Saturday, November 1, 2014

[German Folklore] The Devil in the Fränkische Schweiz, Part I

There are a few figures which loom large in German folklore, and the Devil is one of them, appearing in innumerable places and stories. While he does fulfill the traditional role of Tempter towards those weak in their faith, I found something surprising in his depictions in these stories. While entering into a bargain with him is a very bad idea, as expected - and so is taking his name in vain - making a bet with him is much safer, as he is easily tricked out of his price (i.e. human souls), and even priests frequently make bets with him (often involving speeding up the construction of a new church) without any apparent bad consequences.

But for now, let's see what the Devil has been up to in the Fränkische Schweiz. I will only list explicit appearances - magic powers derived from the Devil deserve a post of their own. He is also often identified with the Wild Huntsman, but again that entity deserves a separate post.

- In a manor in Adlitz there lived a cruel noble who oppressed his peasants and also terrorized the priests of the church in nearby Poppendorf, causing them to flee and the church to decay. When a new priest showed up, he was forcibly taken to the manor and eventually told he would be killed if he lost a debate with a "highly educated man" - the Devil, who appeared as a scholar "wrapped in red cloth". He first attacked the Christian faith, and then the priest's past sins as the latter countered every argument. After the priest won the debate and turned to leave, the noble begged the priest to banish the Devil for the sake of their souls, which he did. [17-20]

- A widow in Aufseß wished that the Devil "would turn the face" of a Jewish moneylender "on his back". The Jew tried to hide from this curse in a cave (taking his bag of money with him), but the Devil found him and not only rearranged his body but also trapped him there, where he still remains today, still sitting on his bag of money. (Note: Unfortunately, there is a strong trend of anti-Semitism in these stories, and Jews are generally portrayed in a highly negative light, with the implication that they deserve whatever grisly fate befalls them.) [23]

- Again in Aufseß, Karl Holley, a servant of one Christoph Ludwig von Aufseß, was said to be able to summon the Devil and get "advice" from him. But once he was caught by a horrible storm around midnight and sought refuge in a church - whereupon a huge gap opened in the earth and a "horrible dragon" appeared which caught Holley and dragged him into the Earth. After that, the gap vanished without a trace. [29]


- In Bieberbach, three rather drunk men returning from a pub crawl in nearby Egloffstein argued that money "was the most important thing in the world". They were then approached by a Stranger who promised them plenty of money if they could "walk over three different graveyards within one hour". Getting excited, they started in Thuisbrunn, moved on to the graveyard in Egloffstein, and finished at Affalterthal. There they met a "small man" who handed them a stein. When they opened it in their home full of anticipation for the treasure it must contain, a "black thing" emerged which caused terrible chaos on their farm and was identified as "The Devil". Only when the local priest came and sprinkled holy water into every part of the house did the creature vanish "with a terrible cry". [41]

- In Dürrbrunn, a farmer was tilling his field when the church bells called for prayer. The farmer didn't heed them and continued to till. Then a downpour started and the farmer called out: "I won't go back, even if the Devil fetches me for it!" Then there was a bolt of lightning and the farmer, his plow, and the ox before the plot were swallowed into a hole in the earth. The field is now called the "Totenacker" ("Dead People's Field"), and allegedly the filled-up hole can be found even today. [57]

- In Ebermannstadt a man frequently had problems with someone stealing his herbs, and he was desperate to catch the thief. One day, when he was out in order to catch the thief, he encountered a huntsman with a green hat - the Devil. The Devil presented him a book and told him: "Write down your name into this book and you will discover who the thief is". The man did so, and discovered the thief. A few day laters he (and the story is unclear whether this refers to the man or the thief) hanged himself. [65]

- The devil was said to lurk at a waystone near Effeltrich at midnight and help people coming to him with money if they sold him their souls in exchange. [69]

- "A devil" was said to lurk on a path in Eggloffstein during the night. At one point it attacked a farmer walking on this path around midnight, but the famer hit this creature until it fell to the ground. Since then it is called the "Teufelsgraben" ("Devil's Ditch"). [79]

Source: Heinz Büttner, "Sagen Legenden und Geschichten aus der Fränkischen Schweiz". Numbers in   [brackets] represent page numbers.

Continued in Part II.

Note: For a list of all "Fränkische Schweiz" posts go here.