Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Phantom Rider Unleashes the Floodwaters of Spring

The Phantom Rider of Switzerland

On stormy spring nights the  Reuss River rushes wildly through the jagged rocks in the Aargau Valley in Switzerland. The river, swollen from the melted snow, causes the incoming tributaries to gush over their banks. On such wild spring evenings folk do not like to walk near the Muri Cloister for it is then that the ghostly Booted Rider is seen mounted on his snow-white steed. With his skull set backwards on his shoulders, the phantom rider can be seen racing through mountain and valley and often he is seen in two villages at the same time.

Once many, many years ago the rich cloister appointed a very treacherous overlord to be its protector. The abbot believed they had found the most capable man in the country because he multiplied the cloister’s treasures and prosperity year by year. But the good abbot was blinded by riches. He never saw the other face of the cloister’s protector, the face he showed the people in the valley. In truth he was the most hard-hearted man imaginable. Begging and pleading would not soften his stone-cold heart and when he saw a widow or orphan crying, he only laughed. He wore enormous boots, which extended far above his knees. When the poor people saw the evil overlord of the cloister come riding toward them on his mighty steed, they hid behind their houses and barns; the children ran screaming in terror: “The booted rider is coming!” and they all fled. They were terrified especially of his inhumanly gigantic head, his terrifying eyes and his horrible red beard.

He terrorized people of all sorts. The cloister was entitled to every tenth sheaf of corn that grew in the valley, but the overlord also viciously seized the eleventh and twelfth bundle of grain. He even stole the hay from the farmers, had their wood piles carted off and stole the fruit off the trees. In short, he did harm wherever he could. Woe to the person who was indebted to him! During the coldest days of winter he would turn the family out of its home and even ripped away the blankets from those who lay sick in bed. If they held up the cross to ward off his evil, he spat on them.

Near Schongau in the neighboring area of Lucerne there lived a pious woman. She decided to leave her entire property to the Muri Cloister in her will. The booted rider liked this idea. He rode over to the old woman to view her property. But while she sat at her table eating her soup, he told her she should also leave the cloister the small parcel of land that jutted into the larger piece of property. The woman became angry when she heard this and threw the booted rider out of her house. The small parcel he spoke of belonged to her niece, who lived there in a miserable straw hut. It was because of this poor family that the woman had left her extensive holdings to the cloister, so that her poor brother’s daughter would have the Muri Cloister nearby as sole protectorate.

But the booted rider could not forget the smaller property. Besides the extensive land holdings, he also wanted this smaller parcel. He stole the last will and testament from the old woman and by forging the woman’s handwriting, wrote the following: This shall include the little hut and property, which up to now has been occupied by my brother’s daughter.

When the pious woman died, the booted rider rode on his steed to the court and presented the will to the justice. Frightened, the poor brother’s daughter came to court and contested the false will. But the booted rider offered to swear an oath to the veracity of the document. He swore that as God was his true creator and judge ruling over him, he now stood on  cloister land.

He had barely finished uttering the words of this oath, when a blood-curdling scream emanated from his lips and he fell down dead. The people rushed forward and recognized he had made a false oath. In his thick red hair they found hidden a spoon and comb and his enormous boots had been filled in the tips with dirt from the cloister garden. So God had executed him on the spot.

Today when the children in the area misbehave and will not mind their grandmother, the window is opened and the following words called out into the darkness: 

“Booted rider, come gallop! 
Seize my misbehaving trollop!”   

The children promptly withdraw into the chimney corner and become as obedient as a white lamb being led on a slender string.