Flag of Mecklenburg

Myths and Legends
by Carol Gohsman Bowen

Flag of Mecklenburg H

These legends and myths were translated and edited by D. L. Ashliman and copyrighted in 1997. He states that these texts may be freely used for any non-commercial purpose. For more information on folklore and mythology or these stories in particular, click on the link to his site.


Nightmare Myths

The mare in nightmare is not a female horse, but a mara, an Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse term for a spirit that sat on sleepers' chests, causing them to have bad dreams.

Such a mare-induced bad dream is called a nightmare in English, a mareridt in Danish, a couchmar in French, and an Alpdruck or Alptraum in German. The alp is a demonic being which presses upon sleeping people so that they cannot utter a sound. These attacks are called Alpdrücke (nightmares).

Beliefs Concerning Alps and Mares

Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1880), vol. 2, p. 3.
  • It is believed that by stopping up the keyhole, placing one's shoes with the toes facing the door, and then getting into bed backwards one can protect oneself against nightmares or "Mortriden." [mare rides].
  • Further, one can put something made from steel, for example an old pair of scissors, in one's bed straw.
  • A person suffering from nightmares should urinate into a clean, new bottle, hang the bottle in the sun for three days, carry it -- without saying a word -- to a running stream, and then throw it over one's head into the stream.

The Mårt

Source: A. Kuhn and W. Schwartz, Norddeutsche Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1848), pp. 418-420. The name most often found in northern Germany ends with a pronounced "t," and can be grammatically either masculine or feminine. The compound "nightmårt" is also very common. The forms "mår" (masculine) and "måre" (feminine) also exist. The designation "alp" is recognized as well.
  • All of these names are used to designate the spirit being that sits upon a sleeping person's chest, thus depriving him of motion and speech. The approaching being sounds like the gnawing of a mouse or the quiet creeping of a cat. The mårt can be captured by grasping it with an inherited glove or by closing up all of the room's openings as soon as the sleeping person begins to groan.
  • Mårt-pressure (also called a mårt-ride) can be prevented by crossing one's arms and legs before falling asleep.
  • The fear the mårt causes the sleeping person does not cease until it gets light in the room.
  • Some pine trees have twigs that grow together in curls until they look almost like nests. During a rain storm, one must be careful to not stand beneath such a twig, because if rain drops fall on a person from such a nest, the mårt will surely sit on him during the night.
  • A person whose eyebrows grow together is called a murraue.
  • A murraue can be either a man or a woman, but only a person born on Sunday. If they are pressing against you, you should say that you want to give them something, then they will come the next day to get it.
  • The murraue creeps up a sleeping person's body from below. First you feel her weight on your feet, next on your stomach, and finally on your chest, and then you cannot move a muscle. However, if you think that you know who she is, you must call her by name as soon as you perceive her, and she will have to retreat.
  • If a mårt is pressing against you, and you presume that it is an acquaintance, you need only call him by name, and he will have to appear in his physical form. Once a mårt was pressing against a man. He called out the name of his beloved, and in an instant she was standing before him.
  • It helps to prevent being ridden by a nightmårt when in the evening one places one's shoes next to the bed with the toes pointing outward.
  • If there are seven boys or seven girls in one family, then one of them will be a night-mare, but will know nothing about it.

A Mahrt Is Captured

Two farm workers slept together in one room. One of them was ridden by a mahrt so often that he finally asked his comrade the next time it happened to stop up the knothole in the door so they could capture the mahrt.

The next time he was miserably moaning and groaning in his sleep, his comrade did what he had been asked, then called his friend by name. Awakening, he quickly reached out and grabbed a piece of straw in his hand. Although it twisted and turned, he held it tightly until his comrade had stopped up the knothole. He then laid the piece of straw on the table, and they both fell asleep until morning.

When they awoke they saw a beautiful girl behind the stove. They nearly parted ways disputing whom she belonged to. The one who had stopped up the knothole said that she should be his, because if he had not done that, she would have escaped. The other one said that she belonged to him, because he had captured her.

Finally the one who stopped up the knothole gave in, and the other one married the girl. They had children and lived together quite happily.

However, the woman often begged her husband to show her the knothole where she had entered the room. She said that she would have no peace until she had seen it. The man resisted her pleas for a long time, but once she begged him especially earnestly, saying that she could hear her mother in England calling the pigs, and asked him to allow see her again just once.

Finally he softened and gave in. He went with her and showed her where she had entered the room, but in that instant she flew out through the knothole and never returned.

  • Source: A. Kuhn and W. Schwartz, "Mahrt gefangen," Norddeutsche Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1848), no. 16, pp. 14-15.
  • Kuhn's and Schwartz's source: "Oral, from Swinemünde." Swinemünde is the German name for Swinoujscie, Poland, a city on the Baltic very near the current Polish border with Germany.


Werewolf Legends

wolfWerewolf legends were well known. According to these legends, many people possessed the power to transform themselves into wolves by putting on a wolf belt. They would then roam about at night attacking their enemies or their enemies' cattle.

