Tag Archives: alsatian folktale

“The Enchanted Armies of Ochsenfeld,” an Alsatian folktale

(Originally posted February 2018)

I translated this particular version of the tale from Récits historiques et légendaires d’Alsace, collected by Robert Wolf. 1922.


Not far from Cernay lies a great, desolate plain called the Ochsenfeld1 cattlefield. There, come evening, a faint clatter of weapons can often be heard. It is here that the armies of the infamous sons of Louis the Debonair who betrayed their father on this land in 8332are enchanted and imprisoned in immense subterranean caverns. Travelers out too late must often submit, until they reach the lands of Cernay and of Thann, to the worrisome company of warriors outfitted in a heavy cuirass.

One day, as a countryman was passing by the field, a warrior suddenly emerged from the earth and announced the era when he and his comrades would be delivered from the spell pronounced against them. Then, just as suddenly, he disappeared. In the Middle Ages, the entire army was also sometimes seen passing through the air, especially during a full moon3.


1. German for “cattlefield” due to its purpose back in the Middle Ages, Ochsenfeld has persisted as the name of the plain between Thann and Mulhouse. It’s a place rich with history and old battles.

2. Here comes a brief history lesson. Once upon a time, an Emperor named Louis the Debonaire, or Louis the Pious, had three grown sons–Lothaire, Pepin, and Louis–and laws of inheritance already spelled out. Then he remarried and had a fourth son, Charles, and was so taken with him, he decided to give him an inheritance of his own, including Alemannia, of which Alsace was a part. Now, this Emperor’s eldest son, Lothaire, did not like the idea of inheriting less, and so he went to war against his father, persuading his brothers to join him.
The Field of Lies, also called the Field of Blood, was the legendary location (now disputed) where the Emperor’s own army and other allies, one by one, were persuaded to give him up to his sons and their armies. In other words, there was a lot of betrayal going on. Sons against their father, armies against their emperor, the pope against his ally, and so on and so forth.

3. I find this tale similar to tales of the Wild Hunt, in which an army of the ghostly dead rises to ride during thunderstorms or during the full moon, led by Odin or Wodan or another powerful figure.
This tale also reminds me of a less kind version of the tale of King Arthur and his sleeping armies, waiting to rise in a time of need as Britain’s “once and future king.”
Another version of this tale of the sleeping warriors at Ochsenfeld says that the warriors asleep beneath the plain did not belong to Lothaire and the other traitorous sons of the emperor but to Charles, the last-born and promised king of this region. In that version, warriors who die are said to join the sleeping army, waiting to rise again not from a curse of shame or guilt, but as an honor for those good men who die in battle. These are called the Ochsenfeldritter in German, and the knights of the Ochsenfeld, in French.


 

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“The Silver Rose,” an Alsatian folktale

(Originally posted in the Folktales’ section of the little translator website, June 30, 2016)

I translated this particular French version of the tale from the Castles of France website, and this version has been frequently posted in other folktale centers around the Internet. Other versions were collected by or referenced to Auguste Stoeber, either in the Revue d’Alsace (1851) or Die Sagen des Elsasses nach Volksuberlieferung, gedruckten und handschriftlichen Quellen gesammelt und erlautert, mit einer Sagenkarte. (1852)


In the heart of the Vosges mountains of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, there lived an entire nation of dwarves. These dwarves had built a subterranean city of shining beauty.

This city of crystal and silver was a permanent Gate between the two worlds. The dwarves dug into the earth and shadowed the men from whom they learned the arts of mining, of the forge, of gold and silversmithing.

But despite the good relations between humans and dwarves, skepticism and wariness began to increase in the hearts of man. Disputes, conflicts, and jealousies multiplied.

Then, it happened one day that the King of the Silberzwergen1 came up out of the mountain to contemplate the moonlight of the world of men. Near a stream, he saw a young woman who was the daughter of a rich miner and who had just departed from the cloister where nuns had raised her.

