Dive into the chilling legends of Luxembourg as we unravel the haunting tales of the notorious Black Knight 'Grieselmännchen'.
The woods between Schandel and Vichten are said to be haunted by one of Luxembourg's most vicious spirits: the 'Grieselmännchen'. Join us as we delve into the grizzly accounts of the Black Knight's reign of terror and the supernatural manifestations that continue to send shivers down the spines of those who dare to tread his cursed lands.
Over the course of this series, you may start to notice that there is almost no corner of the Grand Duchy that is not said to be haunted in some way. Some of these folktales are really obscure and there are only fragments of stories that have survived. But this is not the case today.
The story of the Grieselmännchen is described by our main man when it comes to Luxembourgish folklore, Dr Nicolas Gredt, as "one of the most famous legends of our country." As a result of this, there are not only numerous stories about the ghost itself, but also a surprisingly extensive "origin story," detailing how one of the country's most feared castle lords became a menacing spectre haunting its former dominion… and beyond.
I. The legend of the Black Knight
Once upon a time, an imposing castle called the Scheierbuerg stood at the southern end of a mighty hill between the villages of Schandel and Vichten in western Luxembourg. This castle was the birthplace of a knight infamous for his immense riches, but mainly also for his boundless cruelty.
The castle itself is at the centre of numerous legends. For instance, there was a well inside the castle that was incredibly deep, and it was rumoured that a precious treasure was hidden at its bottom. The hill on which the castle stood was said to have been hollowed out by gnomes, who hid their own golden treasures deep beneath the earth.
But whatever stories the locals told about the castle, all of them were eclipsed by the grizzly legend of the knight who once a long, long time ago had his seat there.
The Black Knight's vicious nature was without comparison. In his collection Sagenschatz des Luxemburger Landes, Dr Nicolas Gredt describes him as follows:
"In anger he knew no bounds. Neither divine nor human law was sacred to him; he indulged his passions and did everything they drove him to do, thus committing the most despicable deeds. He never entered a place of worship and sought to stifle the admonishing voice within him in every possible way."
His greatest passion was hunting and if he even had the slightest suspicion that someone was interfering with his favourite pastime by roaming around his woods or damaging them in any way, he made sure they knew the true blackness of his heart.
Dr Gredt recorded two stories to illustrate the Black Knight's cruelty. However, they are in fact so gratuitously violent and gory that I have actually decided against featuring them here, as we actually might have had to age-restrict this article otherwise. If you have ever seen any of the Saw movies, or know what they're about, it's basically that level of graphic, over-the-top violence.
The knight's ruthless reign met a tragic end when his arrogance led to his demise. During a furious chase through the forest, the knight lost control over his horse, was eventually thrown off and split his skull when he crashed into a tree. As punishment for his atrocities, the knight was condemned to roam the lands he once ruled every night, forever known as the Scheuermann (named after the castle) or Grieselmännchen (named after an area called Grieselgrund, where he most often emerges).
II. Luxembourg's most infamous spirit
Grieselmännchen appears in a few different forms. In many stories, he is described as an imposing figure between 2 and 2.5 metres tall, clad in a coal-black coat and a distinctive triangular hat, who is wielding a thick wooden club in its right hand.
In this form, Grieselmännchen appears to travellers in the forest he once ruled over, or at the edges of nearby fields. Some stories describe him as merely stalking his victims, while in others he charges at them and beats them up with his club.
According to Dr Gredt, Grieselmännchen once seemed to have a particular obsession with a woman from Schandel. The spirit's sinister apparitions plagued her even in broad daylight, leading her to fear leaving her house. Eventually, the Grieselmännchen started entering her home, walking alongside unsuspecting individuals who remained oblivious to its presence.
Tragically, the woman's encounters with the Grieselmännchen precipitated her decline, and she passed away within six months, tormented by feverish dreams of the malevolent figure during which she often cried out, "There he is, there's Grieselmännchen!"
Grieselmännchen sometimes also appeared in a different form. There are several reports from nocturnal travellers, saying that they saw a flame emerging from the ground in the Grieselgrund. The flame then turned into a large carriage, drawn by two fire-breathing horses. Standing upright in the carriage was a black figure, surrounded by raging flames, cracking its whip, and spurring the horses forward.
If by now you are breathing a sigh of relief that you don't live in the area between Schandel and Vichten, I have bad news for you: Grieselmännchen does not just haunt the grounds surrounding his former castle, but other parts of the country as well. According to Dr Gredt, however, he always takes a particular form whenever he crosses the borders of his domains: that of a hunter with a large pack of hounds, which is why he is often referred to as "the wild hunter" in the rest of the country.
III. A national legend
What struck me about the tale of the Grieselmännchen was the sheer extent of available source material. With a lot of these folklore tales, you often have to piece together short stories or even just fragments of stories to get an idea of the narrative that is being told.
However, in Dr Gredt's Sagenschatz alone there are no less than 18 entries in the Grieselmännchen section and countless more individual stories in the other chapters. It therefore appears that the Grieselmännchen was a popular figure throughout the territory we have come to know as Luxembourg.
Reading through some of these shorter local legends, it seems to me that the name Grieselmännchen was often slapped onto any regional paranormal phenomena, perhaps due to its popularity, perhaps out of a simple case of "can't-be-bothered-to-think-of-a-new-ghost-name."
Having been a teenager in the late noughties/early 2010s, I also have to say that his description as an ominous, tall figure clad in black clothing that likes to hang around in forests instantly reminded me of internet phenomenon Slenderman. But this is almost certainly a generational thing.
In any case, even if the Grieselmännchen is quite obscure nowadays, the extensive documentation suggests that it used to be one of, if not the most popular legend in Luxembourgish folklore.
More Literary Legends
In the first instalment of this series, we encountered the creepy moor spirit that haunts the woods near Moutfort.
We then revisited a folklore classic by diving into some of Luxembourg's very own werewolf legends.
Our next trip converted us to teetotallers in a desperate attempt to flee the spirits that specifically haunt drunk people.
We also revelled at the powers of some of Luxembourg's most infamous witches and wizards.
In the next instalment, we glimpsed into some of the darkest corners of folklore as we uncovered the gruesome myth of the Thieves' Lights – and found out how Luxembourg somehow made it even worse.