In Fahrenholz in the year 1682 a number of people were accused of being able to transform themselves into wolves and were put on trial.

As late as the mid-1800's these kinds of stories were told even though there had been no wolves in Mecklenburg for more than one hundred years. This proves how widespread these legends formerly must have been.

Werewolf Tales

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Wien: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), v. 1, no. 182, pp. 147-148.
  • Bartsch's source for legend 1 is a master builder named Langfeld from Rostock.
  • Legends 2 and 3 are from Hagenow, and were told to Bartsch by Fräulein A. Krüger of Rostock.


A man possessed a wolf belt, that is, he had the ability to transform himself into a wolf (werewolf). Once the huntsmen organized a fox hunt and had placed a dead horse in the woods as bait for the foxes. The werewolf went there and was eating from the horse. The huntsmen surprised him and shot at him. He fled, and when they went to the house of the man they suspected of being a werewolf, they found him in bed with a bullet wound.


A young woman whose husband was often unexplainably absent came to the suspicion that he was a werewolf.

One day both were working in the field. The man again left his wife. Suddenly a wolf came forth from the bushes, ran toward her, grabbed her red woolen skirt with its teeth and shook her back and forth. With screams and blows from her hay fork she drove him away.

Soon afterward her husband emerged from the same bushes into which the wolf had disappeared. She told him of her frightening experience. He laughed, thereby revealing the red woolen threads from her skirt that were stuck between his teeth.

She reported him to the judge, and he was burned to death.


A woodcutter was working in the forest with his brother. The latter went away, and soon thereafter a wolf came out of the nearby bushes. The woodcutter wounded him on his right front leg with his ax, and the wolf retreated howling.

That evening when the woodcutter returned home he found his brother in bed with his right arm hidden beneath the covers. Only after repeated threats would he reveal his arm, and on it was the same wound that the woodcutter had given to the wolf.

He reported his brother, who was burned to death.

Fox Hill near Dodow

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Wien: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), v. 1, no. 181, p. 146.

In the village of Dodow near Wittenburg there lived an old woman who possessed a fox strap. With its help she could transform herself into a fox, and thus her table never lacked for geese, ducks, and all kinds of poultry.

Her grandchild knew about it, and one day when the schoolmaster was talking about magic in the school, the child told about the fox strap, and the next day brought it to school.

The schoolmaster took it into his hand and unintentionally approached his head with it. Suddenly he was standing before the children, transformed into a fox. They broke out with a deafening noise. This so frightened the little schoolmaster that he jumped out the window with a single leap.

He ran to the hill that lay near the village and there built himself a den.

One day a great hunt was organized, and our fox was among those pursued by the huntsmen. A bullet hit him, and suddenly a schoolmaster was lying there before the bewildered huntsman. The bullet had struck the fox strap and ripped it apart.

In memory of this event the people of Dodow gave the name Fox Hill to the place where their schoolmaster had lived.

The Werewolf of Klein-Krams

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Wien: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), v. 1, no. 183, pp. 148-150.
  • Bartsch's source is G. Diehn, a seminary student.

In the vicinity of Klein-Krams near Ludwigslust in former times there were extensive forests that were so rich with game that the dukes often came to this region to hold their great hunts. During these hunts they almost always saw a wolf who -- even though he came within shooting distance -- could never be killed by a huntsman. Indeed, they even had to watch as he took a piece of game before their very eyes and -- something that was most remarkable to them -- ran with it into the village.

Now once it happened that a hussar from Ludwigslust was traveling through the village and just happened to enter the house of a man named Feeg. When he entered the house a flock of children stormed out of the house with a loud cry and hurried out into the yard. When he asked them about their wild behavior, they told him that except for a small boy, no one from the Feeg family was at home, and that he -- as was his custom when no one was at home -- had transformed himself into a werewolf, and that they were running away from him, because otherwise he would bite them.

Soon afterward the feared wolf appeared, but by now he had laid aside his wolf form. The hussar turned to the Feeg child and tried to learn more about the wolf game, but the child would say nothing. However, the stranger would not give up, and he finally succeeded in making the child talk.

The child told him that his grandmother had a strap, and that if he put it on he would instantly become a wolf. The hussar kindly asked the boy to make an appearance as a werewolf. At first the boy refused, but finally he agreed to do it, if the strange man would first climb into the loft, so that he would be safe from him. The hussar agreed to this, and to be sure pulled up the ladder with which he had climbed into the loft.

As soon as this had happened the boy ran into the main room, and soon came out again as a young wolf and chased away all those who standing in the entryway. After the wolf had run back into the main room and come back out as a boy, the hussar climbed down and had the Feeg child show him the magic belt, but he could not discover anything unusual about it.

Afterward the hussar went to a forester in the vicinity of Klein-Krams and told him what he had experienced in the Feeg house. Upon hearing this story, the forester, who had always been present at the great hunts near Klein-Krams, immediately thought about the werewolf who could not be wounded. He now thought that he would be able to kill the werewolf.

