Witchcraft Legends

translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2000-2013


Contents

  1. The Witches' Revenge (Germany, J. G. Th. Grässe)

  2. Frau Trude (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm)

  3. Two Eyes Too Many (Germany, Carl and Theodor Colshorn)

  4. The Witch of Treva (England, Robert Hunt)

  5. Ridden by a Witch (Germany, August Ey)

  6. The Dark Daughter of the Norse King (Scotland, John Gregorson Campbell)

  7. The Witches' Excursion (Ireland, Patrick Kennedy)

  8. The Trip to the Brocken (Germany)

  9. The Witch Ride (Germany, Adalbert Kuhn)

  10. The Witch That Was Hurt: Migratory Legends of Type 3055. This link will take you to a separate file.

  11. Related links.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Witches' Revenge

Germany, J. G. Th. Grässe

Many years ago a night watchman in Schwerte was courting two sisters at the same time, but without being serious about marriage. Each of them asked him about this several times, but to no avail. Therefore at last they got together and swore revenge against him. Now both of these sisters were witches. One night when the night watchman was lying in bed there came a knock at his window. When he opened it, the two of them took hold of him, picked him up, and carried him high into the air. At first they wanted to throw him into the Ruhr River, but they reconsidered and set him, entirely naked, at the top of a tall tree where he was found half dead the next day.




Frau Trude

Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Once upon a time there was a small girl who was strong willed and forward, and whenever her parents said anything to her, she disobeyed them. How could anything go well with her?

One day she said to her parents: "I have heard so much about Frau Trude. Someday I want to go to her place. People say such amazing things are seen there, and such strange things happen there, that I have become very curious.

Her parents strictly forbade her, saying: "Frau Trude is a wicked woman who commits godless acts. If you go there, you will no longer be our child.

But the girl paid no attention to her parents and went to Frau Trude's place anyway.

When she arrived there, Frau Trude asked: "Why are you so pale?"

"Oh," she answered, trembling all over, "I saw something that frightened me."

"What did you see?"

"I saw a black man on your steps."

"That was a charcoal burner."

"Then I saw a green man."

"That was a huntsman."

"Then I saw a blood-red man."

"That was a butcher."

"Oh, Frau Trude, it frightened me when I looked through your window and could not see you, but instead saw the devil with a head of fire."

"Aha!" she said. "So you saw the witch properly outfitted. I have been waiting for you and wanting you for a long time. Light the way for me now!"

With that she turned to girl into a block of wood and threw it into the fire. When it was thoroughly aglow she sat down next to it, and warmed herself by it, saying: "It gives such a bright light!"




Two Eyes Too Many

Germany, Carl and Theodor Colshorn

In Hiddestorf, not too long ago, there lived a widow who every Sunday was miraculously able to cook the most delicious meals. By the time that the servant girls had gone to church in the morning, she had not yet made a fire, had not cleaned the vegetables, and had not even fetched any meat. But by the time church was finished, the best meal was on the table.

Because that was not possible with ordinary powers, one Sunday a servant hid himself behind a large barrel in the kitchen in order to spy on the woman.

Just about the time the sermon was beginning there was a commotion in the chimney, and the devil came down and began to caress the woman. Afterward he started to fill the pots for her, but he suddenly stood still and said, "Woman, there are two eyes too many in here!" She denied it. "There are two eyes too many in here!" he said again, but when the woman began to make fun of him, he filled the pots and disappeared up the chimney.

At noon when everyone was seated at the table, the servant said, "I don't want to eat, because I know that it came from the devil!"

He had scarcely spoken when the Black One came in through the window, grabbed the woman by her braid, wrung her neck, and flew out the window with her.




The Witch of Treva

England, Robert Hunt

Once on a time, long ago, there lived at Treva, a hamlet in Zennor, a wonderful old lady deeply skilled in necromancy. Her charms, spells, and dark incantations made her the terror of the neighborhood. However, this old lady failed to impress her husband with any belief in her supernatural powers, nor did he fail to proclaim his unbelief aloud.

One day this skeptic came home to dinner, and found, being exceedingly hungry, to his bitter disappointment, that not only was there no dinner to eat, but that there was no meat in the house. His rage was great, but all he could get from his wife was, "I couldn't get meat out of the stones, could I?" It was in vain to give the reins to passion, the old woman told him, and he must know "that hard words buttered no parsnips."

