The Reindeer Maiden
A Siberian Tale
ONE WINTRY DAY IN SIBERIA, long, long ago, the Moon gazed down on the snowy fields. As he watched the people traveling across the land together, he grew lonely, and so he drifted nearer, watching closely. Before long he understood he must visit this place. So the Moon transformed into human form, and in this way he moved about the world, studying the ways of the people.
One day in his travels he happened upon a wandering herd of reindeer led by a lovely maiden, the reindeer herder's daughter.
Every winter, the reindeer herder gave her a magical reindeer and sent her to lead his huge herd from their home deep in the snowy land to lush, faraway pastures. Now, as the maiden and her reindeer traveled, she played her flute to entertain herself and to fill the long, dark, lonely days.
The Moon had heard the maiden's melodies as he traveled across the sky. Now, on earth, he heard the familiar music, and the sound lured him closer. He began to follow the reindeer maiden and her herd. He watched her every movement; he gazed at her face. He listened to her wistful tunes.
After a while, he decided he could not live without her. He knew he must marry the Reindeer Maiden and take her home with him to the sky. Then, he thought, he would never again be lonely.
And so he hurried after her, resolved to capture her.
But the magical reindeer sensed the Moon growing closer, and she heard the voice of one of her reindeer whispering, "The Moon wishes to capture you. You must take care."
At that same moment the maiden felt the Moon's presence. "What shall I do?" she whispered to the magical reindeer. You see, she had no desire to be captured - not by the Moon or anyone. She loved her life just as it was. She loved taking those long treks across the snowy landscape. She loved her music. She loved the friendship of her animal herd. And so she began to feel afraid.
Sensing their leader's fear, the reindeer slowed, and soon the Moon was nearly upon them. The reindeer maiden whispered to her magical reindeer, "Help," and with his magical powers, he turned the maiden into a snowdrift.
When the Moon reached the herd, he looked around, puzzled, he asked, "Where has your maiden gone?"
The creatures ignored him. They simply moved on, trampling icy snow underfoot, taking great care not to step upon their maiden. As soon as the magical reindeer saw that the Moon was lost among the herd, he turned the maiden back into human form, and together they dashed toward the sturdy yaranga, the tent where the maiden slept at night.
Meanwhile, the Moon searched through the herd. When he saw a light, he looked up, and he rushed toward the tent, but just before he reached the opening, the magical reindeer turned the maiden into an oil lamp.
The Moon walked inside and cried, "I've found you," but
there he saw only a bed and the tent poles, a block and a hammer, and in
one corner a shimmering oil lamp. Mystified he called, "Where are you?
I wish to marry you…" He listened, but he heard only the steady breathing
of the great herd of reindeer outside and the hiss of the
The Moon called again. "Please come to me," but no one answered.
He walked outside and once again began to search through the herd, and the
moment he was outside, the maiden transformed into her own body. There was
in her eye and a smile on her face as she opened the tent flap. She cried into the frigid air, "What's wrong with you? Can't you see I'm right here!"
Hearing her voice, the Moon raced back toward the yaranga, but before he reached
it, the reindeer maiden again turned into an oil lamp. Now the Moon was growing
"Where are you? I hear your voice but where have you gone?"
Again nobody answered, and again the Moon walked outside to search, and once
more the reindeer maiden turned into herself, and again she walked to the opening
tent and called, "What's wrong with you? I'm right here…"
Each time the Moon tried to find her, the reindeer maiden transformed shape once more, and in this way she remained hidden.
The Moon was desperate. He rushed this way and that, crying, "Please, please…let me find you, let me see you…" And in his wild search, he grew exhausted.
When the maiden saw that the Moon had grown weak and tired,
she grabbed a sack, ducked out of the tent and threw this over the Moon's head.
Then she bound
his legs and arms and pulled him inside her warm tent. She smiled. "Now I have captured you!"
The Moon begged, "Please, set me free."
"And if I do? What will you offer me in return?"
The Moon thought awhile. Trapped inside that tent, unable to move, he longed
for the sky, for the sweetness of his nighttime journeys, for the freedom he
had so loved.
"I promise if you set me free, I shall return to the sky, and I will offer light to your people."
The maiden thought about this for a while. Then she said, "But sometimes we will wish for darkness."
And so the Moon agreed. "When the people wish for darkness,
I shall disappear, and I shall measure out the year, season by season. Each
month I will give you a different
light. There will be times for hunting and times for frost, times for new leaves and times for newborn calves and brand new days."
The reindeer maiden smiled, but then she thought again. "I cannot let you go. You will grow strong again, and you will try to capture me. I too love my freedom."
But the Moon shook his head. He had learned his lesson. He
understood why the maiden loved her life just as it was. "Never. You have my
word. I will help to look
after you and your people from my place in the sky."
And so the reindeer maiden set the Moon free, and he returned to the sky.
Ever since that day he has cast his light upon the earth, though sometimes, when he remembers the reindeer maiden, his heart grows faint. and his light fades. It is in those times that the people know the Moon is dreaming of the courageous and wondrous reindeer woman he loved.