At the next hunt he said to his friends, as he rammed a bullet of inherited silver into the barrel of his rifle, "Today the werewolf will not escape from me!" His companions looked at him in amazement, but he said nothing further.

The hunt soon began, and it did not take long before the wolf showed himself once again. Many of the huntsmen shot at him, but he remained unwounded. Finally he approached the forester, who brought him to the ground. Everyone could see that the wolf was wounded, but soon he jumped up again and ran into the village. The huntsmen followed him, but the werewolf outran them and disappeared into the Feeg farmyard.

In their search, the huntsmen came into the house, where they found the wolf in the grandmother's bed. They recognized it from the tail that was sticking out from under the covers.

The werewolf was no one other than Feeg's grandmother. In her pain she had forgotten to take off the strap, and thus she herself revealed the secret.

The Werewolf of Vietlübbe

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Wien: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), v. 1, no. 183, p. 150.
  • Bartsch's source is Pastor K. Bassewitz from Brütz, who heard this story about 1844 from an old cowherd from Siggelkow.

wolfA rich farmer by the name of Schlüntz lived a long time ago in Vietlübbe. One day he had gone to Lübz and was returning home in the evening. Upon entering a grove of fir trees, his horse refused to proceed. The farmer suddenly saw a wolf jump from the bushes and begin snapping at the horse. The horse ran off in a gallop, not stopping until it had run out of breath. The wolf caught up and jumped at it.

The farmer knew that a neighbor of his had the reputation of being a sorcerer, and just as the wolf was about to grab his horse by the neck, he called out: "Irnst Jacobs, is that you? Let me say something to you. Irnst Jacobs, listen to me, Irnst Jacobs!" And as he spoke the name the third time, his neighbor stood there before him, begging him to high heaven not to reveal him.

The farmer let him go. It had been the neighbor who had taken on the form of a werewolf.

A Witch as Werewolf

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Wien: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), v. 1, no. 185, pp. 150-151.

Once a witch was crossing a field in the form of a werewolf in order to bewitch a farmer's cows. Her husband came upon her, and when he saw the wolf, he was afraid that it might be his wife, so he called out, "Marie, Marie, what are you doing here?"

This frightened the woman, who turned herself back into her human form. But even as the man approached her, long red hair was still hanging from her neck and breast, and her eyes were still glowing like wolf's eyes.


Legends from The Grave


A Hand Grows from the Grave: Three Legends from Mecklenburg

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), vol. 1, pp. 459-460.


Once there was a boy who struck his mother, whereupon he died. After he was buried, his hand grew out of the earth. Then the mother was told that she should beat the hand with a switch. The mother did this, and the dead boy pulled his hand back under. But the next day the hand was always there again. Finally the executioner had to come and chop off the hand. They put it in a box and kept it in the church.


A child's hand, wrapped in a silk cloth, is kept behind the alter in the church at Petschow, between Tessin and Rostock. The people there tell how a wayward child had lifted his hand against his parents. The child died soon afterward and was buried. The hand that had been lifted against the parents grew out of the grave. They placed it back beneath the earth several times, but it always reappeared, until they finally chopped it off.


In the church at Garwitz, a village in the vicinity of Parchim, behind the altarpiece there is a hand that was chopped off just beneath the joint. The following legend is told about it:

A girl abused her parents, and even struck her mother so hard that the mother died of the consequences. Soon after the mother's death, the girl herself died. She had lain in the grave for only a few days when her wicked hand emerged. The villagers beat it with whips and a few times it withdrew back beneath the earth. Finally, because it ceased retreating from the whips' blows, they chopped it off. It is preserved even to this day. The flesh has dried firmly onto the bones, and the entire hand has a black appearance.

The Withered Hand in the Church at Bergen

  • Bergen is a city on the Island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea.
  • Source: A. Haas, Rügensche Sagen und Märchen (Stettin: Johs. Burmeister's Buchhandlung, 1903), no. 212, p. 196.

A withered hand was kept in the church at Bergen into the first half of the nineteenth century. It came from a father murderer. After the murderer's death, the hand is said to have emerged from the grave. However often they reburied the hand, it always came out again, until finally they chopped it off and put it in the church. Punishment such as this always befalls those who raise a hand against their own parents.

An Infant Speaks

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Wien: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), vol. 1, no. 372, no. 283.

Ages ago the cruel custom ruled of entombing infants in the foundations of castles and fortresses in order to provide protection against storms, weather, and the dangers of war. The infants were purchased from their mothers for large sums of money. Once a fortified castle was to be thusly built in the Stargard region. An infant had already been purchased. Before committing the cruel deed, the masons who had been engaged for the construction were talking with one another: "What is sweeter than a mother's nipple?"

The answer came to them from the infant's mouth: "The grace of God!"

Taken aback, the workmen laid down their tools and refused to proceed with the wicked building.

The castle was never completed.

The Entombed Child

  • Source: A. Haas, Rügensche Sagen und Märchen (Stettin: Johs. Burmeister's Buchhandlung, 1903), no. 195, p. 173.