Well, at length he resolved to put his wife's powers to the proof, and he quietly but determinedly told her that he would be the death of her if she did not get him some dinner; but if in half an hour she gave him some good cooked meat, he would believe all she had boasted of her power, and be submissive to her forever.

St. Ives, the nearest market town, was five miles off; but nothing doubting, the witch put on her bonnet and cloak, and started. Her husband watched her from their cottage door, down the hill; and at the bottom of the hill, he saw his wife quietly place herself on the ground and disappear. In her place a fine hare ran on at its full speed.

He was not a little startled, but he waited, and within the half hour in walked his wife with "good flesh and taties all ready for aiting." There was no longer any doubt, and the poor husband lived in fear of the witch of Treva to the day of her death.

This event took place after a few years, and it is said the room was full of evil spirits, and that the old woman's shrieks were awful to hear. Howbeit, peace in the shape of pale-faced death came to her at last, and then a black cloud rested over the house when all the heavens were clear and blue.

She was borne to the grave by six aged men, carried, as is the custom, underhand. When they were about half way between the house and the church, a hare started from the roadside and leaped over the coffin. The terrified bearers let the corpse fall to the ground, and ran away. Another lot of men took up the coffin and proceeded.

They had not gone far when puss was suddenly seen seated on the coffin, and again the coffin was abandoned. After long consultation, and being persuaded by the parson to carry the old woman very quickly into the churchyard, while he walked before, six others made the attempt, and as the parson never ceased to repeat the Lord's Prayer, all went on quietly.

Arrived at the church stile, they rested the corpse, the parson paused to commence the ordinary burial service, and there stood the hare, which, as soon as the clergyman began "I am the resurrection and the life," uttered a diabolical howl, changed into a black, unshapen creature, and disappeared.




Ridden by a Witch

Germany, August Ey

A miner was always making fun of people who claimed that witches ride to the Brocken on Walpurgis Night. He often said, "If such an old creature ever crosses my path, I will throw her down. What chance would such an old skeleton of a hag made up of nothing but skin and bones have against the likes of me?"

"Now, now," an old neighbor woman who lived nearby would say. "It wouldn't be all that easy to throw down such a rider. You should be careful what you say!"

"Tomfoolery! Tomfoolery!" he said. "I'd make her forget about riding." To that the old woman said nothing.

Walpurgis Night arrived. There was shooting everywhere, as though the enemy were attacking. They were shooting off firecrackers, flintlocks, rifles, and pistols. On that evening everyone was firing his shooting iron, and the louder the noise, the better everyone liked it.

About nine o'clock the miner learned that something had gone wrong in the shaft, and he was called upon to report for duty. He got as far as Bremen Hill when he was approached by a swarm of old hags flying through the air. There was such commotion and uproar as though all the devils were on the loose.

One of the hags came down, turned the miner over, whether he wanted to or not, and mounted him. Then away they went through the air, following the others to the Brocken. He could barely breathe, and the old hag was so heavy that she nearly broke his bones.

She finally climbed off him, and he fell to the ground half dead. The other witches then surrounded him and danced around him, and the devil himself was there with them. Finally they picked him up and asked him if he could remain silent, or if he would like to be boiled in oil. Now no one wants to be boiled in oil, so he said that he would never say anything about the witches. Then the devil said to him that he would be a child of death if he ever uttered a single word. And then the witches did unspeakable things up there on the mountain.

As midnight approached, they all gathered together, and one of the witches again took our miner and mounted him, and they swarmed through the air until they reached Bremen Hill near Claustal. They released him at the same spot where the witch had captured him. He lay there for a few hours recovering his strength; then he slowly crept homeward. When he arrived home, his wife was already up and was preparing to go into the woods for a load of wood.

"Wife," he said, "stay here. I have had a bad night. Go into the kitchen and put a little wood into the stove. I have been sweating, and I need to change my clothes." She did what he said. He then told the stove what had happened. His wife overheard it all, but said nothing.

A half hour later the old neighbor woman came by and said that it was a good thing he had spoken to the stove and not to a person, or he would see how things would go with him.

And thus they knew that she was a witch. The wife reported her, and the wicked witch was burned to death, just as she deserved.




