The Maiden of Staufenberg

On the Harz near Zorge, a Braunschweig village, lies the area named Staufenberg. It became Staufenburg after the castle was built. On a particular cliff on the mountain, there is an impression of a human foot. This was created by the footsteps of a daughter of the old castle owner.  She often stood here for long. This was her favourite spot from where she looked at the enchanting surrounding. The delighted little girl with curly golden hair is still visible on the cliff at times.

Burg Stauffenburg , bailey at the entry gate. Credit: Wikimedia commons

Stauffenburg is the ruin of a former hill-fort at Seesen-Münchehof in the district of Goslar in Lower Saxony. The first buildings of the castle were probably built in the 11th century by the Counts of Katlenburg. Over the centuries, it has been constantly rebuilt and rebuilt till they began demolishing it parts in 18th century for the construction of other buildings in the area. It was built to protect the Harz mining area as well as securing the Thuringian army road, which lies below the castle of Seesen from southeast along the Harz to Nordhausen. The first documentary mention of the name Stauffenburg is found in 1154 CE and the castle was then in the name of a ministerial family, which is mentioned in a document of Henry the Lion. This indirectly suggests the existence of the castle. Obvious that it changed hands several times through the ages. Which owner the story mentions? – We have no way to determine.

The Drowned Child

The story was first published in German National Newspaper 1796

They have lot many a tale to tell about water; also about the lakes, rivers and seas to which an innocent child has to be sacrificed each year. But the water-bodies did not turn any of those children into a corpse but threw them to the shore instantly, or a little late. True the bodies came out late at times, but even the last bone emerged floating after it sank till the innermost depth of the sea.

We have a story of a mother who had drowned her child in a lake. She kept on praying to the god and all the saints to return her at least the bones intact for the child’s funeral; and she waited in good faith in her pure heart.

The next storm brought the skull back to the shore and the following one, the body. After all the body parts reached the shore, the mother collected all the hands and feet and everything is a piece of cloth, tied them up and carried the bundle to the church. What a wonder! With her each stride, the bundle was becoming heavier.  

Finally as she reached the foot of the Alter, her child inside the pack began crying. She laid the bundle on the steps of the Alter; the child – safe and sound, showed up removing the cloth surprising everyone. Only one little finger of his tiny fingers was missing.

The mother went back to the shore later and searched carefully for the tiny finger-bone. Needless to say she found it there. The bone was preserved in the church among other relics.

The sailors and fishermen of Cüstin in the Neumark (Brandenburg) also spoke of an unknown force controlling the river Oder which claimed one innocent life every year as a sacrifice. Death came to the people for whom it was destined; rest came out of the turmoil alive. The city Halloren in Salle was especially afraid of Johannestag, the birthday of Saint John the Baptist. Sacrifice of an innocent life was predictable on this day.

Luckenwalde in Brandenburg. Die Stadtkirche St. Johannis am Markt . Credti:Wikimedia commons

What is the story of Saint John the Baptist? He was born of elderly parents; hence is associated to growth, health and fertility. If we consider the season of his birth, it is around the day of summer solstice which is regarded significant by local farmers for their livestock and crops. Local belief adopted a small, star-shaped yellow flower that blooms during this period as St. John’s word. Following an ancient Pagan tradition, large bonfires are lighted in the villages on the previous night to ward off the evil spirits who are responsible for carrying contagious diseases. These bonfires are usually arranged at the highest peak of the hill in the village. Farmers spread the ash in their fields with a belief that it would enhance the fertility of the soil. We don’t have a record of human sacrifice during this occasion here but similar kind of sacrifice was prevalent in many ancient cultures.

The story of drowning child in the water-bodies makes me remember Mahabharata story where incarnated river-goddess Ganga drowns her seven new-born babies in the river to release them from the curse of living a mortal life. We also know of the medieval era tradition of drowning new-born babies in Gangasagar. Difficult to determine if people in medieval era learnt superstitious beliefs from each other or many of the communities followed similar practices independently.

The Village at the Sea-side

A Story from Holstein

A holy man walked to the shore, looked at the sky and went on praying. As it was the Sunday afternoon, all the villagers came to celebrate there well dressed – mostly in shining silks, with their sweethearts in their arms. They began jeering at the saint’s devoutness. He did not pay attention to their words. What’s more – he prayed to God not to attribute that sin of mocking at a saint to them.