When Christianity was introduced to Rügen, they wanted to build a church in Vilmnitz. However, the builders could not complete their task, because whatever they put up during day was torn down again by the Devil that night. Then they purchased a child, gave it a bread-roll in one hand, a light in the other, and set it in a cavity in the foundation, which they quickly mortared shut. Now the Devil could no longer disrupt the building's progress.

It is also said that a child was entombed in the church at Bergen under similar circumstances.

The Ghost at Spyker

Uncanny things happen at Spyker, the ancient castle of the Wrangels. The tower there is haunted. It is said that while they were building it, every night it would collapse, until they entombed a human within its walls. He now wanders about.

According to others there is a haunted chamber there where someone met his death, and he is the one who wanders about.

  • Source: A. Haas, "Der Spuk in Spyker," Rügensche Sagen und Märchen (Stettin: Johs. Burmeister's Buchhandlung, 1903), no. 128, pp. 116-117.

Sacrificing Virgins to Lakes

There is a lake where every year a virgin is sacrificed. If this does not happen then the water becomes unruly, the waves grow larger and larger, then rise higher and higher until they finally flood the entire land.

There is also a city whose citizens have a virgin entombed within a wall every year. But today no one knows exactly where this is or why it is done. Some claim that this girl is also a sacrifice to a large lake, which otherwise would swallow up the city.

  • Source: A. Haas, "Jungfrauenopfer an Seen," Rügensche Sagen und Märchen (Stettin: Johs. Burmeister's Buchhandlung, 1903), no. 93, p. 86.

Thieves' Lights

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1880), vol. 2, no. 1608, pp. 332-333.

In former times thieves made lights for themselves which had the power to keep the inhabitants of a house asleep as long as the lights were burning. If the rogues knew how many people there were in the house that they wanted to rob, then they would ignite that number of lights, and no one would be able to wake up as long as the lights were burning. These lights were made from unborn children which had been cut from the womb. Therefore it occurred not infrequently that pregnant women were sold to bandits for high prices.


That very thing happened once at a mill. A servant girl who was pregnant worked for the miller. Her fiancé came to visit her one night. He saw a wagon standing before the door of the miller's house. It was covered with a tarp. He heard a stifled groaning sound coming from beneath the tarp. The servant rushed to the living-room window, and inside he saw several fellows with the miller. They were counting out a large pile of silver coins onto the table. The servant immediately became suspicious and rushed back to investigate the wagon. He pulled his own fiancée from beneath the wagon tarp. Her mouth had been bound with a cloth. The servant carried her to safety and then untied her hands and feet. The robbers soon emerged from the house and drove off as fast as their horses could run, thinking that they were carrying with them a rich booty.


Once a rogue slipped into a house during the day. The inhabitants of the house saw him, but although they searched high and low, they could not find him. At nightfall the inhabitants went to bed, but the servant girl could not fall asleep. She was afraid of the stranger, and wanted to look around carefully one last time. To her fright she discovered him hiding in the stove.

The girl then pretended to fall asleep. Now that all was quiet in the house, the rogue climbed out of the stove and ignited as many lights as there were people in the house. But one of the lights would not burn. He believed that the girl was not yet asleep and held a burning light against her feet. However, in her fear she withstood the pain and did not move.

Now satisfied, the rogue placed all the lights on the table and went outside to summon his fellow robbers. The girl jumped up and barred the door shut behind him. She attempted to awaken the people in the house, but to no avail. She then tried to extinguish the lights, but failed to do this as well.

The rogue came to the window and demanded his lights, promising to leave once he had them. The servant girl answered that she could not reach them out to him while there were burning. She said that she had been unable to put them out and asked him what to do. He told her to submerge them in fresh milk. That is exactly what she wanted to know. She submerged them in fresh milk, and the lights went out. She shouted at the fellow that he was not going to get his lights back, and he then did indeed have to made a hasty retreat, for as soon as the lights were extinguished, everyone in the house awoke, and they all came running to see what was the matter.


Changeling Stories

We all want explanations for happenings that fall outside of our control, especially those that have a direct bearing on our welfare. It is only natural that our forebears wanted to know why some children fail to develop normally. Legends give primitive but satisfying answers to these questions. These accounts -- which, unlike most fantasy tales, were actually widely believed -- suggest that a physically or mentally abnormal child is very likely not the human parents' offspring at all, but rather a changeling -- a creature begotten by some supernatural being and then secretly exchanged for the rightful child. From pre-Christian until recent times, many people have sincerely and actively believed that supernatural beings can and do exchange their own inferior offspring for human children, making such trades either in order to breed new strength and vitality into their own diminutive races or simply to plague humankind. These beliefs continued to exert influence well into the nineteenth century, and in some areas even later. As late as 1924 it was reported that in sections of rural Germany many people were still taking traditional precautions against the demonic exchange of infants.

How to Protect Your Child

Source: Jacob Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, 4th ed. (1877), v. 3, pp. 450-460 (items 484, 509, 510, 744).

