THE FAIRY MYTHOLOGY

DWARFS

 

Fort, fort! Mich schau' die Sonne nicht,
Ich darf nicht langer harren;
Mich Elfenklnd vor ihren Licht
Sähst du zum Fels erstarren.

La Motte Fouque.

Away! let not the sun view me,
I dare no longer stay;
An Elfin-child thou wouldst me see,
To atone turn at his ray.
   These beings are called Zwerge (Dwarfs), Berg- and Erdmänlein (Hill and Ground-mannikins), the Stille Volk (Still-people), and the Kleine Yolk (Little- people).1 The following account of the Still-people at Plesse will give the popular idea respecting them.2
   At Plesse, a castle in the mountains in Hesse, are various springs, wells, clefts and holes in the rocks, in which, according to popular tradition, the Dwarfs, called the Still-people, dwell. They are silent and beneficent, and willingly serve those who have the good fortune to please them, if injured they vent their anger, not on mankind, but on the cattle, which they plague and torment. This subterranean race has no proper communication with mankind, but pass their lives within the earth, where their apartments and chambers are filled with gold and precious stones. Should occasion require their visit to the surface of the earth, they accomplish the business in the night, and not by day. This Hill-people are of flesh and bone, like mankind, they bear children and die, but in addition to the ordinary faculties of humanity, they have the power of making themselves invisible, and of passing through rocks and wails, with the same facility as through the air. They sometimes appear to men, lead them with them into clifts, and if the strangers prove agreeable to them, present them with valuable gifts.3

The Hill-Man At The Dance

   Old people have positively asserted that some years ago, at the celebration of a wedding in the village of Glass, a couple of miles from the Wunderberg, and the same distance from the city of Saltzburg, there came toward evening a little Hill-man out of the Wunderberg. He desired all the guests to be merry and cheerful, and begged to be permitted to join in their dance, which request was not refused. He accordingly danced three dances with some of the maidens of good repute, and with a gracefulness that inspired all present with admiration and delight. After the dance he returned them his thanks, accompanied by a present to each of the bridal party of three pieces of money of an unknown coin, each of which they estimated to be worth four creutzers. Moreover, he recommended them to dwell in peace and concord, to live like Christians, and, by a pious education, to bring up their children in goodness. He told them to lay up these coins with their money, and constantly to think of him, and so they would rarely come to distress; but warned them against becoming proud, and advised them, on the contrary, to relieve their neighbours with their superfluities.
   The Hill-man remained with them till night, and took some meat and drink from each as they offered it to him, but only very little. He then renewed his thanks, and concluded by begging of one of the company to put him over the river Satzach, opposite the mountain. There was at the wedding a boatman, named John Ständl, who got ready to comply with the dwarf's request, and they went together to the water's-edge. As they were crossing, the man asked for his payment, and the Hill-man humbly presented him three-pence. The boatman utterly rejected this paltry payment; but the little man gave him for answer, that he should not let that annoy him, but keep the three-pence safe and he would never suffer want, provided he put a restraint on arrogance. He gave him at the same time, a little stone with these words: "Hang this on your neck, and you will never be drowned in the water." And of this he had a proof that very year. Finally, the Hill-man exhorted him to lead a pious and humble life, and being landed on the opposite bank, departed speedily from the place.4

The Dwarf's Feast

   There appeared in the night to one of the Counts von Hoya, an extremely small little man. The count was utterly amazed at him, but he bid him not to be frightened; said he had a request to make of him, and entreated that he might not be refused. The count gave a willing assent, qualified with the provision, that the thing requested should be a matter which lay in his power, and would not be injurious to him or his. The little man then said "There will come tomorrow night some people to thy house, and make a feast, if thou will lend, them thy kitchen, and hall for as long as they want them, and order thy servants to go to sleep, and no one to look at what they are doing or are about; and also let no one know of it but thyself; only do this and we shall be grateful to thee for thy courtesy: thou and thy family will be the better of it; nor will it be in any way hurtful to thee or thine." The count readily gave his consent, and on the following night there came, as if they were a travelling party, over the bridge into the house a great crowd of little people, exactly such as the Hill-mannikins are described to be. They cooked, cut up wood, and laid out the dishes in the kitchen, and had every appearance of being about preparing a great entertainment.
   When it drew near the morning, and they were about to take their departure, the little man came again up to the count, and with many thanks, presented him a sword, a salamander-cloth, and a golden ring, in which there was inserted a red-lion, with directions for himself and his descendants to keep these three articles safe; and so long as they kept them together all would be at unity and well in the county, but as soon as they were separated from each other it would be a token that there was evil coming on the county: the red lion too would always become pale when one of the family was to die.
   They were long preserved in the family; but in the time when count Jobst and his brothers were in their minority, and Francis von Halle was governor of the land, two of the articles, the sword and the salamander-cloth, were taken away, but the ring remained with the family until they became extinct. What has become of it since is unknown.5