But God has his own will. Two oxen entered the village next morning. They walked straight towards the sand-dune close to the village and began rummaging it with their long crooked horns. They continued doing so till the nightfall, till the time they went invisible in the darkness. The night came with a strong stormy wind that blew the entire loose mountain of sand over the village. Whole village including agricultural fields and water bodies were soon buried under the layer of sand. Nothing that could breathe survived.

Again in next morning, people from nearby village gathered to measure the loss and dig up the buried land. They worked all day, but at night came the storm to cover everything again. For many days they toiled hard during daytime to remove the sand while a sandstorm buried everything again at night. Finally people gave up. And the village looks like a desert even today.

German Warden Sea – Schlesswig Holstein : picture from Wikimedia commons

Poltergeist in the Castle of Linz

The castle of Linz in Austria may be a castle museum today but it was once haunted. A poltergeist known as Chinmeke in Pomeranian region of North-East Germany lived in this castle. To keep him pleased, people had to keep milk for him every evening. One kitchen boy was not among these superstitious people. He consumed the milk. The angry poltergeist chopped him up into small pieces and kept the pieces in an earthen pot. This pot in which Chimmeke chilled his anger was a visitors attraction for long.

Friedrichstor in Castle Linz – credit Wikimedia Commons

Story of Nickel Brothers

In the island of Rügen a deep lake lies in a dense forest. The lake is abundant in fishes, but its water is muddy, and for the same reason, one cannot fish well in the lake.

However, many years back one group of fishermen planned fishing here. They brought their boats into this lake, caught good amount of fish and at the end of the day, returned home with their fishing nets. But the next day when they came back to the lake, all the boats and barges had disappeared. One of the fishermen tried to find out what had happened. He looked around and found his boat stuck on the top of a tall tree. He screamed: “Who is the devil who took my boat on the tree?”

A voice answered from seemingly a spitting distance: “Not all the devils did that. Only I and my brother Nickel did it together!” None could see the speaker.

Obvious that none of the fishermen came back to the lake again.


Carl Gustav Carus – Mondnacht bei Rügen from Wikimedia Commons.

An apparently absurd story which reveals some historical fact related to early metal mining activities in German speaking regions. Nick derived from Saint Nicholas was considered as another name of devil. But German Nickel has added significance. German miners in 17th-18th century were keen to discover more valuable metals than the traditional gold, silver and iron. In the process of discovery, they found copper and then nickel. Both the metals were difficult to extract from its ore, but nickel was most difficult for its high arsenic content. Miners believed that devil had changed or contaminated the ore to a strange one which is poisonous. Hence copper and nickel became two devil siblings in their stories. Interesting is we don’t know existence of nickel or copper in Rügen area though there are some coal mines.

We have some more stories of the region. The ruin of Hertha castle, especially the outer wall of the castle is seen in Jasmund, which is not far from Stubbenkammer. We don’t know how many centuries old this castle is; presumably it is there from the time of heathenism. Goddess Hertha, the mother earth was once worshipped in this castle. The Goddess used to take bath in a lake there. Accompanied with her consecrated priest, she travelled to the deep, dark lake in the middle of the dense forest by a bullock-cart covered in a mystery-veil. If any unconsecrated person caught sight of the Goddess, he would have to die. That was reason all the slaves who came along to look after the bullocks were drowned in the lake after the bath-ritual was over. Hence none survived to tell us how the ritual was.

Some believe that Goddess Hertha was the form of devil and that is why the lake is still haunted.  Another belief is that the unhappy spirit of an ancient princess who was deported to that forest cause supernatural incidents in that area.  Anyway witnessing those happenings can be life threatening for humans. On the full-moon days the beautiful Goddess Hertha can be seen traveling to the lake along with her lady slaves emerging from the castle. The sound of splash can be heard and all the slaves disappear after that. Any human watching them is dragged to the lake by supernatural power.  The ill-fated person dies drowning in the lake powerlessly.

The stories of Hertha indicate the pagan past of the region seen through the eyes of later Christian inhabitants. The history of the ancient idol-worshipping inhabitants of the region was unknown, and medieval Europe did not favour curiosity. In fact in many stories of medieval period curiosity is described as reason that draws humans to life-threatening situations.  

Stories of Stone-bread

This story is told in many locations; especially in Westphalen. At the time of great famine one poor woman asked for some bread for herself and her children from her rich sister. But the stony-hearted sister denied.  Revealing sheer unkindness she said, “Even if I had bread, I would rather want those to turn into stones!” All breads in her store immediately turned into stone. One person at Leiden in Netherlands brought one of these stone-breads in the great St. Peter’s Church to prove the historical fact showing that to the people.