  • Placing a key next to an infant will prevent him from being exchanged.
  • Women may never be left alone during the first six weeks following childbirth, for the devil then has more power over them.
  • During the first six weeks following childbirth, mothers may not go to sleep until someone has come to watch the child. If mothers are overcome by sleep, changelings are often laid in the cradle. To prevent this one should lay a pair of men's pants over the cradle.
  • Whenever the mother leaves the infant's room she should lay an article of the father's clothing on the child, so that it cannot be exchanged.

Changeling Beliefs in Altmark

Source: J. D. H. Temme, Folk Legends from Altmarkdwarf
  • To prevent the underground spirits from exchanging a newborn child, it must be continuously watched until it is baptized. For this reason the baptism takes place as soon as possible. Dwarfs are often called "the underground people." They live beneath the earth and would like nothing more than to have beautiful, well-formed human children. They will steal newborns, leaving their own malformed children, called changelings, in their place. Therefore there is always a great rush to have the child baptized, and until this happens the mother and child will not be left alone for even an instant. Furthermore, until then there must always be a burning light near them, even in broad daylight, because the underground people are afraid of light.
  • A child must carefully and continuously be protected against exchange by the underground people until it is baptized. Therefore the so-called "word of God," a leaf from the Bible from a hymnbook, is either wrapped up with the child in its blanket or laid in its cradle.

The Changeling of Plau

Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Vienna, Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), vol. 1, p. 42.

A married couple in Plau had a child that after two years was still only as long as a shoe. It had an enormously large head and could not learn to talk. They shared their concern with an old man, who said: "For sure the underground people have exchanged your child. If you want to be certain about this, then take an empty eggshell and in the presence of the child pour fresh beer into it, then add yeast to make it ferment. If the child then starts to talk, then my suspicion is right." They followed this advice. The beer had scarcely begun to ferment when the child called out from its cradle:

Now I am as old
As Bohemian gold,
But this is the first I've ever heard tell,
Of beer being brewed in an eggshell.
The dwarf's actual words, in the original Low German:
Ik bün so olt
as Böhmer Gold,
doch dat seih ik taum irsten Mal,
dat man Bier brugt in Eierschal.

The parents determined that the very next night they would throw the child into the Elbe River. They arose after midnight and went to the cradle, where they discovered a strong and healthy child. The underground people had taken back their own child.

The Underground People Try to Steal a Child

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Vienna, Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), vol. 1, p. 46.
  • Bartsch's source for this legend is a secondary school student named Behm from Parchim.

In Lanken near Parchim a peasant woman was lying in bed one night with her small child that had not yet been baptized. Because the moon was shining, she blew out the light. Then she suddenly noticed that a little woman was standing at the door next to the bell. She came to the bed and took hold of the boy and wanted to take him away. The peasant woman held as fast as she could, but the small person was pulling almost stronger than she was. Then the peasant woman called for her husband, and when he struck a light, the little woman disappeared.

An Underground Woman in Labor

A woman who died at Neu-Bukow in 1841 at the age of 118 told that when she was a child underground people lived in a mountain near her home town (the name is not given). She herself and other children often saw them, but they always ran away from them. One night an underground man knocked at their door and asked the mother to go with him. His wife was in labor. He also asked to borrow a kettle. The mother went with him and was gone the entire night. She returned the next morning and reported that a little boy had been born.

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), vol. 1, p. 88.
  • Bartsch's source is a Mrs. Weinberg from Rostock.

The Changeling of Spornitz

Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Vienna, Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), vol. 1, p. 46.

A young peasant woman in Spornitz had her child stolen by an underground person or a Mönk, and a changeling put in its place in the cradle. The mother saw it happen, but she could neither move nor call out. The maniken told her that her son would someday become the king of the underground people. From time to time they had to exchange one of their king's children for a human child so that earthly beauty would not entirely die out among them. She was told to take good care of the little dwarf prince, and her house would be blessed with good fortune. With that the Mönk laid the changeling on her breast and disappeared with her child. She took care of the child, and the prosperity of her household increased visibly. However, the changeling remained small and ugly, and died in his twentieth year.

The Underground People of Lüth Farm

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Vienna, Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), vol. 1, pp. 46-47.
  • Bartsch's source for this legend is a secondary school student named Thoms from Parchim.
It is said that the farmyard of Peasant Lüth in Spornitz was formerly frequented by the underground people. Once when the peasant had gone to town they exchanged his child for one of their own, one who had an enormously large head and who did not grow properly, but who otherwise was mentally all right. In order to get their own child back, acting on the advice of a neighbor woman, the peasant's wife brewed beer in an eggshell.

As she was doing it, the child asked: "What are you doing there?"

She answered: "I'm brewing."

Then the child said:

I am as old
As Bohemian gold,
And in all my days I've never seen such brewing.

Then the woman said: "I'll throw you in." Then the child began to cry. The underground people heard it and brought her child back.

Mecklenburg Changelings

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Vienna, Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), vol. 1, p. 62.
  • Bartsch's source for this legend is Pastor Dolberg from Hinrichshagen.
In Rövershagen the underground people once exchanged a woman's unbaptized child for one of their own. Following the advice of a wise man, she laid the underground people's child on the chopping block as though she were going to kill it with an ax. The dwarf's child immediately disappeared, and her own child was returned.

