(Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman with Handkerchief, 1937)
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.
Grimm’s Saga No. 241: Bread Becomes Stone
In many places, especially Westphalia, the story is told of a hard-hearted sister, who in time of terrible famine denied her sister bread for herself and her babe with the words: “And if I had bread, I would rather that it turned to stone!” Immediately her bread supply became stone. In Leiden in Holland such stone bread is held up in St. Peter’s Church as a sign to the people that the story is true.
In the year 1579 a baker in Dortmund had purchased much corn during a time of famine and thought he would prosper as a result. But in the middle of transacting this business, all the bread in his house was turned to stone. When he grabbed a loaf and and wanted to cut it open with a knife, blood flowed out. Soon thereafter he hung himself in his chamber
In the main church of Holy St. Castulus in Landshut there hangs a round stone in silver casing in the shape of bread. There are many small indentations on its surface. The following saga has been told about it: Just before the Holy Saint Castulus died, he approached a widow in the city dressed as a pauper and begged for alms. The woman told her daughter to give the stranger the only bread they had left. The daughter did not like the idea of giving it away. She wanted to break off a few pieces, but in that moment it turned into stone and you can still see the imprint of her finger.
At a time of great famine a poor wife took her child on her arm and wandering the streets of Danzig cried out for bread. There she met a monk from Cloister Oliva, whom she begged for a bit of bread for her children. The monk replied: “I have none.” The woman said: “But I see you have concealed some near your breast.”—“That is only a stone I like to throw to the dogs,” the monk replied and walked away. After a while he wanted to reach for his bread to eat it. He found that it had actually turned to stone. He recoiled in fear, admitted his sin and relinquished the stone, which now hangs in the cloister church.