Hallowe’en in Germany,
or The Walpurgis Night
Communicated by the Baron Reichart Von Versmacher, of Crackkenburg;
And translated by a Student of the University of Göttingen.
PART THE FIRST
It seems to be a superstition common to all nations, to suppose that there is a period in every year, when the foul spirits of another world are set at liberty to hold a solemn festival in this; together with demons, fiends, magicians, wizards, witches, and goblins of every description. Thus, the ancients had the anniversaries of the Gods Lares in May, the Dii Manes met every night, as well as the powerful wizards of Norway; the American Indians, and Hottentots, believed that the spirits of the dead rode on the storm, and that foul demons were let loose upon the moon during an eclipse, In Europe, and more especially in Britain, ghosts were at liberty on the second of November, or All Soul’s Day, But it would be occupying too large a space to mention the times of these supernatural festivals throughout the world, and I shall therefore confine myself to one nation, and to one story.
Our sprites in Germany follow the custom of the ancient ghosts mentioned above; and meet in the spacious forests of the Harz, on the night of the first of May. It may well be supposed, that few mortals have ever broken in upon so unearthly and solemn an assembly; but, however, some have dared to do so, principally females, and various motives have been assigned for their extraordinary courage. The most elaborate and authentic records of Lienalle, whence the subsequent history has been extracted, contain the accounts of those who have ventured upon so hazardous an expedition, with the reasons which caused it; for our wizards and demons, although, like the English fairies, very courteous to such as enter their assembly to seek their friendship and assistance, never fail to revenge any other attempt to disturb their midnight orgies. In the said records we find it written, that they were chiefly women who have gone to the Harz Forest on the first of May, or, as it is here called, the Walpurgis Night: some of these went from curiosity, a great many from vanity, several because the Curate preached against it, and a very few from fervent love, and more exalted motives. From these volumes we also learn, that the old Baroness Von Frumpenfrau went to enquire whether it would ever be her fortune to enter the matrimonial estate, as, being near sixty, her charms were already on the wane, and there was no time to be lost. The young and volatile Suzanne Romperlass went for a cordial by which her old grandmother might be quieted, while she stole out with Leopold Swaggerhuff, the Hussar, upon their moonlight rambles; and the curious Leonor del Spiegel went for no other reason, than that she desired to see what they were like, who met on the Harz Mountain, and because she had heard that of all places that was the most to be avoided. The registers of Lienalle do not state how each of these persons were received by the supernatural assembly, but simply remark, that the first was carried away by a black trooper on the anniversary of the Walpurgis Night; the second was executed for poisoning her grandmother, after being deserted by Swaggerhuff; and the third was found three days afterwards tied to a pine tree on the very summit of the Blockberg Mountain, half dead with fright, cold, hunger, and fatigue. From these, and from many other instances recorded in the Lienalle manuscript, it has been discovered, that whether the Harz spirits were friendly or adverse, such adventures always ended in sorrow, often in disgrace, and sometimes in death. There are, however, a few narratives preserved in that worshipful authority, which are not only freed from the character of a depraved heart, so evident in those above quoted, but which are actually interesting and beautiful. In some, the visit to the Harz was excited by all the fervency of the most devoted love, and the unbounded ardour of the purest friendship: but these also partook of the same character of misfortune; it was an evil communication unworthy of such divine feelings, and therefore the swiftest retribution followed it, as carrying with it the most indulgent atonement. The last person who went to the Harz Mountain on a Walpurgis Night, was of this latter class; and as her story partook more of the tender and interesting strain than any of the former, the Lienalle manuscript has preserved a fuller account of it. In addition to this, it is remembered in many of the Harz towns, such as Altenau, Blankenburg, Grubenhagen, and Harzgerode, and from some of the inhabitants of those parts I have been able to gather many additional and curious particulars, which are inserted in their proper places. Before commencing, I have only to remark, that since that time the young females of the Harz district will never venture over the mountains, nor into the forests, on the First of May, or the Walpurgis Night.
