What would a series about myths and legends be without some good old fashioned stories about witches and wizards?
Alright, listen, I've been thinking about what to write in this introduction for way too long already, and I've come to realise that I probably don't really need to tell you anything about witches and wizards. You know what they're all about: Spells. Potions. Familiars. Questionable lifestyle choices. Alakazam.
We've already encountered some of their stories in Season 1 of Luxembourg's Literary Legends, but the Grand Duchy's treasure trove of folk tales has many, many more to offer.
In this article, we will encounter three practitioners of the magical arts and delve into their enchanting stories.
I. The three-pawed cat
Our first tale takes us to Grevenmacher, a town with so many folk tales that it is almost surprising that it is not ruled by a council of mythical forest beings.
In Grevenmacher, there once stood a monastery. Next to it was a small house, where a mysterious fellow resided. In fact, this man was the owner of a magical ring that allowed him to transform into any desired shape.
Within the walls of the monastery lived an abbot who had deeply offended another resident of Grevenmacher. Fuelled by a desire for revenge, the aggrieved man sought out the owner of the magical ring, imploring him to lend its powers for his plan.
Initially, the sorcerer hesitated. And for good reason because as it turns out, relinquishing the ring meant that he would fall into a deep sleep until it was returned to him. Eventually, he gave in and handed over the enchanted ring.
Now in possession of the magical ring, the man transformed himself into a cat. As dusk descended upon Grevenmacher, he made his way to the abbot's study window.
With uncanny dexterity, the feline intruder slipped its paw through a broken pane, skilfully opened the window, and let the wild wind wreak havoc in the abbot's orderly study.
He was clearly proud of this prank because this scene repeated for three consecutive evenings.
However, on the third day, the observant abbot noticed the cat's unnaturally human-like actions. Determined to put an end to the nightly disturbances, he awaited the cat's return on the fourth day. When the feline intruder appeared once more, the abbot took action in the only way that is apparently available to the characters in these stories and severed the cat-man's paw., discarding it into a nearby oven – yeah, these folk tales really don't hold back.
Since that fateful day, the cat is said to roam the town's streets under the moonlight, tirelessly searching for its lost paw. Without it, the cat cannot regain its human form. Meanwhile, the man who owned the magic ring never woke up from his mythical slumber.
II. The Wizard of Vianden
Our second story takes us northwards to the enchanting town of Vianden.
Once upon a time, a man named D. lived in Vianden, who possessed an extraordinary knowledge of the dark arts. His mystical abilities allowed him to render his body invisible and navigate through locked doors as effortlessly as slipping through a keyhole.
Now, if you thought the mention of the "dark arts" meant that this is a story about an exceptionally evil warlock, you may want to lower your expectations just a little bit.
Strangely, D. seemed to have a penchant for pilfering snacks. Food mysteriously vanished from cupboards and nooks, leaving the owners puzzled and clueless about its disappearance. Freshly baked pancakes would vanish in the blink of an eye, without a trace of who or what had taken them.
The monastery became a frequent target of D.'s mischief. Late at night, mysterious bangs echoed through its halls, and some believed they heard heavy objects tumbling down the stairs. Yet, when they investigated, nothing could be found.
While this has so far been the most PG folk tale we've ever featured on Luxembourg's Literary Legends, don't worry because it is about to turn needlessly violent very quickly.
A shadowy figure had been spotted on the walls of the monastery, prompting the monks to unleash their inner John Waynes and shoot at it in futile attempts to catch it. However, none of these efforts proved successful against the elusive D.
Enter a character named "Old Mai," who lived nearby and thought he might have a solution. He acquired a silver bullet and had it blessed by the monastery prelate, believing it could help him put a rather permanent end to the, by all accounts, innocuous mischief of D.
One evening, as the shadow appeared to move towards a large clock , Mai swiftly grabbed the shotgun and fired at it. The plan worked and D. was killed.
D.'s body was laid to the rest on a nearby mountaintop. Turns out the people of Vianden, or at least the monks, have NO sense of humour.
III. Klopptreinchen: A witch from Manternach
In our final story, we will meet a witch from the village of Manternach, in eastern Luxembourg.
A long time ago, a mysterious old woman, known as Klopptreinchen, resided in Manternach, who was renowned for her magical abilities. Legends of her powers spread throughout the region, leaving the villagers both intrigued and wary of her.
Much like D. in the previous story, Klopptreinchen also loved to play pranks on the locals – although hers were definitely a bit more evil than stealing sweets. On one occasion, she appeared in the form of a massive bumblebee and spooked the horses of some farmers, sending them tumbling down a hillside.
Another time, she attempted to bewitch a plough and its horses, again seeking to drive them down a hillside. However, this time her nefarious plans were thwarted due to a small cross of consecrated wax that had been placed as a protective charm on the plough.
Klopptreinchen's supernatural powers didn't stop there. It was said that she possessed the hilarious ability to milk cows even from a distance, a feat that awed and frightened the local populace.
News of Klopptreinchen's extraordinary talents reached the ears of the baron residing at the nearby Verbürg estate. Intrigued, he summoned the reputed witch and demanded that she demonstrate her powers firsthand.
To showcase her prowess, Klopptreinchen took two small sticks, fixed them near the chimney, and with her fingers, proceeded to mimic the action of milking. Astonishingly, the milk flowed freely, seemingly unaffected by the distance between her and the cow.
In the midst of this spectacle, a farmer rushed to the baron, breathless and alarmed, announcing that his best cow had suddenly dropped dead outside.
I think you may know how this story ends. The baron was having none of this Bluetooth milking nonsense and immediately sentenced Klopptreinchen to be burned at the stake.
Fifty years after these events, people wanted to build a house on the spot where the witch's cottage had stood but gave up their plans for fear of the infamous spot.
IV. The problem with witch stories
Some of you may have noticed that I chose two stories featuring wizards and only one featuring a witch. While this is partly due to time and length constraints, another reason for this is that the witch stories found in Luxembourgish folklore are quite repetitive and, well there's no way around this, quite overtly misogynistic.
It is well established nowadays that misogyny was at the core of Europe's infamous Witch-Hunts. Writing for the Retrospect Journal, Edinburgh University's history, classics and archaeology magazine, Sophia Aiello stated that "[m]isogyny played a role in almost all aspects of witch hunts, from conviction, to trial, to the archetype of people executed."
The archetype of the "evil witch" was used to justify persecution of "undesirable" members of society, which, for the most part, were single women over the age of 40 living in rural communities. In her article entitled Misogyny: The Driving Force of the Great European Witch-Hunts from the Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries, Aiello explains:
"Most outsiders were women who did not conform to social norms. […] These characteristics of witches threatened the structures of established society. Society expected women to be married. Society also expected men to have superior knowledge. However, women in their 40s – considered reasonably old in this period – who had lived in their small villages their whole lives often had superior knowledge of their communities than younger men. Finally, it was also seen as unnatural for a woman to have a profession, meaning a woman’s involvement in any type of healing or medicine was seen as unusual and threatening."
This misogyny is very apparent when you look at the Luxembourgish stories. While the wizards in the stories I picked also end up being maimed or killed, this is not always the case. Wizards usually survive and manage to fool or even impose their will on others.
By contrast, witches are more often than not killed off at the end of a story. In addition, they are always presented as comically evil characters. The source of their powers is also always said to be the Devil, while this is never specified for wizards.
I decided to still feature a witch story in this article, precisely because I thought it would be a good opportunity to address a more problematic side of folklore. We should never forget that these tales were used to convey ideas about life and morality – and sometimes these ideas were harmful.
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