1. Within recent years two horse-shoes were to be seen on the door of the parish church of Haccombe in Derbyshire. A romantic legend associated with these horse-shoes is the theme of a ballad supposed to have been written by a master of Exeter Grammar School in the early part of the nineteenth century. The ballad graphically describes a race for a wager between a certain Earl of Totnes, mounted on a Derbyshire roan, and one Sir Arthur Champernowne, on a fleet Barbary courser. The race was won by the earl, who thereupon rode straight to the door of Haccombe Church,
And there he fell on his knees and prayed,
And many an Ave Maria said;
Bread and money he gave to the poor,
And he nailed the roan's shoes to the chapel door.
2. In the traditionary lore of the Harz Mountains there is a weird tale of four horse-shoes, which for ages were to be seen on the door of a church in the suburbs of Klettenburg.
Once upon a time, so runs the story, a great drinking match was held on a Sunday morning at Elrich. The prize was a golden chain, and many knights assembled from near and far. The carousal lasted for some hours, until Count Ernest of Klettenburg, the only one who could still keep on his feet, exultantly claimed the golden chain, which he hung about his neck. Then, mounting his horse, he rode homeward, and while nearing Klettenburg he heard the strains of even-song in a church dedicated to St. Nicholas. Urging on his steed, he rode madly through the open door straight to the altar. Then, so runs the legend, the horse's four shoes fell off, and horse and rider sank down together out of sight. In memory of this wonderful event, the four horse-shoes were placed on the door of the church, and for many years were regarded with awe by the simple countryfolk.
3. In the construction of the Church of St. Stephen, at Tangermünde, in Prussian Saxony, a brick edifice of the fourteenth century, the members of two guilds, those of the blacksmiths and shoemakers, were of especial assistance; and in remembrance of this, a horse-shoe and an iron shoe-sole were built into the outer wall of the church. The former indicates that up to its level the blacksmiths had built the walls, and the latter shows that all the work above the horse-shoe was done by the shoemakers; such, at least, is the popular explanation, which may well be received cum grano salis.
4. In the parish church of Schwarzenstein, in east Prussia, hang two horse-shoes as reminders of the following tradition: In the village of Eichmedien, one mile from Rastenburg, lived formerly as tavern-keeper a woman, who had earned an unenviable notoriety by her practice of charging double the proper fees for board and lodging. Late one night, when several of her guests accused her of being a cheat, she asseverated her honesty by holding up her hand, and saying in the form of an oath: "If my score is not correct, may the Devil now jump on my back." The Evil One took the woman promptly at her word, transformed her into a mare, and rode her out of the village, laughing scornfully. At headlong speed he rode to a blacksmith's shop in Schwarzenstein, and demanded that his mare be shod at once. The blacksmith, routed out of his sleep, excused himself, pleading the lateness of the hour and the fact that there was no fire in his forge. The Devil insisted, however, and promised liberal payment if the work were done quickly. The blacksmith yielded at length, but had not proceeded far in shaping the shoes when the mare began to speak. "My cousin, don't you know me?" she said; "I am the tavern-keeper." Upon this the blacksmith was so horrified that neither threats nor entreaties could prevail to make him proceed with the shoeing, and before he had finished the third shoe a cock crowed, and immediately the spell was broken and the woman reassumed her own form. And to point the moral of this legend, and as a warning to cheats, the two horse-shoes which the smith had completed were nailed up in the village church at Schwarzenstein.
5. According to an old tradition, the Lapp king, Olaf Skötkonung (995-1030), wishing to become a Christian, asked his royal contemporary, Ethelred II. of England, to send him a teacher. In response to this request Bishop Siegfried and three missionaries came to Sweden, and, landing on the southwestern coast, encamped the first night at Wexio, on Lake Sodre. Here the bishop saw in a vision a great company of angels, and thereupon determined to build a church at that place. The pagan inhabitants, however, were hostile to the undertaking, and seized the three missionaries, Winaman, Unaman, and Sunaman, whom they beheaded, and caused their heads to be thrown into the water.
One night soon after this sad event Siegfried was walking along the shore of the lake, sighing and praying, when he espied three luminous objects approaching on the water, borne onward by the waves, and soon he recognized them as the heads of his friends. And, behold, the first head said, "The dead shall be avenged." And a voice from the second head exclaimed, "When?" Then replied the third head in solemn tones, "On their children and children's children." This prophecy was not, however, fulfilled to the letter, for through Siegfried's intercession Olaf consented to spare the lives of the murderers, on condition that they should build a Christian church in Wexio; and this church, which still exists, has on its coat-of-arms, or seal, the representation of three severed heads, in memory of the occurrence and its legend. In this church hung formerly a shoe of Wodan's famous steed Sleipnir, as a souvenir of the following tradition: When the church bells rang for the first time to summon the people to mass, Wodan came riding over the mountains, and, when nearing Wexio, Sleipnir, in a sudden fright, struck a rock with one of his feet, and the impress of the powerful blow remains in the rock to this day. But the shoe fell off and was placed in the church.
