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How Saint Anthony Brought Fire to the World

a traditional story from the Mediterranean Islands, retold by Boria Sax, Ph.D.

Once all fire was in Hell, and there was none on the earth. Even in their homes, on winter nights, people shivered from the cold. If they tried to tell stories, their teeth began to chatter, or they would cough and wheeze. At last, they came to Saint Anthony.

Before he became a saint, Saint Anthony had been a swineherd. People found him in the desert, a staff of birch in his hand, and a pig, which would never leave him, at his side. Saint Anthony listened to their entreaties and promised to help, then the pig let out a grunt.

And so Saint Anthony went to the very door of the Inferno. He tapped on it with his staff, but the devils looked out the window and said:

"We recognize you!"

"Go away!"

"You're a saint, and only sinners are allowed in Hell!"

"Open up! It's cold out here!" said Saint Anthony.

Just then, the pig let out a loud grunt, and scratched with his nose against the door. The devils thought, "Roast pork."

"Your pig may enter," said one devil, "but you must stay outside." With that, the devil opened the door a crack. The pig charged through, knocking the devil to the ground, then ran around snorting, grunting, pushing down piles of kindling, and scattering pitchforks. No ropes could hold the pig, and no blows slowed him down. The animal raised so much Hell in Hell, that soon a devil shouted to Saint Anthony, "You may enter, but your damned pig will have to go. Come in and get your pig!"

Saint Anthony walked up to the pig and touched it gently with his staff. At that, the animal instantly grew calm.

"Well," said Saint Anthony, "now that I'm here, I think I'll warm myself." He sat down on a pile of cork beside the fire.

Devils came running by to report to Lucifer about the state of souls on earth. Saint Anthony tapped each devil on the behind, just as he had once done with his swine. A large devil walked up and said "We don't think your jokes are very funny. Put down that staff."

Saint Anthony laid the staff on the ground beside him. Just then a young, impetuous devil, that had just led astray his first soul, came running by crying, "Lucifer, Lucifer, I have a new one for Hell!" This devil was so excited that he tripped over the staff and fell head first into a pile of ashes.

The young devil did not recognize Saint Anthony, and thought the stranger was just another of the damned. So the imp seized the staff and said, "Don't you know the rules! These aren't allowed in here," then started to thrust the staff in the fire.

At that the pig jumped up and, once again, started raising Hell. Saint Anthony said, "If you expect me to calm my pig, you will have to give me back my staff." The large devil picked up the staff and returned it to Saint Anthony. At one soft touch, the pig became quiet.

"Get out of here, and never come back again," roared all the devils. Without a word (or even a grunt), Saint Anthony and his pig walked out of the door of Hell. The devils sighed with relief.

Now what the devils didn't realize is that St. Anthony's staff was soft and dry in the middle, so flame can remain unseen in the wood. Saint Anthony was carrying fire to the people, inside his staff.

As soon as he reached the surface of the earth, Saint Anthony raised his staff and waved it above his head, so that sparks flew in every direction, and he chanted this blessing:

Oh, spirit of fire,
Arise now and go
Round the earth entire
Through rain, through snow.

From that time on, there was fire in every hearth, and people sit around merrily telling stories on winter nights. Saint Anthony took his pig and returned to his simple life in the desert.