The Friendly Dwarfs

   Close to the little town of Dardesheim, between Halberstadt and Brunswick, is a spring of the finest water called the Smansborn, and which flows out of a hill in which in old. times the dwarfs dwelt. When the former inhabitants of the country were in want of a holiday-dress, or, at a family festival, of any rare utensils, they went and stood before this Dwarf-hill, knocked three times, and pronounced their petition in a distinct and. audible tone, adding,

Before the sun is up to-morrow.
At the hill shall be the things we borrow.
   The Dwarfs thought themselves sufficiently compensated if there was only some of the festive victuals set down before the hill.

Wedding-Feast Of The Little People

   Thr little people of the Eilenburg in Saxony had occasion to celebrate a wedding, and. with that intent passed one night through the key-hole and the window-slits into the castle-hall, and jumped down on the smooth level floor like peas on a barn floor. The noise awoke the old count, who was sleeping in the hall in his high four-post bed, and on opening his eyes, he wondered not a little at the sight of such a number of the little fellows.
   One of them appareled as a herald came up to him, and addressing him with the utmost courtesy and in very polite terms invited him to share in their festivity. "We, however," added he, "have one request to make, which is, that you alone should be present, and that none of your people should presume to look on with you, or to cast so much as one glance." The old count answered in a friendly tone, "Since you have disturbed my sleep, I will join your company." A little small woman was now introduced to him; little torch-bearers took their places; and cricket-music struck up. The count found great difficulty to keep from losing the little woman in the dance, she jumped away from him so lightly, and at last whirled him about at such a rave that he could with difficulty recover his breath.
   But in the very middle of their spritely dance, suddenly all became still, the music ceased, and the whole company hurried to the slits of the doors, mouse-holes, and everywhere else where there was a corner to slip into. The bride-pair, the heralds, and dancers, looked upwards to a hole that was in the ceiling of the hail, and there discovered the face of the old countess, who overflowing with curiosity, was looking down on the joyous assembly. They then bowed themselves before the count, and the person who had invited him stept forward again and thanked him for the hospitality he had shown them: "But," said he, "since our wedding and our festivity has been thus disturbed by another eye gazing on it, your race shall henceforward never count more than seven Eilenburgs." They then pressed out after one another with great speed, and soon all was silent, and the old count alone in the dark ball. The curse has lasted till the present time, and one of six living knights of Eilenburg has always died before the seventh was born.6

Smith Riechert

   On the east side of the Dwarf-hill of Dardesheim there is a piece of arable land. A smith named Riechert had sown this field with peas; but he observed that when they were just in perfection they were pulled in great quantities. Riechert built himself a little hut on his ground, there to lie in wait for the thief; and there he watched day and night. In the daytime he could see no alteration, but every morning he found that, notwithstanding all his watchfulness, the field had been plundered during the night. Vexed to the heart at seeing that all his labour was in vain, he determined to thresh out on the ground what remained of the peas. So with the daybreak Smith Riechert commenced his work. Hardly was one half of his peas threshed when he heard a piteous wailing, and on going to look for the cause, be found on the ground under the peas one of the dwarfs whose skull he had rapped with his flail, and who was now visible, having lost his mist-cap with the blow. The Dwarf ran back into the hill as fast as his legs could carry him.
   However, little tiffs like this disturbed but for a very short time the good understanding of the Dwarf-people and the inhabitants. But the Dwarfs emigrated at last, because the tricks and scoffs of several of the inhabitants were become no longer bearable, as well as their ingratitude for several services they had rendered them. Since that time no one has ever heard or seen anything of the Dwarfs in the neighbourhood.

