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HEDGEHOGS . In the myths and legends of Inner Asia and eastern Europe, the hedgehog enjoys considerable respect because of its amazing wisdom. It is often described as being superior in wisdom even to the apparently omniscient God. Moreover, the hedgehog is sometimes a culture hero, instructing people in the various arts of life such as fire making, agriculture, and marriage customs.

In several cultures, the hedgehog has been thought wise enough to have assisted God in his work of creation. As a Romanian cosmogonic myth tells it, during creation the earth had spread out so far that there was no more room for the waters. God did not know what to do, so he sent the bee to the hedgehog, the wisest of all animals, to ask advice. It refused, however, to help, giving the excuse that God was all-knowing. The bee, knowing that the hedgehog is in the habit of talking to itself, stole back up to it and heard it murmuring, "God does not know that he must create valleys and mountains in order to make room for the waters." The bee hurried back to God with this advice, enabling him to complete his creation. Bulgarians have similar stories. In a Lettish version, God himself tells the hedgehog of his cosmogonic dilemma and obtains advice from it. To reward the hedgehog, God gives it a coat made of needles.

The Buriats have preserved a story about how the Lord of the Earth once visited Khormusta Tengri, one of the gods of heaven. On leaving, the Lord of the Earth begged for the sun and the moon as presents. Hospitality did not allow Khormusta Tengri to refuse, so the Lord of the Earth took the lights of the sky with him and shut them up in a box. The whole universe became dark. Distressed, Khormusta Tengri turned to the hedgehog. Using its profound wisdom, the hedgehog was able to return the sun and the moon to their heavenly orbits. In another Buriat version, the two divine beings are Kān-Čurmasan and Lusat, god of the ocean, with the hedgehog playing the same role.

According to the Buriats, fire making originated with the hedgehog. In the beginning, neither gods nor humans could make fire; only Hedgehog, who was then a human being, could. One day, a crowd gathered around Hedgehog to hear the secret of making fire. But the young girls, seeing his strange shape, began to laugh, and this angered him so much that he decided to tell his secret only to his wife, and even then only under a promise of silence. But the hawk overheard him explaining the secret and told it to the gods. From the gods humans in turn learned the art of making fire. Later, the descendants of Hedgehog were transformed into hedgehogs. Similar stories are known among some eastern European peoples: According to the Udmurts and the Mari, it is the hedgehog that showed humans and animals how to make fire using stone, steel, and tinder. They also say that the hedgehog instructed people in using the iron plow to till the soil.

The idea that the hedgehog is a clever animal is still alive, too, in the folklore of western Europe. A German folktale tells of a race between the hedgehog and the hare from which the hedgehog, by a trick, emerges victorious.


Valuable information can be obtained from Demetrius Klementz's "Buriats: Worship of Animals," in volume 3 of the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings (Edinburgh, 1910); Uno Harva's Die religiösen Vorstellungen der altaischen Völker (Helsinki, 1938), pp. 181182, 224225; and Mircea Eliade's Zalmoxis, the Vanishing God: Comparative Studies in the Religions and Folklore of Dacia and Eastern Europe (Chicago, 1972), pp. 84ff.

New Sources

Berlin, Sir Isaiah. The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History. 1953; reprint New York, 1993.

Manabu Waida (1987)

Revised Bibliography