The young damsel was radiantly beautiful, and the king fell desperately2 in love. He revealed himself to her in order to confess to her his love, but she was frightened by the sight of this small, ill-formed creature, believing she had before her one of the demons the good sisters had spoken of. She fled without saying a word.

The King of the Dwarves was seized with a great passion for the damsel. He made a thousand attempts to seduce3 her, showering her with magnificent gifts. But she, terrified, always fled.

Mad with love, the King of the Dwarves no longer knew what to do. In the end, he offered the young woman the most wondrous treasure in his possession: the Silver Rose. It was the only one of its kind and held great power, crafted by the Ancients and the Goddess of the Moon. The Rose rested at the heart of the underground city, and it was the Rose that bound the two worlds permanently together by way of its magic.

But once again the young girl refused the dwarf’s advances. She fled, shouting hurtful words to the king as he held out the Rose to her in a gesture of supplication. As she ran, she had a terrible accident: she tripped on a root of a tree in the darkness of the night and fell into a river. Not knowing how to swim, she drowned.

The king of the dwarves felt an immense sadness after having learned of the young girl’s drowning. He returned to his mountain home and had all the mine’s tunnels collapsed behind him. As for his magical powers, the miners of the Valley of Sainte-Marie-aux-mines were no longer able to discover the veins of gold or silver flowing within the mountain. The King, still unhappy, took the magic Rose and departed for lands far away, in the regions to the east of the Waldwelt woods.

This unfortunate event had immense repercussions within the Waldwelt: upon learning what happened, its inhabitants felt it was no longer possible to maintain relations with humans if humans would only flee. Everywhere, faeries, elves, dwarves, and lutins4 disappeared little by little, leaving only a variety of legends and tales behind them.

As for the king of the Dwarves, he returned to his native land, in the mountains which arose at the castle of the Unicorn and the Forest of Shadows. There, he made a gift of this Rose to the Unicorn’s Lady, and this queen of the Elves accepted the guardianship of the treasure and cast it into the deepest well of her domain. The unhappy dwarf left to return to his dear mountains and died of grief….


1. German for “silver dwarves.”

2. The word in French is “éperdument” which is most often used in the context of love, as opposed to translation of “desperately” which can be used in many contexts. But this is a love that’s consuming, violent in its power and force, and may lead to destruction.

3. The French word “séduire” (seduce) didn’t gain a positive subtext (“entice”) until the late 18th century. If this tale were recorded as a 17th century fairy tale, I’d automatically assume, from this word, that the dwarf king’s intentions were less than noble. But instead all known recordings of this tale date from the 19th century, leaving us with the question: did the dwarf king only mean to entice her, win her over with his gifts? Did she run solely because she was afraid of how he looked?

4. Lutins are a French kind of hobgoblin.


 

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“The White Lady of Kœpfle Hill”

(Posted to the site February 2016)

Translated from the folktale “LA DAME BLANCHE DU KŒPFLE” collected by the Alsatian folklorist Auguste Stoeber, translated into French by René Stiébel and published in Revue des traditions populaires, volume 16 in 1901.

Between Didenheim and Zillisheim is a hill, belonging to this last town, called Kœpfle. A white lady is often seen there at noon carrying a set of keys. She seems to smile, and often she descends to the bank of the Ill near the Bisz watermill; there, she washes her face and her hair. Soon she returns, and one can hear her weeping until she disappears over the hill.

At night on this same hill, great blue wandering flames can sometimes be seen. The whole village believes the white lady guards a hidden treasure. People have sought it in vain. During the winter of 1849 a local left on this quest after saying Saint Christopher’s prayer1. He saw an apparition that he couldn’t describe. Then he returned home, sick with fear, and remained ill for a long time.