The Dark Daughter of the Norse King

Scotland

When the Norsemen came, and their visits were frequent and numerous, to this country and these islands, to lay claim to and take possession of the land, the fame they gathered for themselves through their indulgence in every manner of cruel spoliation, and slaughter of the people wherever they landed, was that they were a bold, courageous, hardy, rough ("The Norsemen a rough band"), peremptory and unscrupulous race, and more than that, it was attributed to them that they practiced witchcraft, charms, and enchantments, and had much of other unhallowed learning among them.

The Norse King's eldest daughter was particularly noted for her knowledge of the "Black Art." There was no accident or mischance that befell friends, or destruction that overtook enemies, or any luck or good fortune that attended either friend or foe, but it was said that she was the cause of it, or had some hand in it. She was famed at home and abroad, far and wide, for her skill among cows and cattle, she was said to possess every variety of dairy knowledge in her father's kingdom. There was no charm or evil eye that fell on any living creature in the fold but she could dispel and avert, nor hurt nor injury they got but she could heal, nor dizziness nor fits into which they fell, from which she could not restore them, until it was said of her that the lowing of cattle, the incoherent cry of calves, and the rough cry of yearlings was to her the sweetest and most soothing music, and that she would answer the call of cattle, though she might be lost in the midst of the northern woods, and the cry from the nethermost part of the farthest off quarter of the universe. She knew the herb that had the property of taking its qualities from milk, as well as she was acquainted with the spells by which its virtues could be restored, and every charm and invocation that was practiced or then esteemed. The flowers of the meadows and woods were as familiar to her as the ridges of corn or a grain on straw, and there was not a leaf on tree, bush, or shrub, with whose properties she was not acquainted. Her father's kingdom was clothed with pine wood, and was then as now famous for the fine quality of the wood from which most of the wealth of the kingdom was obtained.

One of those times when the Norsemen came to Scotland to take possession of and sub-divide the land thus taken, they observed that the pine wood of Lochaber was growing so fast, and extending so far, that in time it might supersede the Black Forests of Sweden. But on this occasion the northern forces were driven back. On reaching home they reported the matter to the king, and their opinion, that the increase of the wood must be checked, otherwise his northern woods would be of little esteem.

It occurred to the King to consult his daughter on the matter, since she was learned, and to get knowledge from her of the best method of thinning and destroying the Scottish wood. She gave him the desired information, but said that she must be the bearer of the method and must necessarily go to Scotland herself. She obtained the King's permission and made preparations for the journey.

From the gifts she possessed, neither sea nor land, air nor earth could hinder her progress until she accomplished her purpose. When she reached Lochaber the method she adopted was to kindle a fire in the selvage of her dress, and she then began to go through the woods, and as she could travel in the clouds as well as on the ground, when she ascended and whirled in the air, the sparks of fire that flew from her dress were blown hither and thither by the wind and set the woods on fire, until the whole country was almost in a blaze, and so darkened by the smoke, that one could hardly see before them; and, from being blackened more than any tree in the forest, by the smoke and soot of the fiery furnace which surrounded her, she was known and spoken of by the name of "Dark, or Pitch Pine."

The people gathered to watch her, but from the rapidity of her ascent and the swiftness with which she descended, they could not grasp her any more than they could prevent her, and were at a loss what to do. At last, they sought instruction from a learned man in the place. He advised them to collect a herd of cattle in a fold, wherever she would stand still, and whenever she heard the lowing of the cattle she would descend, and when she was within gun-shot they were to fire at her with a silver bullet, when she would become a faggot of bones. They followed this advice and began to gather cattle and follow after her until the pinfold large and small was full set in the "Center of Kintail." Whenever she heard the cry of the herd she descended and they aimed at her with the silver bullet, as the wise man told them to do, and she fell gently among them. Men lifted the remains and carried them to Lochaber, and to make sure that dead or alive she would do no more injury to them, they buried her in Achnacarry; and the person from whom the story was first heard nine years ago [1880] said that he could put his foot on the place where she was buried.