The Underground People Steal a Child

  • Source: Karl Bartsch, Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg (Vienna, Wilhelm Braumüller, 1879), vol. 1, pp. 64-65.
  • Bartsch's source is a seminary student from Zarrentin identified by the initials "G. P."


  • Bartsch explains the phrase "brew through an egg" with the following note: "This is done by opening an egg at both ends, but the one hole must be larger than the other. One then pours water into the larger hole and lets it drip out through the smaller one."
According to an old woman from Witzin, in her village and in the entire district of Sternberg, it was formerly the practice to keep a light burning all night in the vicinity of a newborn child until it was baptized. A certain woman who failed to do this had her child stolen by the underground people, and they laid one of their own in its place.

The woman noticed the exchange the next day and asked her neighbor for advice. She told her that she should "brew through an egg." The mother followed this advice, and the changeling, who until now had not uttered a sound, cried out:

I am as old
As Bohemian gold,
But I have never seen such brewing.

At this the woman cried out: "To the devil with you! You are not my child!" Then there was a great commotion, and the changeling disappeared, and the mother got back her own child.

The Nickert

Source: A. Kuhn and W. Schwartz, Norddeutsche Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1848), pp. 92-93.

The Nickert is a small gray person that lives in the water and has a great desire for human children. If they have not yet been baptized, he will steal them, leaving his own children in their place. They are very small, but have large, broad heads.

Once a woman on a journey gave birth to a child. As soon as she had recovered and was crossing the Ruthe Bridge on her way home, the Nickert came upon her without being seen and stole her newborn child, leaving in its place his malformed brat with its thick head. It lived for eight years, and then died. If the woman had not crossed over running water with her newborn, the Nickert would not have been able to do anything to her.

The changelings that the Nickert substitutes for human children are very strong, often having more strength than three strong men together.

Once there was a large Nickert child that was completely wild. He dirtied himself, and was almost like an animal. One day a worker came home with a heavily loaded wagon full of grain and ran into the gatepost so hard that he could not get loose. The Nickert child, who was sitting inside next to the window, saw what had happened and asked, "Should I help you?"

The bad-tempered worker replied, "You stupid quack, it's too heavy for you!" Then the Nickert child came outside and with one powerful shove pushed the wagon free. Three days later the Nickert child disappeared.

Hertha Lake

J. D. H. Temme, translated by D. L. Ashliman

In the part of the Island of Rügen named Jasmund, not far from Stubbenkammer, one can still see remnants--especially the outer wall--of Hertha Castle, which has stood there for many centuries, ever since the days of heathenism. In this castle the heathens of Rügen worshipped an idol that they called Hertha, whom they perceived to be Mother Earth.

Not far from Hertha Castle there is a deep, black lake, surrounded by woods and hills. The goddess bathed there several times each year. She rode there in a carriage covered with a mysterious veil and drawn by two cows. Only her consecrated priest was allowed to accompany her. Slaves were also brought along to lead the draft animals, but they were drowned in the lake immediately upon completing their task, because any unconsecrated person who caught sight of the goddess would have to die. For this reason nothing more is known about the worship of this goddess.

There are all kinds of stories about uncanny happenings near this lake. Some believe that these are caused by the devil, who, in the form of the goddess Hertha, was worshipped by the heathens and who therefore still lays claim to the lake. Others believe that these happenings are caused by an ancient queen or princess who had been banished to this place.

Especially when the moon is shining brightly, a beautiful woman is often seen emerging from the woods adjacent to Hertha Castle. She proceeds to the lake, where she bathes herself. She is surrounded by many female servants, who accompany her into the water. Then they all disappear, but they can be heard splashing about. After a while they all appear again, and they can be seen returning to the woods dressed in long white veils.

It is very dangerous for a wanderer to observe this, for he will be drawn by force into the lake where the white woman is bathing, and as soon as he touches the water, he will be powerless; the water will swallow him up. They say that the woman has to lure one human into the water every year.

No one is allowed to use boats or nets on this lake. Some time ago some people dared to bring a boat to the lake. They left it afloat overnight, and when they returned the next morning, it had disappeared. After a long search, they found it atop a beech tree on the bank. It was spirits of the lake that had put it up there during the night, for when the people were getting it back down, they heard a spiteful voice calling to them from beneath the lake, saying: "My brother Nickel and I did it!"

  • Source: J. D. H. Temme, Die Volkssagen von Pommern und Rügen (Berlin, In der Nicolaischen Buchhandlung, 1840), no. 38, pp. 65-66. See also Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsche Sagen (1816/1818), no. 365.
  • Rügen is a German island in the Baltic Sea.

The Expulsion of Rats from the Island of Ummanz

Many years ago there were so many rats on the Island of Ummanz that the inhabitants could not find refuge from the vermin. Then a sorcerer from abroad presented himself, offering -- for a large sum of money -- to drive all the rats from the island. The people of Ummanz agreed to pay this very high price, even though he stated from the beginning that he would be able to ban the rats only for the lifetime of the population that currently lived there. Then the sorcerer drove all the rats to the southwestern point of Ummanz and into the water. This region is thus called the Rott even today.