Dwarfs Stealing Corn

   'Tis not very long since there were Dwarfs at Jüne near Göttingen, who used to go into the fields and steal the sheaves of corn. This they were able to do the more easily by means of a cap they wore, which made them invisible. They did much injury to one man in particular who had a great deal of corn. At length he hit on a plan to catch them. At noon one day he put a rope round the field, and when the Dwarfs went to creep under it, it knocked off their caps. Being now visible, they were caught. They gave him many fair words, promising if he would take away the rope to give him a peck (mette) of money if he came to that same place before sunrise. He agreed, but a friend whom he consulted told him to go not at sunrise but a little before twelve at night, as it was at that hour that the day really began. He did as directed, and there he found the Dwarfs, who did not expect him, with the peck of money. The name of the family that got it is Mettens.
   A farmer in another part of the country being annoyed in a similar manner, was told to get willow-rods and beat the air with them, and he thus would knock of some of their caps and discover them. He and his people did so, and they captured one of the Dwarfs, who told the farmer that if he would let him go, he would give him a waggon-load of money, but he must come for it before sunrise. At the same time he informed him where his abode was. The farmer having enquired when the sun really rose, and being told at twelve o'clock, yoked his waggon and drove off, but when he came to the Dwarfs' hole, he heard them shouting and singing within:

It is good that the bumpkin doth not know
That up at twelve the sun doth go.
   When he asked for something, they showed him a dead horse, and bade him take it with him, as they could give him nothing else. He was very angry at this, but as he wanted food for his dogs, he cut off a large piece and laid it on his waggon. But when he came home, lo! it was all pure gold. Others then went to the place, but both hole and horse had vanished.7

Journey Of Dwarfs Over The Mountain

   On the north side of the Hartz there dwelt several thousand Dwarfs in the clefts of the rocks, and in the Dwarf-caves that still remain. It was, however, but rarely that they appeared to the inhabitants in a visible form; they generally went about among them protected by their mist-caps; unseen and unnoticed.
   Many of these Dwarfs were good-natured, and, on particular occasions, very obliging to the inhabitants, who used, for instance, in case of a wedding or a christening, to borrow various articles for the table out of the caves of the Dwarfs, It was, however, highly imprudent to provoke their resentment; as when injured or offended, they were malicious and wicked, and did every possible injury to the offender.
   A baker, who lived in the valley between Blenkenburg and Quedlinburg, used to remark that a part of the loaves he baked was always missing, though he never could find out the thief. This continual secret theft was gradually reducing him to poverty. At last he began to suspect the Dwarfs of being the cause of his misfortune. He accordingly got a bunch of little twigs, and beating the air with them in all directions, at length struck the mist-caps off some Dwarfs, who could now conceal themselves no longer. There was a great noise made about it; several other Dwarfs were caught in the act of committing theft, and at last the whole of the Dwarf-people were forced to quit the country. In order, in some degree, to indemnify the inhabitants for what had been stolen, and at the same time to be able to estimate the number of those that departed, a large cask was set up on what is now called Kirchberg, near the village of Thele, into which each Dwarf was to cast a piece of money. This cask was found, after the departure of the Dwarfs, to be quite filled with ancient coins, so great was their number.
   The Dwarf-people went by Warnstadt, a village not far from Quedinburg, still going toward the east. Since that time the Dwarfs have disappeared out of this country; and it is only now and then that a solitary one may be seen.

   The Dwarfs on the south side of the Hartz were, in a similar manner, detected plundering the corn-fields. They also agreed to quit the country, and it was settled that they should pass over a small bridge near Neuhof, and that each, by way of transit-duty, should cast a certain portion of his property into a cask to be set there. The peasants, on their part, covenanted not to appear or look at them. Some, however, had the curiosity to conceal themselves under the bridge, that they might at least hear them departing. They succeeded in their design, and heard during several hours, the trampling of the little men, sounding exactly as if a large flock of sheep was going over the bridge.

   Other accounts of the departure of the Dwarfs relate as follows:--
   The Dosenberg is a mountain in Hesse on the Schwalm, in which, not far from the bank of the stream, are two holes by which the Dwarfs8 used to go in and out. One of them came frequently in a friendly way to the grandfather of Tobi in Singlis, when he was out in his fields. As he was one day cutting his corn he asked him if he would the next night, for a good sum of money, take a freight over the river. The farmer agreed, and in the evening the Dwarf brought him a sack of wheat as an earnest. Four horses were then put to the waggon, and the farmer drove to the Dosenberg, out of the holes of which the Dwarf brought heavy, but invisible loads to the waggon, which the farmer then drove through the water over to the other side. He thus kept going backwards and forwards from ten at night till four in the morning, by which time the horses were quite tired. Then said the Dwarf; "It is enough, now you shall see what you have been carrying!" He bade him look over his right shoulder, and then he saw the country far and near filled with the Dwarfs. "These thousand years," then said the Dwarf, "have we dwelt in the Dosenberg; our time is now up, and we must go to another land. But the hill is still so full of money that it would suffice for the whole country." He then loaded Tobi's waggon with money and departed. The farmer had difficulty in bringing home so heavy a load, but he became a rich man. His posterity are still wealthy people, but the Dwarfs have disappeared out of the country for ever.