The Norse King was amazed at his daughter not returning, and at his not receiving any account from her. He sent abroad to get tidings of her. When the news of the disaster that happened to her was brought to him, he sent a boat and crew to bring her home, but the Lochaber women by their incantations destroyed those whom he sent. The boat was wrecked, and the men lost, at the entrance to Locheil. The next ships that came were not more successful. The third time the King sent out his most powerful fleet. What they did then was to send and try through spells to dry up the wells of the Fairy Hill of Iona. The virtue of these wells was that wind could be obtained from any desired quarter by emptying them in the direction of the wind wished for. When the ships were seen approaching, the wells began to be emptied, and before the last handful was flung out, the storm was so violent, and the ships so near, that the whole fleet was driven on the beach under the Fairy Hill, and the power and might of the Norsemen was broken and so much weakened that they did not return again to infest the land.




The Witches' Excursion

Ireland, Patrick Kennedy

Shemus Rua (Red James) awakened from his sleep one night by noises in his kitchen. Stealing to the door, he saw half-a-dozen old women sitting round the fire, jesting and laughing, his old housekeeper, Madge, quite frisky and gay, helping her sister crones to cheering glasses of punch.

He began to admire the impudence and imprudence of Madge, displayed in the invitation and the riot, but recollected on the instant her officiousness in urging him to take a comfortable posset, which she had brought to his bedside just before he fell asleep. Had he drunk it, he would have been just now deaf to the witches' glee. He heard and saw them drink his health in such a mocking style as nearly to tempt him to charge them, besom in hand, but he restrained himself.

The jug being emptied, one of them cried out, "Is it time to be gone?" and at the same moment, putting on a red cap, she added --

Hie over to England.

Making use of a twig which she held in her hand as a steed, she gracefully soared up the chimney, and was rapidly followed by the rest. But when it came to the housekeeper, Shemus interposed. "By your leave, ma'am," said he, snatching twig and cap. "Ah, you desateful ould crocodile! If I find you here on my return, there'll be wigs on the green--

Hie over to England."

The words were not out of his mouth when he was soaring above the ridge pole, and swiftly plowing the air. He was careful to speak no word (being somewhat conversant with witch-lore), as the result would be a tumble, and the immediate return of the expedition.

In a very short time they had crossed the Wicklow hills, the Irish Sea, and the Welsh mountains, and were charging, at whirlwind speed, the hall door of a castle. Shemus, only for the company in which he found himself, would have cried out for pardon, expecting to be mummy against the hard oak door in a moment; but, all bewildered, he found himself passing through the keyhole, along a passage, down a flight of steps, and through a cellar-door key-hole before he could form any clear idea of his situation.

Waking to the full consciousness of his position, he found himself sitting on a stallion, plenty of lights glimmering round, and he and his companions, with full tumblers of frothing wine in hand, hob-nobbing and drinking healths as jovially and recklessly as if the liquor was honestly come be, and they were sitting in Shemus's own kitchen. The red birredh [cap] has assimilated Shemus's nature for the time being to that of his unholy companions.

The heady liquors soon got into their brains, and a period of unconsciousness succeeded the ecstasy, the headache, the turning round of the barrels, and the "scattered sight" of poor Shemus. He woke up under the impression of being roughly seized, and shaken, and dragged upstairs, and subjected to a disagreeable examination by the lord of the castle, in his state parlor. There was much derision among the whole company, gentle and simple, on hearing Shemus's explanation, and, as the thing occurred in the dark ages, the unlucky Leinster man was sentenced to be hung as soon as the gallows could be prepared for the occasion.

The poor Hibernian was in the cart proceeding on his last journey, with a label on his back, and another on his breast, announcing him as the remorseless villain who for the last month had been draining the casks in my lord's vault every night.

He was surprised to hear himself addressed by his name, and in his native tongue, by an old woman in the crows. "Ach, Shemus, alanna! is it going to die you are in a strange place without your cappen d'yarrag [red cap]? These words infused hope and courage into the poor victim's heart. He turned to the lord and humbly asked leave to die in his red cap, which he supposed had dropped from his head in the vault. A servant was sent for the head-piece, and Shemus felt lively hope warming his heart while placing it on his head.

On the platform he was graciously allowed to address the spectators, which he proceeded to do so in the usual formula composed for the benefit of flying stationers -- "Good people all, a warning take by me;" but when he had finished the line, "My parents reared me tenderly," he unexpectedly added -- "By yarrow and rue," etc., and the disappointed spectators saw him shoot up obliquely though the air in the style of a sky-rocket that had missed its aim.