The little village of Harzburg lies about one mile to the north of the town of Altenau, which is seated almost in the centre of the Harz district, between the Brocken and Blockberg mountains. The place, at the period of which we write, greatly resembled those villages, or rather groupes of houses, with which we are acquainted in the curious and earlier works of the French and German engravers. Tall narrow cottages, rudely erected of planks, rose up amidst dark groves of pine and fir, while their bases were covered with white brushwood to a considerable height. The fronts of these buildings towered in ascending battlements above the short and narrow sloping roofs which appeared thatched or plastered behind them. At the outer parts were placed a slight wooden staircase, leading up to the higher apartments of the house, which were entered by a tall and narrow door, screened from the mountain blasts by a rude planked canopy and portico. The windows were simply apertures left in the buildings, without any attempt at glazing, and divided only by ill-shaped wooden beams. The fences around these cottages were formed of single stakes, wattled together by osier wands, with a tall and upright fir door, covered with a single plank as a roofing. Nor were these buildings clustered together like the houses of a village, but scattered and interspersed with trees and dark foliage, which were occasionally relieved by the naked trunks and tops of blasted pines; while beneath many of their lower fragments were left undisturbed in the ground. From these cottages, which were generally situated on high and rocky ridges and crags, were narrow pathways, rudely formed between two banks which led higher up into the intricacies of the darkest parts of the forest. The pathway gradually wound downward into the common road, which passed through the woods; and in the winter season, the rains descended with such force from these eminences, that all communication between the cottagers’ dwellings seemed cut off. At one end of this straggling village stood the church, which differed but little from the other buildings, except in having a tall and narrow round tower, covered with a short cone terminating in a spire, and ornamented with several small arched and unglazed windows. The Curate of this silent and retired village was named Conrad Von Fuddlemann, of whom it was always understood that he preferred a flask of Rhenish to the Commentaries of the most learned German theologists, and the stove side in the parlour of the Wilhelm Tell, to the interior of the church at Harzburg. Indeed he ten times a day lamented that his lot was cast on so wild, so barren, and so alarming a spot; and if it had not been for the consolations above-mentioned, it may fairly be doubted if the good pastor had not vacated his curacy, and left his flock on the Harz mountains to feed, and provide for themselves. “What,” would Von Fuddlemann say, as he reflected upon his situation, “What! Shall I who was brought up under the tuition of the learned Von Thrashentaillen, and afterwards matriculated at the college of Duntzendunder, shall I waste in this desolate, remote, and haunted district the knowledge which I have thus acquired? Oh, ignoble sloth! Oh, blind forgetfulness of merit! when I ought at the least to be a metropolitan dignitary, or, more worthy of my powers, the bishop of a rich and abundant diocese.” But notwithstanding these aspirations after church preferment, Von Fuddlemann was upon the whole a kindhearted and friendly creature; and his principal objection to Harzburg arose more from the remembrance of his supernatural parishioners, than any real dislike to his cure. But even this was of great importance to the morals of the villagers; for where Satan and evil spirits are thought to be at hand, there is sure to be ten times more piety than in the vicinity of more desirable neighbours; which arises from the mind of man being so perverted, that fear and misery only call forth his better feelings, whilst in joy and comfort they are too often forgotten. As Von Fuddlemann had so great a dislike to the spiritual inhabitants of Harzburg, he on all occasions reprobated the singing of the legendary, or amatory songs which before his time were common in the country; as he conceived that the first species might give them offence, and the second were likely to give them power by the ideas with which they were associated in the minds of the young female villagers. On this account he composed for them a series of dull and wearisome moral songs, laden with as much divinity as they could well carry; and very greatly resembling the old verses attached to the Tooden Danz, or Dance of Death, at Basle, in Switzerland.
One evening, in the latter end of April, 16_ _, two young women, named Laurette Engelhertze, and Michelle Flüchterfelt, were sitting at the door of one of the cottages already described, enjoying the rich crimson tint of sun-set that streamed up the valley below, while their occupation of spinning was lightened by chaunting one of Von Fuddlemann’s poetical moralities, which ran in strains like these:—
Young maidens, who in youth and beauty,—think your days to pass,
Your hope is vain, as I shall shew t’ye,—every one who has
Fair red and white upon their face,—shall find them soon decay,
The white shall give to yellow place,—the red shall fade away.
“Out upon it,” cried Michelle, the younger of the two females; “I cannot bear to sing that odious Curate Von Fuddlemann’s Moral Songs, as he calls them; I’m sure I’d rather a thousand times sing “the Revenge of Reibezhahl,” or “the Lovers of Blockberg,” or “Cupid’s Morning Star,” or any thing either about love, or ghosts, than his dull and tiresome rubbish.”
“Dear Michelle! how can you talk so?” cried Laurette, “and we living too on the Harz Mountain. What did the Curate say last Sunday? that Satan was the composer of all the songs except those he taught us; and that when we sung any others, he had power over us, and might do us any kind of mischief that he liked.”
“Oh, an old Fop!” answered Michelle; “because he’s afraid of Reibezhahl himself, he thinks every body else must be. But now tell me, Laurette, don’t you like that sweet Heinrich Reimer’s songs better than the Curate’s? he’s so tender, so soft, For my part, if I must sing morality about Death, I’d rather have him come as a lover, as Heinrich makes him.” The volatile girl then broke off by singing the following verses, which in 16_ _ were considered as not of the very worst class of poetry.
