Learning Magic or The Taoist Priest of Lao-Shan

Many years ago, there was a man named Sung, who was not very fond of work but longed to be a magician and do all kinds of wonderful tricks. So one day off he went to a temple on a mountain, and there he found an old priest, with long hair flowing down his back, and sitting on a rush mat. Making a low bow. Sung asked the priest if he would be kind enough to teach him magic. “Ah,” replied the priest, ” I am afraid you are not strong enough for that.” Sung begged the priest to let him try; and so he was allowed to stay in the temple and join in with the other pupils. Very early next morning the priest sent for him, and giving him a hatchet told him to go out and cut firewood. This he went on doing every day for a month, until his hands and feet were so sore that he secretly began to wish himself home again.

One evening, when he came back, he found two strangers drinking wine with the priest. It was already dark, and as no candles had been brought in, the old priest took a pair of scissors, and cut out a round piece of paper which he stuck upon the wall. Immediately it became bright as the moon, and lighted up the whole room. Then, one of the strangers took a kettle of wine, and told the pupils to help themselves. Sung wondered how they would all get enough to drink out of such a small kettle, but to his astonishment there was plenty for everybody, and more still left in the kettle. Then the other stranger said, “Why not get the Lady of the Moon to come and join us?” So he seized a chopstick. and threw it into the moon, and at once a lovely young girl stepped out. At first she was only a foot high; but on reaching the ground, she became as tall as an ordinary woman. She sang a pretty song, with a voice like a flute, and when she had finished she danced round and round, and at last jumped up on the table, where to the astonishment of everybody she became a chopstick again. ” Very good,” said one of the strangers, ” now we must bid you good night, as we are going to drink a glass of wine in the palace of the moon.” The strangers then picked up the table and walked into the moon, where they could be seen quite plainly talking and drinking together. By and by the moon suddenly went out ; and when the pupils brought lighted candles they found the priest sitting in the dark alone, with the piece of paper on the wall. The priest then sent them to bed, so that they should not be late with their wood- cutting in the morning.

But after a time, Sung could not stand this any longer ; and as the priest taught him no magical tricks, he went to him and said, ” I have been here three months, doing nothing but chop firewood, work to which I was never accustomed before. I now wish to go home.” “Well,” said the priest, “I told you that you were not strong enough. You can go home tomorrow.” ” Sir,” said Sung, ” I have worked for you a long time ; please teach me some little trick that I may not have come all this long way for nothing.” ” What trick would you like to learn?” asked the priest. “Well,” answered Sung, “I have noticed that whenever you walk about anywhere, you are not stopped by walls ; you walk, through them. Teach me this, and I shall be satisfied.” The priest laughed and told him to say, Hobbery jibbery snobbery snoo, at the same time walking through the wall. Sung walked up to the wall, but couldn’t get through it ; so the priest said, “Don’t go so slowly; put your head down and run at it.” Sung did as he was told, and the next moment found himself outside the temple. Delighted at this, he went in to thank the priest, who told him to be very careful and not show off too much.

When Sung got home he went about bragging of what he could do; but as people disbelieved his story, he determined to prove to them that he was telling the truth. In order to do this, he put his head down and rushed at a wall, but he only hit the bricks very hard and was knocked down flat on the ground. When he was picked up he had a bump on his forehead as big as an egg, at which everybody roared with laughter.

By P’u Sung-ling, retold by H. A. Giles.

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