Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Spirits Haunt the Land in December

Killing the Wild Man, After Pieter Breughel, ca. 1566

Grimm’s Saga No. 270: The Tuerst, the Posterli and the Straeggele, the Wild Ghosts of Christmas

When the storm howls and rages in the woods at night, people in Lucerne say: “The Tuerst (or Thirst) is on the prowl!” In Entlebuch they know this spirit as the Posterli. He is a demon, who leads an enormous procession on the Thursday before Christmas Day, with frightful noise and loud clanging sounds. The people of Lucerne call this ghost the Straeggele, a witch, who on the Holy Wednesday Fast Night before Christmas haunts the landscape. She brings special trouble to maids who have not spun their daily portion of flax, exacting punishment in many different ways. That is why this evening is also call the Straeggele Night.

Christmas Ghosts in Switzerland: the Straeggele

On Holy Wednesday Eve before Christmas, pious folk in Switzerland keep a fast. On this eve, maids also hurry to complete their spinning; they are especially diligent in binding off the last bit of flax from their spindles because at night, the Straeggele is known to appear. She is a wild woman with depraved demeanor. Her hair is smeared and unruly; she has a savage countenance and she rubs pitch on the doorknobs while doing all kinds of mean acts. She howls and moans and roars around the corners of the house. Often you can see her leading a long procession of ghosts, hear their rattling of chains and the ringing of bells as they follow her in the darkness.

Once the Straeggele was seen in the Lucerne village of Urswil. A hard-hearted stepmother once thought to terrify her weak step-child by giving her an impossible amount of wool to spin. When at 9 o’clock her spindle was still not empty, the woman threatened the child and said she would reach the girl through the window and deliver her into the arms of the Straeggele. When the appointed time came and the child was still busy spinning, the step-mother took the screaming child and held her through the window. Suddenly the screams retreated into the darkness and were heard far above the house. The terrified woman gazed out into the dark night and into her outstretched, empty hands. The child had been ripped away. The next morning they found pieces scattered round the village and collected them as a reminder of the horrible fate that awaited those who did not believe.

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