AN INVITATION TO DEATH’S BRIDAL
BY HEINRICH REIMER
Oh! come to mine arms, for my pillow is soft,
And calm are the slumbers it offers to you;
My couch and embrace may be cold,—but how oft
Have the hearts ye have loved in this life proved so too.
I’ll lull thee to rest with a song of mine own;
A voice more than mortal shall pour forth the lay;
Mine arms shall entwine and embrace thee alone,
Till even thy dust shall be moulder’d away.
Unlike to the worldly, who love but the charms
That beauty, or riches, or youth, can impart,
I spread for the foulest and fairest my arms,
The highest and lowest I press to my heart.
One kiss from my lips, thou art mine, and for ever
All hope from my bosom to tear thee is vain;
The last priestly blessing no power can sever,
Save that which to dust shall turn nature again.
Then come, though deserted, oppress’d, and forsaken,
Oh, trust mine embraces, all doubtings give o’er;
Thy sleep shall be dreamless, and when thou shalt waken,
The sorrows that grieved thee, shall grieve thee no more.
“That’s something like a lover,” continued Michelle, as she finished, “quite different from the Curate’s musty morality: why do you know, Laurette, that when our sweethearts, Carl Brandtenbelt and Steine Standardtmann were going to join the Elector’s hussars, he gave them a long doleful poem, beginning,
Young soldier,—young soldier, whose arms proudly rattle,
Who fearless art marching away to seek glory,
There’s a stronger than thou to be found in the battle,
And Death may exult like a conqueror o’er thee.
Oh, I’ve no notion of such rhyming sermons.”
“Well, but my dear Michelle,” returned Laurette, as soon as her voluble companion would let her speak, “surely the Curate was right to tell them of their danger, and exhort them to act like Christian soldiers and good men, though his verses might be a little heavy.”
“As if they didn’t know all that a great deal better than he,” answered Michelle, impatiently: “however, I deceived the old parson for once, for I got Heinrich to write me another battle song for my Carl, and so I exchanged Von Fuddlemann’s for it. He’ll not find any thing there about the ‘calamities of the wars,’ and the ‘dangers of soldiers,’ but a charge to go forward like a man.”
“Oh, Michelle! how could you do so?” cried Laurette; “only think if he should be too venturous, and meet his death through your folly, what could you say then?”
“Say,” replied the laughing Michelle, “why what I always have said, that I would love a brave dead lover better than a cowardly living one. But I’ve more to tell you, my pretty demure Laurette; Old Sterndenter, the Almanack-maker at Altenau, has advised me to go to-morrow night, which will be the first of May, on to the centre of the Harz. You know it will be the Walpurgis night, and he tells me that I may learn from the spirits which will meet there, how Carl Brandenbelt is then, and see him as plain as if he were come back.”
“Why, Michelle, you surely would not be so wicked: what, go to consult Sathanas, as the Curate says, when you may perhaps hear in a few days more.”
“Or a few weeks,—or a few months; —it’s all very well for you, Laurette, to preach and practise patience, but I’ll know before I’m two days older. But come now, be reasonable, and go with me, dear Laurette, and you’ll see Standardtmann at the same time. Sterndenter says, that there’s no danger when we go to enquire about love; and he’s taught me how to cross the mountains, and what night spells I must say, and the charm to be used when I get to the place.”
“Michelle, my dear Michelle! you cannot think how you grieve me,” answered Laurette, almost in tears; “Oh, leave the Walpurgis night, and the spells, and the charms, to those evil spirits which the Curate says are always on the watch for our sins, that they may work our destruction.”
“But how can they? when I’ve got the Drake-stone, which Sterndenter himself brought all the way from Gandersheim, and that’s a good seven miles from Harzburg, to keep off witchcraft.—See here it is, twisted and curled like a ram’s horn. I warrant you it will carry me safe through all the Dragons to-morrow night, for I’m determined to go. Besides, Laurette, you know we have never heard of the Imperial army since it marched, and I could not sleep another night without knowing if Marshal Turenne has met them, not for the world.”
