Saturday, November 1, 2014

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

Continued from Part I.

Further stories of the Devil in the Fränkische Schweiz:


- Near Leutenbach there is a small well next to a chapel dedicated to St. Moritz (Saint Maurice). It was used as an oracle by sick people by throwing a small stick into the well. If the stick floated, they would live for a long time, but if it sank to the ground they would die within the year. One year, during the local Kirchweih (a folk festival celebrated at the anniversary of the local church's sanctification), a group of young people decided to test this oracle on a lark. When the local village headman's beautiful daughter threw in her stick, the stick sank immediately, causing the girl to despair. Upon hearing this, the girl's grandmother told her that she should go to the well on the night of the full moon between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday and draw some water - which would turn to wine at midnight - and drink of it, which would banish her doom. But she should "leave her fear behind", as "horrible things happen this night, and the spirits of hell are abroad".

And indeed she saw uncanny signs on her way to the well - there was a fire on a nearby field, and as she drew from the well after a prayer, a horrible storm arose and the Wild Hunt rode through the sky. After she drank, she waited for the end of the storm and was about to go home when a huntsman with a green suit and a green hat stepped out of the woods. She realized that he was the Devil when she saw his horse foot. As she screamed for help, the huntsman said: "No one cam hear you and help you. You belong to me, and shall be queen in my realm!" She called out for St. Moritz, who then suddenly appeared and managed to drive the Devil back.

At the same time, a local young man who had a crush on the girl had a dream about his beloved lying helplessly near the well. He woke up and hurried into the direction of the well. On the way he met a wanderer and asked him if he had seen a young girl. The wanderer replied: "Satan has seen her!" But the young man also recognized the Devil by his horse foot and called out: "You have stolen my beloved! By St. Moritz, I will tear you apart!" After this second call to the saint, the Devil was banished, tearing a nearby pear tree in half during his departure. The young man found his beloved, managed to revive her, and (as it tends to happen in these stories) they married soon after. [100]

- Near Elbersberg the Devil once attacked a man, but couldn't defeat him because he had "Freitagsbrot" ("Friday Bread") in his pocket. However, the Devil was able to snap his neck once the bread fell out of his pocket during the struggle. (Note: I have been unable to determine what this "Friday Bread" is. The only other appropriate reference I have found is here, where apparently baking it is a taboo that humans who use local fey spirits must not break, or else the spirits will no longer work for them.) [108]

- Two similar stories revolve around Knight Kuno, a Count of Gräfenberg. In one story he came across a "fearsome knight in black armor, sitting on a frothing horse" who waited for him at a crossroads and challenged him to a fight. To his horror, Kuno couldn't harm him as all blows simply bounced off. Kuno was defeated but survived, and when he had recovered he swore revenge. "Let him come, if he is not a coward."

In the other story, Kuno (during a night of drunken revelry) had promised to sit down and eat with the Devil, as long as it wasn't "in my own home". In both stories the Devil arrived at Kuno's castle and invited him for a midnight meal at the nearby Eberhardsberg mountain. Not wishing to appear as a coward, Kuno accepted the invitation and arrived at the mountain. The Devil was waiting for him, and thrust a boulder into the ground which then became flat like a table and was filled with plates and food by an invisible hand.

In the first story, the church bells of the nearby monastery church banished the Devil at this point, while in the latter story Kuno banished the Devil with a heartfelt prayer. The boulder can still be seen today, and is called the "Teufelstisch" - the "Devil's Table". [154,155]

- A third story concerns a farmer who had to go over the Eberhardsberg at night. He passed the Devil's Table around midnight, and saw a group of "Fellows of Hell" sitting at the table and celebrating. He became curious, sneaked closer, and listened to them talk about hell and how they were torturing the souls of various rich people. After they had drunk their fill, they started to gamble with pure gold coins and were rather careless with throwing the coins around. One of those apparitions accidentally let a bag of gold fall to the ground, and the farmer sneaked closer and grabbed it out of greed.

Then the Devil appeared in his "horrible true form", smelling of smoke and bearing rolling eyes of fire. The Devil got the attention of the crowd, drew a blood-red piece of parchment from his pocket and read a list of names of people which he would soon claim for his own. The farmer recognized a lot of well-known and respected names, thinking "Now I know where those people got their money!". But then the Devil read the name of the farmer in a particularly loud manner, and the farmer became frightened. But he didn't dare leave his hideout and waited until the apparitions vanished before he raced home.

Then he realized he still had the bag of gold with him. While his conscience told him to give the gold to the church or to the poor, an uncanny voice whispered to him: "Keep the gold! Live a good life! Now you will be respected in your village and others will be envious of you!" As he made the decision to keep the money, he heard mocking laughter.

He invested the money carefully and eventually became the wealthiest farmer in the area and the mayor of his town. However, one day the cattle in town became sick from a plague, and the villagers looked for a scapegoat. An ancient woman in the local poorhouse was called a "witch" and blamed for the plague. She was tortured, with the mayor being the most eager interrogator. The old woman finally admitted being a witch in order to stop the torture, and as the villagers were about to burn her, the mayor demanded that she first told them of her helpers. The old woman only said: "The mayer has dealt with the Devil!" before dying from her injuries. The mayor remembered his experience at the Devil's Table and was so shocked that he was unable to defend himself against this accusation. Now it was his turn to be tortured, and when he finally told his story, the villagers burned him on top of the Devil's Table. [156]

- A fourth story concerns a Count Botho (of Weißenohe near Gräfenberg) who had drunken revelries with his followers at the same location "night after night". They also played with "metallic cards" which were adorned with "uncanny symbols". The final guest was the Devil, who brought a round table, and the group of revelers "mocked and cursed everything good and holy in the world". Flames shone out of "blood-red cups". Finally, a Benedictine monk banished the whole group - once again leaving a stone table behind. [158]

- At the old Breitenstein Castle near Hetzles, the Ladies of the Castle once had a grand washing day on Good Friday. Since it was very sunny that day, she hung them up to dry on the same day. But then the Devil arrived "with the rush of a storm", took all the clothes from the clotheslines, and departed with them. (Note: The three Ladies of the Castle were apparently capable of using magic and otherwise felt into the "Three White/Wise Women" archetype. But that will be a separate post.) [178]

- In Kainach two households were feuding with each other. A woman in one of the families was allegedly a witch. When the neighbor's wife wanted to milk her cows in the mornings, a small black devil sat on the backs of the cows, and the cows produced blood instead of milk. [193]

- In Krögelstein two huntsmen wanted to capture the Devil and hold him hostage for a lot of money. They agreed to meet under a huge fir in a nearby forest. One of them brought a "magic book" ("Zauberbuch" - this could also be translated as "spell book") with him, and attempted to summon the Devil as midnight approached. A large thunderstorm arose. The Devil arrived within the storm with a glowing red "hell hound" and saw the two men waiting. These were now so afraid that they abandoned the plan and fled in terror. They became deeply ill after this adventure and did no longer want anything to do with the Devil. [214]


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

To be continued.

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