• The Infractions Forum is available for public view. Please note that if you have been suspended you will need to open a private/incognito browser window to view it.

[WIR] Books on German Folklore

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
Inspired by this thread, I have decided to do a “Where I Read” on books on German folklore in order to bring this glorious source of weirdness to folks elsewhere. German folklore is best known from the assorted collections of the Brothers Grimm (who lived in Kassel, my previous place of residence) who frequently censored the more disturbing bits of folklore - and then their works got culturally appropriated by Disney, who censored it further. But have no fear - I will censor nothing!

The first book I will be looking at is the two-volume “Bayrische Sagen und Bräuche - Beitrag zur Deutschen Mythologie” (“Bavarian Legends and Customs - A Contribution to German Mythology”) by Friedrich Panzer, published in 1848. I’ve picked this for the following reasons:

- Due to my move to Vienna, I am away from my usual library, and this book is publicly available here
- It covers my home state (plus some surrounding regions)
- Unusually for the period, it uses normal Latin letters instead of Fraktur.

“What is Fraktur”, you ask? Well, it’s the traditional font for German texts. Here is a sample:



The gradual shift from Fraktur to modern “Antiqua” font was a huge political issue throughout the 19th and well into the 20th century. And while the Nazis initially pushed for Fraktur, they flip-flopped in 1941 and insinuated that Fraktur was “Jewish” somehow. After that, Germans switched to Antiqua and haven’t looked back. These days, it's only used for Heavy Metal albums.

And personally I can read Fraktur, but I don’t exactly enjoy the experience.
 
Last edited:

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
Anyway, back to “Bayrische Sagen”. The author dedicates it to Jacob Grimm, and Jacob Grimm alone, who was apparently the more popular of the Brothers Grimm.

The introduction points out that while there may be little in the way of Greek and Roman temples in Germany (well, a few of the latter), there are a lot of old pre-Christian cult sites and burial mounds. Furthermore, folklore has left its own traces of the old times (as Jacob Grimm uncovered), such as the “three sisters” motif which may be traced back to the Norns and similar deities. Other recurring themes exist as well, which the author explores in distinct chapters.

But let’s start with the first chapter, which is indeed about the Three Sisters. Since there are a lot of folk tales, I won’t discuss every single of them - just the more interesting ones. All the folk tales are numbered and list the location of where the legend occurs, and I will repeat this information wherever relevant.

1 - Hargenstein at Reutte in Tyrol: Next to this mountain top there is a small lake. The Three Sisters who live here are cursed. One of them has long, blond, curled hair and owns a key ring (what do the keys unlock? The legends do not say). People saw her frequently as she combed her hair and wept. They frequently spanned a rope from the Hargenstein to the Erenberg, a different mountaintop “half an hour distant” and hung up small, white pieces of cloth on this rope. This was apparently considered a sign that the weather was going to be nice.

(This is one of those details that shows that his is an European folk tale - apparently, no Housing Association got on their case about “lowering local property values” by using clotheslines…)

2 - The Drachensee in Säven at Lermos in Tyrol: “Drachensee” means “Dragon Lake”, and appropriately there is some kind of monster living in this lake which occasionally emerges from it for some sunbathing. At one solstice (winter or summer? It doesn’t say) a blue fire was visible on one of the nearby mountaintops at midnight, which caused the local people to say: “The treasure blooms”. Presumably because the monster was a dragon and of course a dragon has a treasure hoard - but why should the treasure “bloom”? We shall never know...
 

ranson

"Two Sheds"
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I'm really looking forward to this! I'm fascinated by the subject, though my general impression of a lot of central European folklore boils down to, "...and they all died horribly. Don't go into the forest, kids."
 
Last edited:

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
I'm really looking forward to this! I'm fascinated by the subject, though my general impression of a lot of central European folklore boils down to, "...and they all died horribly. Don't go into the forest, kids."
Oh, that doesn’t happen particularly often - remember, folklore is generally invented by the survivors! :D

3 - Sigmundsburg at Nassenreut in Tyrol: This is a castle ruin on a mountaintop (not a particularly high one, at 300 feet - whatever “feet” were at the time). Within the ruins there are allegedly two empty cellars. From one of the cellars there are narrow stairs climbing down (the exact word used here is “Schneckenstiege” - “snails’ stairs”) leading to waters. In these deep chambers there is lots of “unminted” gold and silver.

One maid in an inn woke up very early and was unable to make fire. She saw light in the castle, so naturally she goes there to get some fire. She finds it in the kitchen on the stove (not within the stove, as one would expect…), with a maiden (the exact word used here is “Fräulein”, which is roughly the equivalent of “Miss” but also used as a descriptor in addition to an appellation). The maiden wore a red dress with white and black stripes. As she was putting some glowing coals in her pan, the maiden told the maid that she should take all the fire away with her “fire cloth” (the exact word used here is “fürtuch” - these legends generally use regional dialects, and archaic forms at that. And this book was written before the Duden codified the German language…). The maid replied that that she had enough [fire], and as she left, the maiden pressed a piece of cloth to her face and wept. As the maid returned to the inn and put the coals on her stove, they transformed into silver money. Obviously she hurried back to get more, but the castle was dark again.

This is one of the more important lessons of German folklore: If a strange entity gives you stuff unasked, no matter how mundane, take as much of it with you as you can carry because inevitably it will transform into gold and silver when you get home.