They say that the soil from this area formerly could be used as protection against rats. People who were plagued with rats would go to Ummanz and get a sack of soil from the Rott. A small handful of this soil shook into the rat holes would be sufficient to drive the rats away within a few hours. All this was credited to the foreign sorcerer.

More recently, however, following the death of the earlier population and after many outsiders had come to Ummanz, rats found their way back to the island, and since then not even soil from the Rott will help to drive them away.

  • Source: A. Haas, Rügensche Sagen und Märchen (Stettin: Johs. Burmeister's Buchhandlung, 1903), no. 170, pp. 153-154.
  • Ummantz is part of Germany's Island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea.


Superstitions in Germany


  1. Whoever harms or kills a cat shall meet with great misfortune.
  2. It is not good to kill spiders.
  3. If a stork builds its nest on your roof or chimney, you will live long and be wealthy.

Cures, Charms, and Curses

  1. Should it rain in the morning, then the afternoon will have better weather if old women clear their throats.
  2. Rainwater found on tombstones will remove freckles.
  3. Hairs that have been combed out must be burned, for if a bird carries them to its nest, one will get headaches; if a starling carries them to its nest, one will go blind with cataracts.
  4. If it rains in sunshine, then poison will fall from the sky.

Holidays and Holy Days

  1. If a girl does not finish her spinning on Saturday, then the leftover flax or tow will not become good yarn and will never bleach.
  2. Clothing sewn with thread spun on Christmas Eve repels insects and vermin.
  3. A shirt, sewn with thread that was spun during the twelve days of Christmas, is good for many things.
  4. Those who spin on Saturday night, will not rest in their graves.
  5. If one leaves Saturday's yarn Saturday on the the spinning wheel all day on Sunday then it will turn into a hopeless snarl.
  6. No wood may be chopped during the "evil crescent" (the increasing moon). Firewood felled during the new moon goes out quickly. Wood cut during a decreasing moon burns better.
  7. Should a girl not spin her distaff clean by Sunday, then that thread can never be bleached white.
  8. If you bathe in cold water on the first day of Easter, you will have good health for the rest of the year.


  1. Do not answer a witch's question, or else she can take something from you.
  2. Old women often cut out a foot-long piece of sod that their enemy has just walked over, and hang it in the chimney. Then their enemy will waste away.
  3. He who carries the tooth of a harrow found on the street will always recognize a witch.
  4. Whoever carries a harrow tooth found on a Sunday will see witches in the church with pails on their heads, but must leave the church before the 5 o'clock bells ring, or they will tear him apart.

Male and Female

  1. It is not good if one goes out in the morning and encounters an old woman.
  2. Hens that crow like roosters are a sign of misfortune.
  3. If, while riding a horse overland, a man should come upon a woman spinning, then that is a very bad sign; he should turn around and take another way.
  4. When maids burn tinder, they must use pieces from men's shirts; the tinder will not catch fire if women's clothes are used.
  5. If you walk under a chicken roost, and a hen lets loose on you, it will bring you bad luck, if a rooster, good luck.
  6. He who walks between two old women early in the morning shall have only bad luck the rest of the day.
  7. To meet old women first thing in the morning means bad luck; young people, good luck.
  8. Many men would rather let themselves be beaten to death, than to walk between two old women.
  9. If an old woman greets you early in the morning, you must answer back, "The same to you!"
  10. It is unlucky to meet an old woman while going to an important event, but lucky to meet a young girl.

Courtship and Marriage

  1. Unmarried women who desire husbands should, on the night before Saint Andrew's day, naked, call on this saint, and their loved ones will appear to them in their sleep.
  2. If a girl wishes to know what kind of hair her loved one has, on Christmas Eve she should reach backwards out the door, and she shall hold the hair in her hand.
  3. To learn if she shall marry within the next year, a virgin should knock on the chicken coop on Christmas Eve or at midnight. If a rooster cackles she will, if a hen cackles she won't. )
  4. To discover if her lover will be upright or crooked, a girl must stand against a cord or a stack of wood on Christmas Eve and pull a log out backwards; her lover will be like the log.
  5. Christmas Eve between 11 and 12 o'clock all single girls wake up. To learn whether or not they will marry in the next year, they take off all their clothes, stick their heads into the kitchen kettle and watch the bubbling water.
  6. If the groom buckles the bride's left shoe on their wedding day, she will take control of the marriage.
  7. Girls should pay attention to where the dogs bark on Saint Andrew's Eve. Her groom will come from this area.
  8. When the bride takes her clothes off, she must give one of her stockings to a bridesmaid, who will then throw it onto the gathered wedding guests. On whomever the stocking lands, he or she shall be the next to marry.
  9. At the end of the wedding celebration, the bride and groom are to sit down on the marriage bed, fully dressed, except for their shoes and stockings. One of the bridesmaids takes off the groom's stocking, sits down on the floor with her back against the bed and throws it with her left hand over her right shoulder, aiming for the face of the groom. All the bridesmaids then repeat this, and the ones who succeed will soon be married. The the bride's stocking is then removed by the young men and thrown in the same fashion, thereby determining which of them will be next.

