Cultured Wednesday: von Schwind’s Rübezahl

Rübezahl is a name of ridicule, the use of which provokes his anger. Respectful names are “Lord of the Mountain(s)”, “Treasure Keeper” or among herbalists “Lord John”. In one Silesian folktale, he is called “Prince of the Gnomes”.

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Researching mushrooms, I experienced a blast from the past when this painting was presented as one featuring fly agarics:

Ruebezahle woodwose
Moritz von Schwind’s 1851 painting of Rübezahl

My, that brought back childhood memories long forgotten.  After re-reading a summary of the story of how Rübezahl came by his name, I remembered that, indeed, I have known this story for many, many years, and for some unknown reason always connected the figure with The Hall of the Mountain King.  I guess this painting is what shaped my internal image of any woodwose-type of character from Rübezahl to Krampus straight to the Mountain King (whose mountain, of course, is surrounded by deep, dark forests, at least in my imagination).  Apparently, he has become something of a patron “saint” of mountain climbers, however that would have come about.

According to the Wiki, Moritz von Schwind (21 January 1804 – 8 February 1871) was an Austrian painter, born in Vienna, and his primary genius was lyrical.  He drew his inspiration from chivalry, folklore, and the songs of the people.  Schwind died in Bavaria and was buried in Munich.

Back to Rübezahl though:  He appears to have been the embodiment of opposites, neither good nor evil, and nowhere in the middle either.  He appears to have been an either-or-character.

Denn Freund Rübezahl sollt ihr wissen, ist geartet wie ein Kraftgenie, launisch, ungestüm, sonderbar; bengelhaft, roh, unbescheiden; stolz, eitel, wankelmüthig, heute der wärmste Freund, morgen fremd und kalt; zu zeiten guthmüthig, edel, und empfindsam; aber mit sich selbst in stetem Widerspruch; albern und weise, oft weich und hart in zween Augenblicken, wie ein Ey, das in siedend Wasser fällt; schalkhaft und bieder, störrisch und beugsam; nach der Stimmung, wie ihn Humor und innrer Drang beym ersten Anblick jedes Ding ergreifen läßt.

— Translation: “Because Friend Rübezahl, you should know, has the nature of a powerful genius: capricious, impetuous, peculiar, rascally, crude, immodest; haughty, vain, fickle, today your warmest friend, tomorrow alien and cold; at times mild, noble, and compassionate; but constantly at war with himself; childish and wise, often soft and hard within a blink of an eye, like an egg dropped into boiling water; roguish and respectable, stubborn and flexible, depending on which mood and inner urging seizes him at the first sight of any thing.”

Musäus, Volksmährchen der Deutschen. Zweiter Theil containing Legenden von Rübezahl, 1783

The tale that I know best about him is how he got his name.  Here is a summary:

Rübezahl abducts a princess who likes turnips (German: Rüben, singular Rübe).  The princess gets very lonely there in the mountains (maybe this is why I thought of the Hall of the Mountain King).  To keep her company, Rübezahl turns turnips into her friends and acquaintances.  As the turnips wilt after a little while, so do the persons that are created by Rübezahl’s magic.  The princess asks him to count (zählen) the turnips in the field.  While he counts, she escapes, hence the name turnip-counter, Rübenzähler, or Rübezahl, which was entered into the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica as “Number Nip”.

Here is some what the Wiki says about Rübezahl in Legend:

In legends, Rübezahl appears as a capricious giant, gnome, or mountain spirit.  With good people he is friendly, teaching them medicine and giving them presents.  If someone derides him, however, he exacts a severe revenge.  He sometimes plays the role of a trickster in folk tales.

The stories originate from pagan times.  Rübezahl is the fantastic Lord of Weather of the mountains and is similar to the Wild Hunt.  Unexpectedly or playfully, he sends lightning and thunder, fog, rain and snow from the mountain above, even while the sun is shining.  He may take the appearance of a monk in a gray frock (like Wotan in his mantel of clouds); he holds a stringed instrument in his hand (the storm harp), and walks so heavily that the earth trembles around him.

 

2 comments on “Cultured Wednesday: von Schwind’s Rübezahl”

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