Sacred Texts  Sagas and Legends  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 


IN old times men lived in the valley, and around them, in the clefts and holes of the rocks, dwelt the Dwarfs. They were kind and friendly to the people, often performing hard and heavy work for them in the night; and when the country-people came early in the morning with their carts and tools, they saw, to their astonishment, that the work was already done, while the Dwarfs hid themselves in the bushes, and laughed aloud at the astonished rustics. Often, too, were the peasants incensed to find their corn, which was scarcely yet ripe, lying cut on the ground; but shortly after there was sure to come on such a hail-storm, that it became obvious that hardly a single stalk could have escaped destruction had it not been cut, and then, from the bottom of their hearts, they thanked the provident Dwarf-people. But at last mankind, through, their own folly, deprived themselves of the favour and kindness of the Dwarfs; they fled the country, and since that time no mortal eye has seen them. The cause of their departure was this:
A shepherd had a fine cherry-tree [a] that stood on the mountain. When in the summer the fruit had ripened, it happened that, three times running, the tree was-stript, and all tie fruit spread out on the benches and hurdles, where the shepherd himself used to spread it out to dry for the winter. The people of the village all said, "It could be none but the good-natured Dwarfs, who come by night tripping along with their feet covered with long mantles, as light as birds, and industriously perform for mankind their daily work. People have often watched them," continued the narrators, "but no one disturbs them; they are left to come and go as they please." This talk only excited the curiosity of the shepherd, and he longed to know why it was that the Dwarfs so carefully concealed their feet, and whether they were differently formed from those of men. Accordingly, next year, when the summer came, and the time when the Dwarfs secretly pulled the cherries, and brought them to the barn, the shepherd took a sack full of ashes, and strewed them about under the cherry-tree. Next morning, at break of day, he hastened to the place: the tree was plucked completely empty, and he saw the marks of several goose-feet impressed on the ashes. The shepherd then laughed and jested at having discovered the Dwarfs' secret. But soon after the Dwarfs broke and laid waste their houses, and fled down deeper in the mountain to their splendid secret palace, that had long lain empty to receive them. Vexed with mankind, they never more granted them their aid; and the imprudent shepherd who had betrayed them became sickly, and continued so to the end of his life. [b]

[a] In several of the high valleys of Switzerland it is only a single cherry-tree which hippens to be favourably situated that bears fruit. It bears abundantly and the fruit ripens about the month of August. Wyss.
[b] Compare the narrative in the Swiss dialect given by Grimm, Deut. Mythol. P. 419. The same peasant of Belp who related the first legend was Mr. Wyss's authority for this one. "The vanishing of the Bergänlein," says Mr Wyss, "appears to be a matter of importance to the popular faith. It is almost always ascribed to the fault of mankind--sometimes to their wickedness.
We may in these tales recognise the box of Pandora under a different form, but the ground is the same. Curiosity and wickedness are still the cause of superior beings withdrawing their favour from man.
"I have never anywhere else," says Mr Wyss, "heard of the goose-feet; but that all is not right with their feet is evident from the popular tradition giving long trailing mantles as the dress of the little people. Some will have it that their feet are regularly formed, but set on their legs the wrong way, so that the toes are behind and the heels before."
Heywood in his Hierarchie of the Blessed Angels, p. 554, relates a story which would seem to refer to a similar belief.

Next: The Rejected Gift