   At Offensen on the Aller in Lower Saxony, lived a great farmer, whose name was Hövermann. He had a boat on the river; and one day two little people came to him and asked him to put them over the water. They went twice over the Aller to a great tract of land that is called. the Allerô, which is an uncultivated plain extending so wide and far that one can hardly see over it. When the farmer had crossed the second time one of the Dwarfs said to him, "Will you have now a sum of money or so much a head?" "I'd rather have a sum of money," said the farmer. One of them took off his hat and put it on the farmer's head, and said, "You'd have done better to have taken so much a head." The farmer, who had as yet seen nothing and whose boat had gone as if there was nothing in it, now beheld the whole Allerô swarming (krimmeln un wimmeln) with little men. These were the Dwarfs that he had brought over. From that time forward the Hövermanns had the greatest plenty of money, but they are all now dead and gone, and the place is sold. But when was this? Oh! in the old time when the Dwarfs were in the world, but now there's no more of them, thirty or forty years ago.9

The Dwarfs Borrowing Bread

   Albert Steffel, aged seventy years, who died in the year 1680, and Hans Kohmann, aged thirty-six, who died in 1679, two honest, veracious men, frequently declared that as one time Kohmann's grandfather was working in his ground which lay in the neighbourhood of the place called the Dwarfs' hole, and his wife had brought out to the field to him for his breakfast some fresh baked bread, and had laid it, tied up in a napkin, at the end of the field, there came up soon after a little Dwarf-woman, who spoke to him about his bread, saying, that her own was in the oven, and that her children were hungry and could not wait for it, but that if he would give her his, she would be certain to replace it by noon. The man consented, and at noon she returned, spread out a very white little cloth, and laid on it a smoking hot loaf, and with many thanks and entreaties told him he might eat the bread without any apprehension, and that she would return for the cloth. He did as she desired, and when she returned she told him that there had been so many forges erected that she was quite annoyed, and would be obliged to depart and abandon her favourite dwelling. She also said that the shocking cursing and swearing of the people drove her away, as also the profanation of Sunday, as the country people, instead of going to church, used to go look at their fields, which was altogether sinful.10

NOTES:

1. Another term is Wicht and its dim. Wichtlein, answering to the Scandinavian Vattr and the Anglo-Saxon wiht, English wight, all of which signify a being, a person, and also a thing in general. Thus our words aught and naught were anwiht and nawiht.
2. See Grimm's Deutsche Sagen, vol. i. p. 38. As this work is our chief authority for the Fairy Mythology of Germany, our materials are to be considered as taken from it, unless when otherwise expressed.
3. In Lusatia (Lausatz) if not in the rest of Germany, the same idea of the Dwarfs being fallen angels, prevails as in other countries: see the tale of the Fairies'-sabbath in the work quoted above.
4. This tale is given by MM. Grimm, from the Brixener Volksbuch. 1782.
5. Related by Hammelmanm in the Oldenburg Chronicle, by Praetorius Bräuner, and others.
6. This tale was orally related to MM. Grimm in Saxony. They do not mention the narrator's rank in life.
7. Grimm, Deut. Mythol., p. 434. Both legends are in the Low-Saxon dialect.
8. The terms used in the original are Wichtelmänner, Wichtelmännerchen, and Wichtel.
9. Grimm, Deut. Mythol, p. 428. The latter story is in the Low-Saxon dialect.
10. In Scandinavia the Dwarfs used to borrow beer, even a barrel at a time, which one of them would carry off on his shoulders, Thiele i. 121. In the Highlands of Scotland, a firlot of meal. In all cases they paid honestly. On one occasion, a dwarf came to a lady named Fru (Mrs.) Mettè of Overgaard, in Jutland, and asked her to lend her silk gown to Fru Mettè of Undergaard, for her wedding. She gave it, but as it was not returned as soon as she expected, she went to the hill and demanded it aloud. The hill-man brought it out to her all spotted with wax, and told her that if she had not been so impatient. every spot on it would have been a diamend. Thiele iii. 48.
   The Vends of Lüneburg, we are told, called the underground folk Görzoni (from gora, hill), and the hills are still shown in which they dwelt. They used to borrow bread from people; they intimated their desire invisibly, and people used to lay it for them outside of the door. In the evening they returned it, knocking at the window, and leaving an additional cake to express their thankfulness, Grimm, Deut, Mythol., p. 423.