© Unsplash / Ján Jakub Naništa
The 'Jasmännchen' is perhaps northern Luxembourg's most famous legend. Join us as we dive into this fascinating local tale.
If folklore is what you're after, you should ditch the big towns and cities and make your way to the small villages and remote communities. In a way, it's quite understandable that fantastical stories have always thrived there, considering there is really not much else to do generally. Case in point, the tiny village of Dahl and its surroundings have been haunted for generations by a legendary creature known as Jasmännchen. This is perhaps one of the most famous legends of northern Luxembourg, which makes it particularly exciting.
The Tale of Jasmännchen is well documented and even follows somewhat of a story arc, which is rather unusual. This legend has it all: A detailed origin story, a multi-faceted main character, and an epic showdown with a surprisingly badass hermit. Let's dive in!
I. Origin Story
Despite being of semi-noble origin, Jasmännchen started as a poor servant in the very house he later called his own.
What set him apart was his ability to read, a rare skill in those times. This talent led him to be called upon by a household in Bockholz to decipher ancient writings and parchments. Among these documents, he stumbled upon one revealing the existence of a hidden treasure in the bakehouse. Keeping this knowledge to himself, he planned to unearth the riches later.
Through cunning deceit, Jasmännchen eventually became a wealthy man and even married the eldest daughter of the house where he had once served as a humble servant.
However, this newfound wealth seemed to ignite an insatiable greed within him. He engaged in dishonest practices, tampering with milestones in fields, manipulating grain trade measures, and accumulating the possessions of others through fraud. It is said that he went as far as striking a sinister deal with the devil to unearth even more treasures.
Many locals used to remember Jasmännchen as a goldsmith, believed to have operated his smelting furnace close to the Heiderscheid mill by the Sûre river. Consequently, he earned the moniker Schmelzmännchen ("little smelting man") in the Heiderscheid valley. He would dry his gold coins in small tubs behind his house, steadily amassing wealth and possessions.
Jasmännchen led a life filled with vice, which in the world of folklore naturally means skipping church service on Sundays and 'seducing maids'.
Even in death, Jasmännchen could not part with his treasures, choosing to bury them in the earth to keep them away from anyone's grasp. His malevolent actions during his lifetime prevented him from finding peace in the grave, leading his restless spirit to haunt Dahl and the entire region in various forms.
II. The antics of Jasmännchen
As a poltergeist, Jasmännchen mainly haunted the house he had once lived in, which ended up becoming known in Dahl as the Jashaus.
At night, he would emerge from the property's well, creating a ruckus as he toyed with the pump. Some claimed he also appeared from a thorn bush near the house, causing a loud commotion in the kitchen while dragging a heavy chain behind him.
Jasmännchen was quite mischievous and was said to playfully tug the blankets off the beds of the house's inhabitants. His antics became so unnerving that, eventually, no one ever wanted to stay in service at the house for very long.
But Jasmännchen's activity was not limited to his former abode. He also took great joy in haunting the village of Dahl, often in the form of various animals, including a fire-breathing bull, a calf, and a sheep.
During the dark hours of night and morning, Jasmännchen became a dreaded presence for travellers. He would sneak up and cling to the back of their necks, or descend like a heavy burden from their shoulders, leaving them almost paralysed and struggling to move forward, panting and sweating. Travellers would also experience unexplained physical blows seemingly delivered by an unseen force.
In this treacherous terrain, where paths intertwined and often lost themselves amidst the dense forest and wilderness, Jasmännchen revelled in leading hikers astray during the night. With deceptive confidence, he would accompany or precede them, employing cunning tactics to lead his victims off-course. And then, just as sudden, he would vanish into thin air, leaving bewildered travellers wandering aimlessly in the forest throughout the night.
And, as if to conclude a best-of-Lux-folklore, there are also numerous stories of Jasmännchen as a wild hunter. In this form, he particularly enjoyed haunting the Schilbech forst near Buderscheid.
III. Brother Thinnes – The Chosen One
Now, you can imagine that the people of Dahl and its surrounding areas eventually grew quite tired by what can only be described as a ghost that was clearly plagued by workaholism.
