Friday, September 5, 2008

Glimpses of the Afterlife in Fairy Tales and Saga: Gratzug

Translation: Copyright
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A well-worn path through the mountains.

(Der Gratzug: A procession of the dead over mountain and through valley. According to Swiss folk tradition, whoever encounters such a “Volch”, will be visited by a dangerous illness. Also referred to as “Totevolch”.)
There are paths, roads and corridors through the mountains, on which the souls of the dead travel in long ghostly processions. These deathly processions are called Gratzug, also folk walk or symphony. Whoever falls into such a buzzing or whirring train of ghosts or is taken by surprise by such a procession, often falls victim to a dangerous illness and suffers from it for weeks or months. People believe they can recognize these well-worn corridors and paths in the landscape. One ghost path purportedly winds through the Tschingel Valley and has ninety-nine different segments.

The ghosts appear wearing the clothing they wore when they were carried to the grave, or in the robe which was presented to their death guardian or given to the poor of the community in their memory. A deceased person, who is not well-dressed when he is interred or is only partially dressed or who did not receive a God’s garment (as these gifts are called), also appears in the Gratzug as poorly dressed or lacking dress, without a coat or hat or may even walk barefoot.

In the Visper Valley region of Switzerland, a man who was once sleeping alone at home heard someone call out his name three times around eleven o’clock at night. The voice whispered softly that he should get up and go to the field where he had just cut down larch trees. He should remove them immediately so that the Gratzug would not be hindered but would find a clear path. He believed he recognized the voice to be that of his deceased father. He responded immediately and said he would go as quickly as possible and remove the obstruction. He got dressed, climbed the path in large strides and began work immediately. When he had removed the last tree from the path he heard the same voice say urgently: “Quickly, quickly, move to the right side of the path!”

With all his strength he pulled the last round piece of wood out of the way and sat down exhausted on the trunk. Promptly a faint buzzing sound could be heard, which soon swelled into a loud roar. As the sound approached it sounded like an entire army praying the rosary. Drumbeat and whistles like a slow death march could also be heard and in midst of the throng; the cacophony of music echoed off the cliff walls. Then he heard crying and laughing voices, a whirring sound and whispers. At first only a warm breeze blew round him but then suddenly a blast of wind blew through the wood, causing his hair to stand on end. Try as he may he could distinguish nothing other than black shadows passing by quickly. But when the clock in the church tower struck twelve he saw figures walking along the path in twos and fours, as many as the width of the path would allow. Some were well-dressed but others walked barefoot. Still others were weighted down by a haphazard assortment of garments, some even wore two coats. One woman balanced a heavy ball of butter on her head instead of a hat. One of the deceased was missing the belt of his white garment. The robe fluttered in the wind and he had to hold it together with his hands.

When the ghost train passed, the clock in the valley below struck three and then the prayer bell sounded. The ghost procession had lasted three long hours as measured by the tower bell.

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