Husband and Wife

  1. If a stranger looks into the parlor on a Monday morning, he will cause the husband to beat his wife.
  2. If a woman or a girl loses her garter on the street, then her husband or suitor has been unfaithful.
  3. When a woman's neck or throat itches, then she will soon go to a baptism; if her head itches it means she will be beaten.
  4. If a dog runs between a woman's legs, her husband will beat her.
  5. For as long as the food continues to boil or simmer on the table, the cook will be beaten by her husband.

Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Postnatal Care

  1. If a woman walks over a garden bed or a field within six weeks of having given birth, then nothing will grow on it in the next few years, or everything will perish.
  2. A pregnant woman should never crawl under a coach pole, otherwise she will go over her (expected) time.
  3. If a pregnant woman walks over a grave, her child will die.
  4. If pregnant women go to the place where cloth is being bleached, they will have pale children.
  5. If a woman sticks pins or needles into curtains during the first six weeks after childbirth, her child will have bad teeth.
  6. If a pregnant woman ties a rope instead of a belt around herself, her child will be hanged. )
  7. If a pregnant woman walks behind or crosses the path of a poor sinner who is to be put to death, her child will later die the same death.
  8. Women may never be left alone during the first six weeks following childbirth, for the devil then has more power over them.
  9. During the first six weeks following childbirth, mothers may not go to sleep until someone has come to watch the child. If mothers are overcome by sleep, changelings are often laid in the cradle. To prevent this one should lay a pair of men's pants over the cradle.
  10. Neither fire, salt nor bread may be given away from the house of a woman during the first six weeks following childbirth.
  11. A pregnant woman after doing the wash should immediately turn over the tub she used, and she will have an easy delivery.
  12. The first medicine which a woman receives following childbirth should be taken from her husband's spoon; taken thus it will be more effective.
  13. A woman in labor should put on her husband's slippers.
  14. One may not pierce the bread of a pregnant woman with a knife or fork, or else the child's eyes will be poked out.
  15. If he ties her garters, she will give birth easily.
  16. A woman recovering from childbirth may not look out of the window for six weeks, or else every wagon that passes will take a bit of luck with it.
  17. If a woman walks without shoes during the six weeks following childbirth, then her child will take a dangerous fall when it is learning to walk.
  18. A woman may not enter a stranger's house for six weeks following the birth of her child. If she does so, she should first buy something in another village, or she will bring misfortune into the house.
  19. A woman may not draw water from any well for six weeks following the birth of her child, or the well will dry up for seven years.

Child Care

  1. Anyone who carries a basket into the room of a woman recovering from childbirth must break a splinter from it, and place it in the cradle, otherwise he will carry away the mother's or child's peace and quiet. )
  2. A newborn child should not be first laid to the left side, or it will grow up to be clumsy.
  3. A small child will not grow properly if you call it a little worm or a dummy.
  4. It is not good to hit an animal with the same whip that one used to discipline a child.
  5. When you see a child's first tooth, immediately slap his face, and he will teethe easier.
  6. If a woman nurses her baby while sitting on the boundary stone at a fork in the road, it will never get toothaches.


  1. Men should not stay in the house when women are filling beds with feathers, otherwise the feathers will poke through the ticking.
  2. It is not good to sew or patch something while still wearing it.
  3. Those who work in the woods will never be rich.
  4. If you get up from a spinning wheel without loosening the string, then an elf will come and spin on it. You cannot see it, but you can hear the spool turning by itself.
  5. If you go to bed without clearing the table, the youngest in the house cannot sleep.

Child Labor

  1. A shirt woven from thread spun by a girl under seven years of age will bring its wearer good luck.
  2. A shirt, spun by a girl between five and seven years of age, protects against magic.
  3. Whoever wears a shirt spun by a five year old girl, and appears before court, will receive justice in all proceedings.

Aging and Death

  1. If a deathly ill person cannot die, then one should move the table out of its place, or turn over a shingle on the roof.
  2. If a sick man wishes to die, then one should open all the windows, fill any object in the house which is empty and turn it over, so that the soul is free to leave and cannot stay anywhere. One should also take the vinegar away, so that it does not sit around; hang the bird cage somewhere else, tie the cattle up differently, and move the beehives.
  3. If a deceased man's clothes are not soon washed, he cannot rest. )
  4. If someone has trouble dying, then one may lift up just three tiles on the roof.
  5. The moment that someone dies, the crops in the storehouse should be shoveled and the wine in the cellar shaken, otherwise the grain, when planted, will not grow, and the wine will go sour.
  6. If one has difficulty dying, then he should be lain in the corridor, and he shall have an easy death.
  • Sources:
    All German superstitions were taken from Jacob Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, vol. 3 (1835). Translated from the German by D. L. Ashliman.
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