IT was the belief, in some parts of Germany, that if a child that was not thriving were taken to a place named Cyriac's Mead, near Neuhausen, and left lying there and given to drink out of Cyriac's Well, at the end of nine days it would either die or recover.
The butler and cook of one of the spiritual lords of Germany, without being married, had a child, which kept crying day and night, and evermore craving for food and yet it never grew nor throve. It was finally resolved to try on it the effect of Cyriac's Mead, and the mother set out for that place with the child on her back, whose weight was so great that she hardly could endure it. As she was toiling along under her burden, she met a travelling student, who said to her, "My good woman, what sort of a wild creature is that you are carrying? I should not wonder if it were to crush in your neck." She replied that it was her dear child which would not grow nor thrive, and that she was taking it to Neuhausen to be rocked. "But," said he, "that is not your child; it is the devil. Fling it into the stream." But she refused, and maintained that it was her child, and kissed it. Then said he, "Your child is at home in the inner bedroom in a new cradle behind the ark. Throw, I tell you, this monster into the stream." With many tears and, groans the poor woman at length did as he required and immediately there was heard under the bridge on which they were standing a howling and a growling as if wolves and bears were in the place. When the woman reached home she found her own child healthy and lively and laughing in its new cradle.
A Hessian legend tells that as a woman was reaping corn at the Dosenberg, with her little child lying near her on the ground, a Dwarf-woman (wichtelweib) came and took it and left her own lying in its stead. When the mother came to look after her dear babe a great ugly jolterhead was there gaping at her. She cried out and roared Murder! so lustily that the thief came back with the child. But she did not restore it till the mother had put the changeling to her breast and given it some ennobling human milk. [a]
There was, it is said, in Prussian Samland, an inn-keeper whom the underground folk had done many good turns. It grieved him to see what bad clothes they had, and he desired his wife to leave new little coats for them. They took the new clothes, but cried out, "Paid off! Paid off!" and went all away.
Another time they gave great help to a poor smith, and every night they made bran-new pots, pans, kettles and plates for him. His wife used to leave some milk for them, on which they fell like wolves, and drained the vessel to the bottom, and then cleaned it and went to their work. When the smith had. grown rich by means of them, his wife made for each of them a pretty httle red coat and cap, and left them in their way. "Paid off! Paid off!" cried they, slipped on the new clothes, and went away without working the iron that was left for them, and never returned.
There was a being named a Scrat or Schrat, Schretel, Schretlein. [b] This name is used in old German to translate pilosus in the narratives of those who wrote in Latin, and it seems sometimes to denote a House- sometimes a Wood-spirit. Terms similar to it are to be found in the cognate languages, and it is perhaps the origin of Old Scratch, a popular English name of the devil.
There is, chiefly in Southern Germany, a species of beings that greatly resemble the Dwarfs. They are called Wichtlein (Little Wights), and are about three quarters of an ell high. Their appearance is that of old men with long beards. They haunt the mines, and are dressed like miners, with a white hood to their shirts and leather aprons, and are provided with lanterns, mallets, and hammers. They amuse themselves with pelting the workmen with small stones, but do them no injury, except when they are abused and cursed by them.
They show themselves most especially in places where there is an abundance of ore, and the miners are always glad to see them; they flit about in the pits and shafts, and appear to work very hard, though they in reality do nothing. Sometimes they seem as if working a vein, at other times putting the ore into buckets, at other times working at the windlass, but all is mere show. They frequently call, and when one comes there is no one to be seen.
At Kuttenburg, in Bohemia, the Wichtlein have been seen in great numbers. They announce the death of a miner by knocking three times, and when any misfortune is about to happen they are heard digging, pounding, and imitating all other kinds of work. At times they make a noise, as if they were smiths labouring very hard at the anvil, hence the Bohemians call them Haus-Schmiedlein (Little House-Smiths).
In Istria the miners set, every day, in a particular place, a little pot with food in it for them. They also at certain times in each year buy a little red coat, the size of a small boy's, and make the Wichtlein a present of it. If they neglect this, the little people grow very angry. [c]
In Southern Germany they believe in a species of beings somewhat like the Dwarfs, called Wild, Wood, Timber, and Moss-people. These generally live together in society, but they sometimes appear singly. They are small in stature, yet somewhat larger than the Elf, being the size of children of three years, grey and old-looking, hairy and clad in moss. The women are of a more amiable temper than the men, which last live further back in the woods; they wear green clothes faced with red, and cocked-hats. The women come to the wood-cutters and ask them for something to eat; they also take it away of themselves out of the pots; but they always make a return in some way or other, often by giving good advice. Sometimes they help people in their cooking or washing and haymaking, and they feed the cattle. They are fond of coming where people are baking, and beg of them to bake for them also a piece of dough the size of half a mill-stone, and to leave it in a certain place. They sometimes, in return, bring some of their own baking to the ploughman, which they lay in the furrow or on the plough, and they are greatly offended if it is rejected. The wood-woman sometimes comes with a broken wheel-barrow, and begs to have the wheel repaired, and she pays by the chips which turn into gold, or she gives to knitters a ball of thread which is never ended. A woman who good-naturedly gave her breast to a crying Wood-child, was rewarded by its mother by a gift of the bark on which it was lying. She broke a splinter off it and threw it into her faggot, and on reaching home she found it was pure gold. Their lives are attached, like those of the Hamadryads, to the trees, and if any one causes by friction the inner bark to loosen a Wood-woman dies.
Their great enemy is the Wild-Huntsman, who driving invisibly through the air pursues and kills them. A peasant one time hearing the usual baying and cheering in a wood, would join in the cry. Next morning he found hanging at his stable-door a quarter of a green Moss-woman as his share of the game. When the woodmen are felling timber they cut three crosses in a spot of the tree that is to be hewn, and the Moss-women sit in the middle of these and so are safe from the Wild-Huntsman. [d]
The following account of the popular belief in the parts of Germany adjacent to Jutland has been given by a late writer. [e]
In Friesland the Dwarfs are named Oennereeske, in some of the islands Oennerbänske, and in Holstein Unnerorske. [f] The same stories are told of them as of the Dwarfs and Fairies elsewhere. They take away, and keep for long periods, girls with whom they have fallen in love; they steal children and leave changelings in their stead, the remedy against which is to lay a bible under the child's pillow; they lend and borrow pots, plates, and such like, sometimes lending money with or even without interest; they aid to build houses and churches; help the peasant when his cart has stuck in the mire, and will bring him water and pancakes to refresh him when at work in the fields.
[a] Grimm, Dent. Mythol., p. 437.
[b] See Grimm, utt sup., p. 447 seq.
[c] Deutsche Sagen, from Praetorius., Agricola, and others.
[d] Grimm, Deut. Mythol., pp. 451, 881.
[e] Kohl, Die Marschen und Inseln der Herzogthűmer Schleswig und Holstein.
[f] These terms all signify Underground folk.