In another tale an old woman who “could use divinations” went to the castle together with the [female] innkeeper. They saw a beautiful key lying on the ground and the old woman tried to pick it up - but then she recoiled because a snake was wrapped around it. The snake then vanished together with the key.

Snakes as “guardians of treasures” are another recurring theme of German folklore.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
4 - Lambrechtsofenloch (“Lambrecht’s stove hole) at Lofer in Tyrol: This is the name for a number of tunnels within the rock. A long time ago, three sisters lived here who were very rich. And one of them was evil, and “half black, half white”. Presumably this doesn’t mean that she was biracial, although we don’t get told which half was black and which was white in this story. When one of them died, the “evil one” tricked the third one, who was blind, out of much of her inheritance, for which she “had to suffer” - presumably by becoming an unquiet spirit, although the story doesn’t say.

And whether this is related or not, there is a straight path leading to the caves - and when it snows, footsteps resembling horses’ hooves are visible.

5 is basically a retelling of story 3 - only for Castle Reichenau (also in Tyrol). You get this a lot in German folklore collections, and I will only mention these from now on if they add an interesting new tidbit.

6 is basically a folklore tale in poetry form… written in archaic dialect. This is too hardcore for me to bother, but if anyone else wants to take a stab you can find it here.
 

margieargie

Clericzilla
Validated User
I've been reading along with this, and the only thing I could think of when I got to "halb schwarz, halb weiss" was those aliens from that one episode of the original Star Trek. It kind of ruins the mood.

6 is basically a folklore tale in poetry form… written in archaic dialect. This is too hardcore for me to bother, but if anyone else wants to take a stab you can find it here.
The book is kind enough to have footnotes with the translations of five of those words... which is nice, now I just need to know what the rest of it is in real German. :p

(More seriously, when the snake showed up at the end of 3 I was expecting it to bite the old woman for being greedy. Then again, it says she died not long after, so maybe that's enough warning itself... but overall I'm much happier to have scaring people off like this than someone getting killed right away for arbitrarily pissing off the gods/Fair Folk for no good reason like many of the (British, mostly) folk stories I'm familiar with do.)
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
I've been reading along with this, and the only thing I could think of when I got to "halb schwarz, halb weiss" was those aliens from that one episode of the original Star Trek. It kind of ruins the mood.
Frankly, if that’s the most silly thing we come across we should consider ourselves lucky.


7 - Meransen in Tyrol: This time we get actual names for the Three Maidens, and they are described as “holy” - saints, even! They are called “Anbetta, Gwerbetta, and Villbetta” - or alternately “Gewerpet, Ampet, and Gaupet”, “Cubet, Aubet, and Guerre”, “Fides, Spes, and Charitas” (according to the “Martyrologium”, which is an awesome name for a book of knowledge), and finally “Ambet, Cubet, and Guerrä” - and there is apparently an arrangement that the local priest holds a weekly Monday mass in their honor, in exchange for a sum of “32 Veronese pennies” every year (such arrangements are not unusual - plenty of rich people paid priests to hold mass in their honor after their deaths in the hopes that this would get them through purgatory more quickly).

Allegedly, they were members of the “Army of Eleven Thousand Virgins”, which sounds like they were associated with Saint Ursula. Being saints, miracles are said to be associated with the Three Maidens, but what kinds of miracles is unclear. There is speculation that they were pursued and found shelter on the local mountain (the Meransen, I presume).

One obscure folk story claims that they were pursued by the hordes of Attila the Hun during their retreat from Gaul, and the miracles mentioned in the story (triggered by “trustful prayer” include:

- Shade from the heat of the sun’s rays.
- Fruit and water to quench their hunger and thirst (in particular, a newly grown cherry tree and a spontaneously erupting spring).
 
Last edited:

Arilou

New member
Banned
"halb schwarz, halb weiss" was those aliens from that one episode of the original Star Trek.
There is a figure in a german medieval legend (I *think* it's part of the Parzifal cycle) that is described as precisely this. Because apparently germans at the time didn't know what biracial people actually looked like.
 

Terhali

Serene Green Queen
Validated User
I've been reading along with this, and the only thing I could think of when I got to "halb schwarz, halb weiss" was those aliens from that one episode of the original Star Trek. It kind of ruins the mood.
The first parallel I thought of was the goddess Hel.

The second was Cruella de Ville.

I can't say it ruins the mood for me because extensive reading in myth and folklore has led me to conclude that it's a long string of whiskey-tango-foxtrot recounted by people who are bored, very ill, or trying to get a laugh out of their audience.
 

insomniac

Registered User
Validated User
2 - The Drachensee in Säven at Lermos in Tyrol: “Drachensee” means “Dragon Lake”, and appropriately there is some kind of monster living in this lake which occasionally emerges from it for some sunbathing. At one solstice (winter or summer? It doesn’t say) a blue fire was visible on one of the nearby mountaintops at midnight, which caused the local people to say: “The treasure blooms”. Presumably because the monster was a dragon and of course a dragon has a treasure hoard - but why should the treasure “bloom”? We shall never know...
Dracula mentions similar folklore. The eponymous Count points out rings of blue fire to Jonathan Harker, and says that the peasants say they mark burried treasure for the taking to anyone brave enough to set out at night to dig it up, but none of them ever are.

(Subscribed.)
 
Top Bottom