Here the conversation finished, and Laurette withdrew into the house, fully resolved in her own mind what part to take on the ensuing Walpurgis Night; which was, that since it seemed impossible to persuade Michelle to give up her idea of going, she concluded upon following her, although at a distance, that she might be enabled either to render her some assistance, or share the fate of her friend. Laurette was a girl of more sensible piety, and less superstition, than was commonly found in a remote German village in the seventeenth century, and on this account she put more trust in her own religious habits, and golden rosary, than in all the charms and spells, with which Astragal Sterndenter, the Astrologer of Altenau, could have furnished her; nevertheless, as certain directions concerning her expedition were to be learned only from him, at an early hour on the following morning she set out on her road to his dwelling. Although the distance between Harzburg and Altenau is only one mile, yet that is a German one, which may be estimated as equal to about five English; but Laurette was so occupied with her own feelings, that she was surprised when she found herself entering the town. “My poor Michelle,” thought she, “is an orphan, like myself, for her father and my own were killed together by that fatal fire-damp in the Devil’s Mine at Rammelsburg, when the fiend blew it up out of revenge: and now that she is going to place herself in the power of Reibezhahl and all his cruel fiends, I feel called upon by Heaven not to forsake her, and trusting in it for preservation, through all dangers I must follow her. Perhaps the spirits may frighten her too much for her to speak to them, and then we shall get back to our own cottage safely, and bless God that he has delivered us from evil.”
These reflections brought Laurette to the house of Astragal Sterndenter, which was situated in a dark narrow street of Altenau; at the corner of which stood a Gothic stone niche, containing a statue of St. Mark, surmounted by a cross, and beneath it a worn out basin, into which a lion’s head poured a stream of fair water; and on the front was an inscription, stating that “Marck Treitzsaurwein, Secretary to the great Emperor Maximilian I. had at his own costs dedicated that conduit to his patron saint and the town of Altenau for ever.”
Beside the fountain stood Sterndenter’s dwelling: both are now pulled down, but the Lienalle manuscript contains a particular description of their appearance; though it is to be lamented that these curious erections are neither of them standing as witnesses to the truth of that veritable history, nor to gratify the curiosity of those who feel interested in this tale. The Astrologer’s habitation, then, was a tall building with several stories lighted by small casement windows, with antique shaped panes of coloured glass, representing either some of the church legends, or the extravagancies of German heraldry. Its sloping roof was covered with round and pointed tiles placed alternately, while from every different corner arose small wooden spires issuing from a square base, and finishing in a top like a spear blade. The door was in the centre of the building, in a massive frame of stone terminating in a narrow pointed arch, and enclosing two dark oaken leaves, beautifully carved and pannelled. Above the door, on the key-stone, was engraved the sign by which the house was known; namely, the Serpent, emblematical of health, having formerly been in the possession of a physician, from whom it had passed to a quack, that is to say Astragal Sterndenter. At the front of the building stood a stone bench, where the physician’s poorer patients used to repose until he came out to administer to their various diseases; and above the window was a board containing the following inscription, not very dissimilar to what the last possessor might have erected. “At this house dwelleth an excellent Physical Astrologer, who doth by the power of herbs, sigills, planetary influences, and various medicaments, cure most distempers of the body and the mind. He provideth those who are in tribulation with evil spirits, with the means of subduing them. He calculateth all Nativities, Festivals, Eclipses, and changes of the heavenly bodies; and is especially skilled in advising all about to undertake any extraordinary or dangerous enterprise, giving them the power to execute it safely and successfully. Astragal Sterndenter, Φιλο-Άστϱο. Graduate of the University of Göttingen, at the Sign of the Serpent, near St. Mark’s Conduit, St. Mark’s Street, in the Town of Altenau.” When Laurette had finished reading this most promising board, she gave two soft knocks upon the door, which was immediately opened by a tall and aged man, dressed in the habit of a German professor of that time; that is to say, in a long black gown edged with fur, beneath which was a close and coarse stuff habit of the same colour. His silver grey beard descended to his girdle, and upon his head was a flat cap girt about with a narrow band.
“Good morrow to thee, fair daughter,” was the Astrologer’s salutation to Laurette; “enter mine abode, and say to me how I can serve thee.”—Laurette went in, and Sterndenter motioned her to an old oak chair, stuffed and cushioned with faded crimson damask, and placing himself opposite to her, awaited the opening of her embassy.
“Father,” said Laurette, after some hesitation, “do you know Michelle Flüchterfelt, of Hartzburg?”
“I have seen her, my daughter,” replied Sterndenter: “her father was killed in the mine of Rammelsburg some dozen years past, and she entertains an affection for one Carl Brandenbelt, an Hussar in the Elector Conrad’s army. If I do not mistake, it is her intention to visit the Harz on this Walpurgis Night, that she may learn some tidings respecting him.”
“Alas, father it is too true, for I cannot wean her from this dangerous and wicked purpose; and it was on that account that I came to Altenau, to learn of you how I might follow her in safety, and if there were any means by which I might preserve her from the consequences of her sin.”