6. Many years ago, so runs an old legend, a man obtained employment at a farm in Norway, where, unknown to him, the mistress was a witch. Although the man had plenty of good wholesome food, he did not thrive upon it, but became thinner each day. Being troubled at this, he sought the counsel of a wise man, from whom he learned the true character of his mistress. He learned, moreover, that she had been in the habit of transforming him into a horse at night while he slept, and riding him to Troms Church, a fact which fully accounted for his leanness.
The wise man also gave him a magical ointment, with which to rub his head at bedtime, and by virtue of which, on awaking the next morning, he found himself standing by Troms Church with a bridle in his hand, while behind him were a number of horses bound together by their tails. Soon he perceived his mistress coming out of the church, and when she was near enough to him he threw the bridle over her head, and instantly she was transformed into a handsome mare, which he mounted and rode homeward. On his way, however, he stopped at a farrier's and had the animal shod with four new shoes, and on reaching home he told his master that he had bought a fine mare, that would be an excellent mate for one which he already had. His master bought the mare at a good price, but when he took the bridle off she disappeared, and in her place stood the mistress witch with new horse-shoes on her hands and feet. Thereupon the man related the wonderful tale of his experiences, and in consequence thereof the wife was turned out of doors, and never got rid of the horse-shoes.
7. Once upon a time a gentleman of rank was driving with four horses along the highway which runs between the towns of Tübingen and Hirschau, in Würtemberg, and when opposite a roadside chapel he scoffed at a picture of the Madonna which adorned it. Immediately his horses came to a standstill, nor could he make them proceed, in spite of vigorous urging. At length, in this dilemma, a priest was called, who imposed as a penance the removal of a shoe from the right fore-foot of each horse, and after this had been done the gentleman was enabled to continue his journey. And in commemoration of this miracle one of the horseshoes was nailed upon the chapel-door, where it was still to be seen in recent years.
8. One Sunday morning a swarthy rider on a black horse rode at full speed through the village of Nabburg, in Bavaria, directly to the blacksmith's shop, to have his horse shod. "Will you not rest on a Sunday?" demanded the smith. "My steed and I journey to and fro, and care nothing for the Christian Sunday," replied the horseman; "therefore shoe my horse in the Devil's name, and I counsel thee speak no pious word meanwhile, for no devout person has yet obtained the mastery over this spirited animal." With these words he sprang to the ground and stroked his horse's flowing mane. The smith, though ill at ease, began the work, and the horse was as quiet as if under a spell, much to the astonishment of his master, who could scarce believe his eyes. Three shoes were quickly set, and the smith called to his assistant, "Now, then, in God's name, hand me the last shoe!" Instantly the fiery steed reared and struck out wildly, casting a shoe with such force against the wall that it remains to this day embedded there. But the horse and his rider were seen no more.
9. In a wall on an estate called Ludwigstein, in Schleswig-Holstein, is to be seen a large stone bearing the imprint of a horse-shoe, wherewith is associated the following tale: One morning many years ago a horseman was riding along the road when the church prayerbell rang, whereupon he swore an oath and said, "May the Devil take me if I am not again on this very spot this evening when the bell again sounds." And indeed he kept his word, but at the stroke of the evening bell his horse slipped upon the stone and broke a leg, and the mark of a shoe is still to be seen there.
10. The Horse-Shoe imprint in the cemetery of the Church of Our Lady at Münster. During the building of this beautiful Gothic church in the fourteenth century, the Devil observed its shapely proportions with increasing displeasure, and bethought himself of various schemes to hinder the work's progress. Finally he decided on trying to bewitch the architect's senses. Accordingly he braided his hair, arrayed himself in gay female attire, bedecked with costly jewels, and appeared before the architect, whom he sought to ensnare with soft words and gifts. But the latter was not thus to be deceived. Leaning upon his measuring-rod, he listened unmoved to the beguiling conversation of the pretended belle, and rejected with scorn the gold and precious stones which she brought him. Thereupon the Devil became enraged, stamped upon the ground with vehemence, and disappeared, leaving behind him an evil smell; and the mark of one of the iron horse-shoes, wherewith he was shod, was deeply imprinted on a stone in the cemetery, and, according to popular report, is still to be found there.
The impressions on stone of figures of horse-shoes, of which there are numerous examples in northern Europe, are regarded by some archaeologsts as sacred symbols of the pagans or relics of the cult of Wodan, and as showing the sites of ancient altars and burial places; while others maintain that these figures were originally intended as boundary marks. Numerous traditions associate them with battles fought in these localities, and in the popular fancy they are imagined to indicate the favorite haunts of witches, the meeting-places where they held their revels, the horse-shoe mark being an imprint of the Devil's foot. These weird rendezvous were usually on the tops of mountains or hills, and are still known as Witches' Dance-Places in different parts of Europe, especially in Germany.