*The Witches of Subeshi* is a name given to mummies found on the northern Silk Route near Turfan in the TaklaMakan Desert.  These female mumies were buried in tall, cone-shaped hats nearly two feet high.  The caps resemble headgear worn by male and female shamans from deep antiquity.  This is the tale of one such witch.


      The Moon Witch of Subeshi


Once upon a time, of course, is a standard beginning for the oral tale.  This story, though, begins “Once upon a place.”


Long ago, there lived at Subeshi, a village near Turpan, a wonderful old woman deeply skilled in necromancy. Her charms, spells, and healings made her the favorite of the neighborhood. However, she had failed to impress her husband with any belief in her supernatural powers.  He dismissed her good works and ridiculed the tall, peaked hat that she was wont to wear.  When his scorn was strongest, the old woman would shrug and say:


“I suppose you want none of the benefits, then?”


He would reply: “No, not on your life!”

One day the husband came home from a long journey, and, having been on the desert for weeks, was exceedingly hungry.  His wife offered him wheat cakes and honey.  But he wanted meat, and there was no good meat to please him in the house.   He was very angry, but all the old woman would say was, “Do you want me to turn a rabbit into fine beef?”  Still, her calm made him all the more agitated

Finally, he decided to break his resolve about her supposed powers. 

“All right, yes!” 

He told her that he would agree to spare her life if, within the hour, she could catch a rabbit, turn it into a cow, and cook it into a shank of tasty beef.  The woman looked at him with narrowed eyes – but she put on her hat and cloak and left the house.  It was twilight; an almost-full moon was rising.  The man watched her from the doorway as she went down the hill in the moonlight.  He thought he saw his wife quietly place herself on the ground and disappear.  In her place a large hare ran off at full speed. 

Soon, though, he returned to the house and was startled to see a large cut of beef roasting on the spit.  He was so famished he decided not to wait for his wife to serve the dinner – he took the beef from the fire, ate his fill, and went to sleep.

The next day dawned clear and blue – and when the man came out of his sleeping chamber, he saw that his wife was still not there.  He went out the door and looked down the hill.  There he saw her body – just where she had seemed to disappear the night before.  He was filled with remorse, and he arranged a fine funeral for her.

Six aged men carried the coffin to the funeral grounds.  When the men were well down the hill and into the valley, a hare burst out of the bushes and leaped over the coffin.  The terrified bearers let the corpse fall to the ground.  When they picked it up again, they were amazed that, suddenly, the coffin seemed to weigh almost nothing.   

That night, when the full moon rose, everyone could see the large rabbit crouching on the face of the magical moon.  The villagers then knew why the coffin had finally seemed so light.


Author Note:

The Migratory Legends of Tale Type 3055 are common across the globe and throughout many eras.  This is one possible version.

The Chinese legends refer to the “Man in the Moon” as the “Rabbit in the Moon.”

The Witches of Subeshi Tale of The Moon Witch of Subeshi
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