At the Bilefeld Abbey, on the left hand side, next to the Harz road, a heavy stone-block stands noticeably on a high mountain. This has a long and narrow passage in its centre. All the farmhands of Nordhausen and the surrounding localities had to crawl through this thrice when they needed to go to the Harz-forest behind Bielefeld to bring fire-woods. Crossing this eye of the needle was cumbersome as well as act of bravery, needless to say. On top of that their comrades behind mercilessly torture them with whip-butts, while they crawled in and out.
If some of them did not want to endure that diversion, they had to liberate themselves from their masters in exchange of money. Farmhands were bonded surfs otherwise. The authorities had forbidden this custom several times, but even their prescribed punishment went in vain. The surfs who tried to avoid the custom of being hurt could not live peacefully with their own group members because others were not ready to accept their rejection of the custom anyway.
But how did the weird stone come their? We have a popular story here: a giant was travelling through this region once. He crossed miles before reaching behind Bilefeld. Coming here he felt that something was pricking him in the shoe. He took his shoes off to check and found a stone inside. He removed the stone and tossed that in the wind. It fell in the place of mountain where it is seen today. It became the eye of the needle.
A stone thrown by a giant and it’s turning a terrible route to cross an otherwise difficult mountain can be a story not so unusual but when people need to tolerate physical torture by own group member while crossing the route, it becomes uncommon. Content wise a unique story to me; cannot remember any similar story from anywhere.
This incident happened in Coburg. The girls of the village, curious to know who would be their future lover, were sitting together in a room on Christmas Eve. They followed all mandatory customs religiously. They did not even forget to collect nine kinds of wood-pieces from the forest the day before. As midnight approached, they made a fire in the room and the first one took off her clothes. She threw her shirt out of the door, and chanted standing beside the fire:
“Here I am waiting absolutely naked,
If here comes my lover awaited –
And throws my shirt in my lap, elated! “
Within moments her shirt was thrown inside again. She could also see the face of the man who did throw it. She was happy – this man was truly the person whom she courted later. Seeing her to turn lucky, other girls also undressed one by one, stood naked beside the fire and chanted the same lines. Only thing they did not know was the art of throwing their shirts together wrapped in a cloak. The spirits could not find the exact one they were supposed to collect and throw back. They began to hop around aimlessly outside, roaring and grumbling, so much so that the girls were horrified. Finally the poor girls had to douse the fire and crawl to bed silently to remain unnoticed to the restless spirits. When the girls came out of the room in the morning, they discovered their shirts torn into thousands of small pieces – scattered in front of the door.
We know of pagan tradition of decorating homes with branches of evergreen trees during winter solstice; also know how this tradition was maintained, somewhat in a modified way especially by German speaking people even after their conversion to Christianity. Anyway I couldn’t find information about the significance nine types of woods here – would be grateful if any reader can enlighten.
Second interesting idea is the “spirits” – seemingly evil, which appears on Christmas eve when shirts are not properly wrapped by adolescent girls waiting to be selected by potential husband. The Christmas evil Krampus and associated Krampuslauf was popular in Austria and Bavarian regions. Krampus was supposed to take bad children away in his basket; do not know the spirit in the story is similar to that.