Enter Brother Thinnes, a devout hermit who lived on a hill named Pirmesknapp, situated between Buderscheid and Kaundorf. Brother Thinnes was the real deal and a true spiritual badass if there ever was one.
He led an austere and disciplined life, and with every action he undertook, he would invoke the words, "In God's name!" People believed that this granted him extraordinary powers.
Legends recount Brother Thinnes' encounters with both helpful imps and malicious spirits. For one, he is said to have tamed the scorpions (?) that apparently lived around the area by taking away their ability to fly (??).
As for the imps, they were his dutiful servants, sweeping his dwelling and the chapel, preparing his meals while he prayed, and attending to his daily needs.
Despite his piousness, the hermit was not immune to torment from evil spirits, who would disturb his nights and attempt to harm him. With courage and faith, Brother Thinnes would thwart these malevolent entities, using his "blessed belt" to drive them away.
On certain occasions, Brother Thinnes faced peculiar challenges. Wandering musicians, gentlemen, and ladies would mysteriously appear in his locked cell, urging him to join their revelries. Yet, with a single invocation, "Hop, in God's name!" all the apparitions vanished.
Another time, he was summoned by seemingly stranded farmers' folk seeking his aid with a laden wagon. The hermit complied, but – can you guess where this is going? – as soon as he invoked, "Hop, in God's name!" the wagon, horses, and people disappeared.
So yeah, this guy was basically if Jesus were to be re-branded as a Marvel superhero. And the locals eventually decided that he was the only one capable of banishing Jasmännchen.
IV. Brother Thinnes vs Jasmännchen
This is perhaps a good time to note that the lore regarding Jasmännchen is incredibly expansive. There are several different versions of his banishment, but due to time and length constraints, I will share only one of them with you here.
According to this version, Brother Thinnes, accompanied by the priest of Kaundorf, ventured to the Jashaus in Dahl during the night to capture Jasmännchen.
As the ghost emerged from the well through the pump and climbed the stairs to the attic, the hermit and the priest followed. However, the priest hesitated to climb further and remained on the bottom step, leaving Brother Thinnes to face the apparition.
With a light in hand, Brother Thinnes confronted the ghost, but he could only see its shadow. Undeterred, he bravely approached and managed to capture Jasmännchen using his blessed belt.
A terrifying commotion ensued, with Jasmännchen spewing fire and flames throughout the house. The priest trembled in fear, urging Brother Thinnes to fight back.
Once Jasmännchen was captured and bound with the blessed belt, Brother Thinnes compelled the spirit to speak in God's name. The ghost confessed to its wrongdoing and shared that it was not heavy enough to remain in hell, seeking a leaden cloak, shoes, hat, sester, and roll to add weight to its being. The hermit followed the spirit's request and adorned it with the leaden items.
Now, the question of where to banish Jasmännchen arose. After much discussion, Jasmännchen was sunk into the well near Jashaus. As the leaden items were added, the ghost descended into the depths of the well, grinning horribly and never returning.
With Jasmännchen gone, the house found peace. However, this wouldn't be good folklore legend if parents failed to use it to traumatise their children and (according to Dr Gredt), it was quite common for the people of northern Luxembourg to tell their children: "Behave or you'll be wrapped in a leaden cloak like Jasmännchen and thrown into a pit!"
Various accounts place Jasmännchen's banishment elsewhere in the country, such as a gooseberry bush near the Jashaus, a place called "Black Lei" between Kautenbach and Masselter, and a thorn or gooseberry bush near Pirmesberg.
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.
Sticking with the dark and macabre, we then gathered all of our courage to face Luxembourg's terrifying Black Knight. Meet Grieselmännchen!
We gathered around a campfire and spent the evening shouting "I'm not scared, you are!" while sharing ghost stories from the four corners of the Grand Duchy.
Continuing our fringe travels, we almost got fooled by the devious will-o'-the-wisps, the nightmare of all hikers.
Seeking some protection, we met up with Luxembourg's magical priests and learned about the mysterious ability they allegedly possess.