1. Saint Christopher is the patron saint of travelers. One of the traditional prayers is as follows:

Dear Saint Christopher,
protect me today
in all my travels
along the road’s way.
Give your warning sign
if danger is near
so that I may stop
while the path is clear.
Be at my window
and direct me through
when the vision blurs
From out of the blue.
Carry me safely
to my destined place,
like you carried Christ
in your close embrace.
Amen.
Sources: Prayer to Saint Christopher, Prayer to St. Christopher While Traveling


 

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“The Nymph of Wangenbourg Castle”

(Originally posted January 2015)

Translated from “La Nymphe du château de Wangenbourg,” from the Castles of France website, legends section.

Once, a long time ago in Wangenbourg castle, there lived a quarrelsome lord of dubious morality. On his return trip from a military campaign with his comrades-in-arms, he spied a lovely young woman in a nearby field of wildflowers. With a bouquet of daisies in her arms, she shone with beauty.

The lord was seized with a desire to have her by any means. Our princess, in addition to being beautiful, had been blessed at her birth by a faerie and everything about her was breathtaking. Numerous suitors had tried to seduce her, but being too young for marriage, she rejected each one.

The lord of Wangenbourg, however, used everything at his disposal to conquer this magnificent creature, this beauty of nature. As a result, she was conquered and accepted his proposal. He promised to cherish only her and to no longer covet other hearts. They were happy, and despite the burdens of the life of a lord, he kept his promise.

But one day he fell back into caprice and sowed his wild oats among other damsels, and thus our recidivist took up the rhythm of his former life. Our princess sorrowed greatly and even despaired. She decided to cleanse herself from the stain of his dishonor at the Nideck Waterfall which she knew well. But Wangenbourg is a long journey from Nideck for a frail princess on foot. Along the way she injured herself several times on low-hanging branches, sharp rocks, and thorns. It seemed to her that the flames of hell had risen from the ground to burn her. The forest was so thick that the sun’s rays barely penetrated the gloom.

When she arrived, exhausted, drained by fatigue and grief, her limbs were so weary that she slipped on the stones at the top of the waterfall and fell into the void.

Her good faerie, having gotten wind of her misfortunes, had trailed her closely and arrived just in time to snatch her from plummeting to her death. The faerie wondered what to do with this unfortunate but sublime princess who was forever burdened by these vile men. Then a brilliant idea occurred to her, and she transformed the girl into a Nymph.

And ever since that day, inhabitants of the surrounding countryside tell the tale of a white shade who dances on the waterfall’s mist, warning travelers of approaching storms.


I found another version of this tale in the book Dragons, fantômes, et trésors cachés : légendes, traditions et contes d’Alsace by Guy Trendel, published in 1988. Trendel’s telling returns to a time when nobility lived at Nideck. The story begins in a familiar vein: the family longed for a child until finally they were blessed with a daughter. They chose her godmother with care: a faerie who then blessed her with beauty. But then, when she had grown into a beautiful young woman who lived to pick flowers and wander the woods, she was spied by knight who had taken up residence in the castle near Wangenbourg. One day, while hunting, he happened upon this beauty in the woods, and he snatched her up, kidnapping her and taking her back to lock her up with him in his castle. She tried to convince him to let her return to her family, but in vain.

Days passed and the knight used all his wits to win her heart, and finally he succeeded. The very night she lost her heart to him, her faerie godmother appeared to plead with her to escape, but the beauty would not listen.

Eventually, the knight grew bored of this game and tired of his captive. To be rid of her, he accused her of cheating on him with one of his comrades-in-arms. Finally, after pleading and begging him to believe her innocence, he declared that he was ready to forget everything if only she went and filled a jug full of water from the waterfall at Nideck.

Happy to have a chance to prove herself to him, the beauty set off on her three day journey. But when she leaned over the cascade to fill the jar, it became so heavy that it pulled her over the edge into the void. Thus the faerie found her before she could plummet to her death, but distraught by the idea of evil men taking advantage of her goddaughter, she transformed the maiden into an ondine who now remains to dance in the spray and foam of the falls.


 

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