The hunting stake

June 10, 2010

Continuing on from yesterday’s post, here is one of my favourite stories from Adomnán’s Life of St. Columba.

**

Once, a layman who lived in the district of Lochaber, and who was very poor, came to St. Columba.  He had no means of providing food for his wife and children, and so St. Columba took pity on him.  He gave such alms as he was able to the poor man, who was begging, and said:

‘My poor fellow, get a stick of wood from the forest here and bring it to me quickly.’

The dejected man obeyed the saint’s command and fetched the piece of wood, which the saint took from him and sharpened to a point.  He did this with his own hands, then blessed it and gave it to the needy man, saying:

‘Keep this sharp stick carefully.  It will not harm any man, I believe, nor any cattle, but with it you may kill wild animals and fish.  As long as you have this stake, your house will never be short of game for the table.’

The poor beggar was delighted to hear this and returned home.  He set the sharp stick up in an out-of-the-way place where there were wild creatures, and after only one night he went to check his stake-trap in the early morning.  There he found a stag of amazing size had fallen on the stake.

Why say more?  It is said that no day could pass but he found a stag or a hind or some other creature had fallen on the stake where it was fixed.  Also, when the house was filled with game, he sold to neighbours the surplus that the hospitality of his house could not use.  But the devil’s hatred reached this pitiable man, as it did Adam, through his wife.  She, like a fool without any sense, spoke to her husband saying this kind of thing:

‘Take up that stake from the ground, for if any person or cattle should be killed by it, then you and I and our children will be killed or led into slavery.’

‘Nothing like that will happen,’ said her husband, ‘for St. Columba said to me when he blessed the stake that it would never harm people or cattle.’

But after exchanges of this kind, the beggar gave in to his wife and went to take up the stake, which he brought back to the house as though he loved it and kept it inside by the wall.  However, not long afterwards, a house-dog fell on it and died.  At this the wife resumed her complaint:

‘One of your children,’ she said, ‘will fall on that stake and be killed.’

So the man took the stake from the wall and carried it back to the woods, and he set it in a place where the brambles grew so thick, he thought no living creature could be hurt by it.  But the next day he went back and found that a goat had fallen on it and been killed.  He again moved the stake and set it where it was hidden underwater, though near the bank, in the river Lochy.  Again, returning to it one day, he found a salmon of amazing size stuck on the stake.  Indeed, it was so big he could hardly lift it from the river and take it home.  He took the stake away with him too and this time set it on top of his roof outside.  Here a raven flying past dropped onto it and died.  After this, the poor man, ruined by the advice of his foolish wife, took the stake down, chopped it into pieces with his axe, and threw the fragments in the fire.  From then on he returned to begging, a fate he deserved, for he had thrown away the means of no small relief from his poverty; for this relief from penury had depended on that stake which had stood him in good stead as snare or net or any other means of hunting or fishing, because it had been blessed and given by St. Columba.  But now that it was  thrown away, the wretched layman and his whole family, to whom it had brought prosperity for a time, regretted its loss too late during all that remained of his life.

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