It is said that the lord gook the circumstance much to heart, and never afterwards hung a man for twenty-four hours after his offense.




The Trip to the Brocken

Germany

Once upon a time there was a young man who was engaged to marry a pretty girl. After a while the bridegroom-to-be became suspicious of his fiancée and her mother. You see, they were both witches.

The day came when witches go the Brocken, and the two women climbed into the hayloft, took a small glass, drank from it, and suddenly disappeared. The bridegroom-to-be, who had sneaked after them and observed them, was tempted to take a swallow from the glass. He picked it up and sipped a little from it, and suddenly he was on the Brocken, where he saw how his fiancée and her mother were carrying on with the witches, who were dancing around the devil, who was standing in their midst.

After the dance was ended, the devil commanded everyone to take her glass and drink, and immediately afterward they all flew off in the four directions of the wind. The bridegroom-to-be, however, stood there all soul alone on the Brocken, and freezing, for it was a cold night. He hadn't brought a glass with him, so he had to return on foot.

After a long, difficult hike he finally came to his fiancée's. However, she was very angry, and her mother scolded him as well, for having drunk from the glass. Mother and daughter finally agreed to turn the bridegroom-to-be into a donkey, and that is what happened.

The poor bridegroom-to-be was now a donkey, and he plodded unhappily from one house to the next, crying a sad "ee-ah, ee-ah." A man felt sorry for the donkey, took him into his stall, and gave him some hay. But understandably the donkey did not want to eat, and was driven from the stall with blows.

After wandering about for a long time, long-ears finally came back to the house of his fiancée, the witch, and he cried out pitifully. The fiancée saw her former bridegroom-to-be, standing there before her door as a donkey with bowed head and ears hanging down.

She regretted what she had done and said to the donkey, "I will help you, but you must do what I tell you. At a child's baptism, place yourself before the church door and let the baptismal water be poured over your back, and then you will be transformed back into a human."

The donkey followed his fiancée's advice. The next Sunday, a child was baptized, and the donkey placed himself before the church door. When the baptismal service was over, the sexton wanted to pour out the baptismal water, but the donkey was standing in his way.

"Go on, you old donkey!" said the sexton, but the donkey did not yield. Then the sexton became angry and poured the water over the animal's back.

Now the donkey was redeemed and was transformed back into a man. He hurried to his fiancee, married her, and lived happily with her from that time forth.




The Witch Ride

Germany

Once there was a wealthy peasant, whose wife -- the people said -- was a witch. This was repeated so often that the peasant himself finally heard the rumor. He wanted to get to the bottom of the matter, and thus one day before May Night he went out and got some turf from the grave of a child who had died without being baptized. He secretly hid the turf then went to bed with his wife. He closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep, although he remained awake and attentive.

At the strike of twelve his wife did indeed get up and sneak out the bedroom door. The peasant, taking turf with him, followed her outside the house door, where she suddenly disappeared. He saw nothing but a troop of black horses. But the peasant did not allow himself to be deceived. Quickly placing the turf on his head, he saw -- instead of the black horses -- women and girls of his acquaintance. In their midst was his wife. He also heard them discussing their trip to Block Mountain. He recognized them, because anyone beneath the earth can see witches and spirits in their true form.

Angered, the peasant jumped at his wife and swung himself onto her, just as one would climb onto an ordinary horse's back. He also knew witches' magic words and called out:

Horse of black, horse so fleet,
Do you duty with quick feet.

Then she rose up and carried him into the air. She did not tire from the mighty ride, nor did the peasant grow tired. Again and again he called out:

Horse of black, horse so fleet,
Do you duty with quick feet.

But that was his misfortune, because before he knew it, May Night was over. Morning broke across the mountains, and his wife was no longer a black horse. She let out a pitiful scream, and together they fell from high in the air, horribly smashing themselves to pieces.

From that time forth they have made this same ride every night, and they will have no rest until the day of judgement.




Related Links

  1. The Witch That Was Hurt: Migratory Legends of Type 3055.

  2. The Witches of the Logan Stone (England).

  3. How to Become a Witch (England).

  4. Witches' Sabbath, a woodcut by the German artist Hans Baldung Grien (1484/85-1545). This illustration comes from the WebMuseum, Paris.

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Revised October 22, 2013.