“And yourself, young woman,” asked the Astrologer, “have you no fears to overcome?”
“Father, I go in the purity of my heart to defend, if it be possible, my friend from evil, and reck not much for my own safety. She has been my constant companion from my cradle; and since our fathers died in that evil mine, we have lived in the same cottage, we have slept upon the same couch, we have eaten of the same bread, we have drank of the same cup, and I had hoped that the same day would have seen us depart the earth, and that the same angels would have carried us together to the same heaven.”
“Thou hast a kindly and a virtuous heart, my daughter,” said Sterndenter; “but for Michelle Flüchterfelt, she is unworthy of thy love. I have studied her well; and find her to be enthusiastic in action, haughty in spirit, and wild in imagination. There seems to be a lurking portion of evil in the construction of her mind; and I have therefore advised her to go this night to the Harz Mountains, in the hope that he who bringeth good out of evil, will also permit the foul spirits she shall behold to affright her into his bosom.”
“But, Father Sterndenter,” pursued Laurette, still anxious for the fate of her friend, “is there then no way by which I may follow and be near her, without mingling in the sin myself?”
“I cannot immediately answer thy question,” said Sterndenter, musing; “but remain awhile in this apartment, and I will retire and consult those tomes which treat of the Harz and its Demons; Anon, I will return to thee.” With these words the Astrologer departed, and left Laurette alone in a room, the aspect of which would have filled a modern philosopher with contempt, although it was well calculated to inspire a young German countrywoman of the seventeenth century with fear. But neither of these feelings arose in the mind of Laurette, her thoughts were unalienably fixed upon the temporal and eternal safety of Michelle, and she scarcely raised her eyes until Sterndenter re-entered the apartment. But as the Lienalle manuscript contains a portrait of the room, we must be more curious than the fair Harzwoman, and therefore during the owner’s absence, we shall take a view and an inventory of his chamber. It was lofty, vaulted with tall arches which formed recesses around it, and wholly built of stone. The door, as has already been mentioned in the description of the outside, was of carved oak enclosed in a narrow pointed arch, and it presented a similar appearance on the interior, excepting that it displayed a large and bright steel lock and escutcheon curiously engraved. On the farther side of the room was fixed a German stove, set round with retorts, crucibles, fire-prongs, and other instruments of an alchemical laboratory. Nearer the windows stood the Astrologer’s table, covered with divers odd shaped glass vessels, a few ancient yellow coloured books, paper, ink cruise and pens, and a large antique brass lamp. Behind the table, and on a line with the stove, was placed a tall oaken cabinet, fantastically carved with German arabesque ornaments, surrounding the scriptural subjects which were rudely wrought upon the pannels. One of the folding leaves being open, the interior showed a skeleton, and a few of the more extraordinary specimens of natural history, stuffed. The windows themselves having been described without, it remains only to be observed, that the sun-light streamed in broken and varied tints through their small, octangular, and storied panes. The deep recesses in which they were situate, formed a sort of glass case, which Sterndenter had filled with skulls, monstrous productions of nature preserved in spirits, tall glass bottles holding different coloured liquids, amulets, and a few of the more shewy drugs of the Materia Medica. The other side of the apartment received a strange and fitful light from the red glare of the fire and the reflected beams of a spring morning, which glanced upon the various instruments scattered there, and partly shewed the dark outline of the doorway through which Sterndenter had departed. On his return, he seemed in deep consideration upon a large and thick folio volume which he held in his hands, but he at length broke silence with.
“Daughter, I learn from the most authentic of historians on the nature of the Harz Spirits, that they may not lawfully be consulted, nor even beheld, unless it be in a case where it is to save another from their power. It is true, that my author, the learned Johannes Hornhoofius, says farther, that such are actions rather to be admired than imitated, since they may not only endanger life from the revenge of those malignant Fiends, but that they are of such a nature, that few or none survive the performance of them.”
“Unfortunate Michelle!” cried Laurette, “yet will I readily sacrifice my own temporal existence to ensure her a happy eternal one. But, Father, are there no spells nor charms which I must use on the mountains?”
“In these cases,” replied the Astrologer, “they are vain; here virtue must be her own safeguard; remember, my daughter, to trust in God for yourself; and for Michelle, endeavour to keep her from accepting any favour at the hands of the Spirits, or at least from bringing it off the mountain with her. Nay, my child—I will not take thy gold. Farewell, and the benediction of Heaven be with thee.”
Laurette then left the Astrologer’s dwelling, and took the road to Harzburg.