The Peddler of Swaffham

A comment here on a post about ghost stories put me in mind of certain tales that everyone has seen or heard in one variation or another.  Show of hands – how many heard “The Hook Man,” around the time they started to date?  How many variations of “The Vanishing Hitchhiker” have been made into TV movies or episodes of The Twilight Zone?

A much older tale that is widely distributed tells of a poor man who becomes rich by paying attention to a dream.

I first heard “The Peddler of Swaffham” told by Robert Bela Wilhelm, who, with his wife Kelly, has devoted his life to inspiring people to tell stories and explore the spirituality of stories.  Be sure to check out some of the riches on the Wilhelm’s website:

Carving of the Peddler in a Swaffham church

Bob told “The Peddler of Swaffham” on one of his “Storyfest Journeys.”  More about the journeys soon when I dig out some of the pictures.

The gist of the story is, a peddler from a village in Norfolk dreams that he will find gold if he travels to London bridge.  He makes the journey with his dog, spends three days and nights on the street waiting, and is wondering what went wrong when a merchant asks what he is about.  The peddler says he dreamed of the riches he would discover at London Bridge.  The merchant laughs and says dreams are just foolishness:  “Why just last night I dreamed of a bag of gold under the peddlar’s oak in the village of Swaffham, wherever that is, but you don’t see me running all over the countryside, do you?”

According to Wikepedia, ( the first version of this story was a poem by Rumi, In Cairo Dreaming of Baghdad; In Baghdad Dreaming of Cairo, that later became a story in The Arabian Nights. I know I have seen a Jewish version of the story where the city is jerusalem. The story more recently was incorporated into the plot of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Monument to the Peddler in Swaffham

What the Peddler of Swaffham or Cairo or Jerusalem has in common with countless folktales all over the world is it’s lesson that it is voice of the small, the despised, the overlooked, the ignored – the dream, the third son, the dwarf, the old woman, the child, the animal beside the road, that points the way toward the riches of a more awakened existence.

I once heard a psychology professor say that the way to get moving again if we are stuck in our lives is to listen for the small hunch, the little impulse, the passing thought that, “Oh, this might me interesting to try.”

The same teacher, on another occasion said that in his study of folklore, the greatest predictor of success, bar none, was the hero or heroine winning the help of a talking animal – but that is a story for another occasion.

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