Stonebread!

During the famine of 1579, a Becker in Dortmund had bought a lot of wheatgrains. He was cheerful at the likelihood of preparing breads enough to fill his store using the wheat. But one day when he was in the middle of making breads, all the bread in his house became stones. He grabbed a loaf and wanted to cut it with a knife. As soon as he cut the bread with his knife, blood flowed from it. He hanged himself in his room right away.


Traditional four (bread-oven) from chalk stones in the Dordogne near Liabou-haut from Wikimedia Commons
 

In the prime church of Landshut consecrated to Saint Castulus, a round stone in the shape of a bread hangs in a silver case. Four small holes are seen on the surface of that stone. This also is associated with another legend. The savior had appeared just before the fest of death began. Saint Castulus came to a widow in the city dressed as a poor man and asked for alms. The woman told her daughter to give him the sole bread left in her home, which was kept for the needy. The daughter, however reluctant had to give it but she tried to save a piece from it before. The bread was actually meant for the Saint. Hence it turned into a piece of stone the moment one piece was removed. The sin of the girl showed it. They say that the fingerprints of the starving one are still seen clearly in that stone.

Another story of stone bread: at the time of the great famine, a poor woman was walking on a road of Danzig city having one child in her arms and another beside her. The one walking with her was crying for a piece of bread. They met a monk from the monastery of Oliva. She begged for a loaf of bread from him. The monk replied, “I don’t have any.” The woman said, “But I see you are holding one in your bosom.” He replied, “Oh! This one is a stone only to throw at the dogs.” After some time when he took out the bread to eat, he found that it had really turned into a stone. The incident shocked him. He understood what wrong he had done. He left the stone in that church – it still hangs in the monastery.

All stories show how the sin of ignoring the poor and needy is punished by God. The content itself shows the time-frame when the stories were developed.  Obviously these stories were developed after Christianity established and its morals were well accepted in Central Europe.

Summoning the Mountain Dwarfs

From where did the great wisdom and the amazing secrets of the world emerge?

We have a story from Nürnberg. Paul Creuz was an inhabitant here who knew an amazing magic. To fulfill some of his wishes, he used his miraculous magic spell. He placed a new table in his garden, covered that with a white cloth, placed two milk-bowls on it, and also two honey-bowls, two plates, and nine knives. Then he took a black hen and shredded it on a pan in which cabbage was being cooked. The blood dripped into the boiling food. An unimaginable dish was prepared.

Next morning he took one part of it left it on the table. In the evening he kept the rest of the cabbage on the table and began chanting a spell. Finishing the incantation, he ran towards a green tree and hid himself behind that. He saw two small mountain people emerging from the earth. They sat at the table, and ate the precious smoky dish that was left there.

After they finished, Paul came to them and asked some questions. They answered. His wish was fulfilled.

Paul Creuz practiced the same repeatedly. The little men became so familiar that they too visited him in the house quite often. But he needed to give them time to finish the food first. If he did not wait, they either did not show up or disappeared soon. He finally got their king to support him. One day after hearing his sincere chant, the little king of the dwarfs came alone in a red scarlet cloak, under which he had a book. After finishing dinner, he threw the book on the table and allowed the host to read it as long as he wanted.

Eventually humans earned knowledge of all valuable secrets and great wisdom from that host of dwarfs.

The Story of Arendsee

This story came from the region around Arendsee in the Altmark in Saxony-Anhalt. Arendsee is the name of a lake. Also an adjacent municipality is known by the same name.

Once upon a time, there was a large castle in place of the lake and the land. The castle sank under the ground all on a sudden; but reappeared soon as man and wife.  As they stepped forward, the wife noticed the swift change that took place in the location meanwhile. Her husband’s name was Arend. The lady uttered in sheer surprise, “Arend see, Arend see!” And that was reason people started calling the town as Arendsee that was built beside the lake.

Finest whitest particles of sand glittered in this lake, and when the sun shined bright, all the walls and buildings of the submerged castle were seen clearly like it is seen in Brok Sea near Ossenberg. Some people once thought of measuring the depth of the sea here. They threw a long rope into the sea to fathom it. As they pulled the rope, they saw a note pasted at the other end of the rope. What was written in it? “Do not be too curious. Engage yourself with your own business; otherwise your place will be devastated same way what you are seeing here.”

Arensea on Google map

People did not dare measuring the sea again.