashing for her trouble.

But although he worked away and toiled his best with his osiers, he could not get out of his head what Katie Grey had put into it. And when he came home in the evening he was so depressed and silent that his wife had never seen him in such a state before, so strange was he.

"Goodness knows, what can be the matter with my husband?" she thought; and then she suddenly recollected what Katie Grey had told her.

"I may as well take three hairs from his beard," she thought, "for when you have had a happy home for six and thirty years, it isn't likely you'll let it slip through your fingers all at once."

But she did not dare to speak to her husband; she only asked him to lend her his razor.

He let her have it, but he sighed and thought to himself, "I wonder if she would do me any harm? I wonder it she really could? Oh, no! That's quite impossible."

But he put his axe close to his bed, and then they both lay down to rest.

Later on in the night she asked, "Are you asleep, husband?"

This startled the man, but he did not say a word, and the wife stole out of bed and lighted a candle.

The man's heart began to beat violently.

The wife then took the razor and drew it three times along the leather belt of her husband's apron, and went towards the bed.

The blood rushed to the man's head, so that he almost lost his senses, but he lay as quiet as a stone, and only moved his hand towards the axe.

The wife then came close to the bed to cut the three hairs from his beard.

But as she leaned forward, the man suddenly jumped up and seized his axe, with which he struck his wife, who fell down dead on the floor.

He felt he had done a very wicked deed, but he had not thought that things would come to this pass.

He became much distressed -- for what was he going to do?

It was perhaps best he followed his wife, and so he took a knife and cut his throat.

Just then he heard someone laughing outside the window, and he looked in that direction. There he saw Katie Grey, and then he died.

Katie Grey was now quite proud that she had been able to do more than the Evil One himself.

Old Nick was not far off either. He came with a petticoat and a jacket hanging on a long, long pole, which he held out towards her.

"Come nearer, so that I may shake hands with you and thank you," she said.

"No, keep away from me!" he cried, and kept her back with his pole, which he poked at her.

"You call me the Wicked One and the Evil One and such things, but I am not as wicked as you are, at any rate. Look here," he said; "take what belongs to you, so that I can have done with you."

And with this he threw the pole and the clothes at her, and took to his heels as fast as ever he could, so afraid was he of her.

Katie Grey stood wondering and staring after him. Just then two white pigeons came flying out of the cottage, and flew right up into the clouds above. They were the man and his wife; for though Old Nick had wished them evil, the Lord would take care of them.

But what would become of Katie Grey, seeing that the Evil One himself did not dare to go near her? It is not easy to say.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised March 22, 2013.