Sacred Texts  Sagas and Legends  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 


Des Tagscheins Blendung driickt,
Nur Finsternise beglückt;
Drum hausen wir so gem
Tief in des Erdballs Kern.
Day's dazzling light annoys
Us, darkness only joys;
We therefore love to dwell
Deep underneath earth's shell.
WE now return to the Baltic, to the Isle of Rügen, once a chief seat of the Vendish religion; but it's priests were massacred by the Scandinavians, and all traces of their system effaced. Its fairy mythology now agrees with that of its Gothic neighbours, and Mr. Arndt, [a] a native of the island, has enabled us to give the following tolerably full account of it:-
The inhabitants of Rügen believe in three kinds of Dwarfs, or underground people, the White, the Brown, and the Black; so named from the colour of their several habiliments.
The White are the most delicate and beautiful of all, and are of an innocent and gentle disposition. During the winter, when the face of nature is cold, raw, and cheerless, they remain still and quiet in their hills, solely engaged in the fashioning of the finest works in silver and gold, of too delicate a texture for mortal eyes to discern. Thus they pass the winter; but no sooner does the spring return than they abandon their recesses, and live through all the summer above ground, in sunshine and starlight, in uninterrupted revelry and enjoyment. The moment the trees and flowers begin to sprout and bud in the early days of spring, they emerge from their bills, and get among the stalks and branches, and thence to the blossoms and flowers, where they sit and gaze around them. In the night, when mortals sleep, the White Dwarfs come forth, and dance their joyous roundels in the green grass, about the hills, and brooks, and springs, making the sweetest and most delicate music, bewildering travellers, who hear and wonder at the strains of the invisible musicians. They may, if they will, go out by day, but never in company; these daylight rambles being allowed them only when alone and under some assumed form. They therefore frequently fly about in the shape of party-coloured little birds, or butterflies, or snow-white doves, showing kindness and benevolence to the good who merit their favour.
The Brown Dwarfs, the next in order, are less than eighteen inches high. They wear little brown coats and jackets, and a brown cap on their head, with a little silver bell in it. Some of them wear black shoes with red strings in them; in general, however, they wear fine glass ones; at their dances none of them wear any other. They are very handsome in their persons, with clear light-coloured eyes, and small and most beautiful hands and feet. They are on the whole of a cheerful, good-natured disposition, mingled with some roguish traits. Like the White Dwarfs, they are great artists in gold and silver, working so curiously as to astonish those who happen to see their performances. At night they come out of their hills and dance by the light of the moon and stars. They also glide invisibly into people's houses, their caps rendering them imperceptible by all who have not similar caps. They are said to play all kinds of tricks, to change the children in the cradles, and take them away. This charge is perhaps unfounded, but certainly, children who fail into their hands must serve them for fifty years. They possess an unlimited power of transformation, and can pass through the smallest keyholes. Frequently they bring with them presents for children, or lay gold rings and ducats, and the like, in their way, and often are invisibly present, and save them from the perils of fire and water. They plague and annoy lazy men-servants and untidy maids with frightful dreams; oppress them as the nightmare; bite them as fleas; and scratch and tear them like cats and dogs; and often in the night frighten, in the shape of owls, thieves and lovers, or, like Will-'o-the-wisps, lead them astray into bogs and marshes, and perhaps up to those who are in pursuit of them.
The Black Dwarfs wear black jackets and caps, are not handsome like the others, but on the contrary are horridly ugly, with weeping eyes, like blacksmiths and colliers. They are most expert workmen, especially in steel, to which the can give a degree at once of hardness and flexibility wine no human smith can imitate; for the swords they make will bend like rushes, and are as hard as diamonds. In old times arms and armour made by them were in great request: shirts of mail manufactured by them were as fine as cobwebs, and yet no bullet would penetrate them, and no helm or corslet could resist the swords they fashioned; but all these things are now gone out of use.
These Dwarfs are of a malicious, ill disposition, and delight in doing mischief to mankind; they are unsocial, and there are seldom more than two or three of them seen together; they keep mostly in their hills, and seldom come out in the daytime, nor do they ever go far from home. People say that in the summer they are fond of sitting under the elder trees, the smell of which is very grateful to them, and that any one that wants anything of them must go there and call them. Some say they have no music and dancing, only howling and whimpering; and that when a screaming is heard in the woods and marshes, like that of crying children, and a mewing and screeching like that of a multitude of cats or owls, the sounds proceed from their midnight assemblies, and are made by the vociferous Dwarfs.
The principal residence of the two first classes of the underground-people in Rügen is what are called the Nine-hills, near Rambin. These hills lie on the west point of the island, about a quarter of a mile from the village of Rambin in the open country. They are small mounds, or Giants' graves (Hünengräber), as such are called, and are the subject of many a tale and legend among the people. The account of their origin is as follows:-
"A long, long time ago there lived in Rügen a mighty Giant named Balderich. He was vexed that the country was an island, and that he had always to wade through the sea when he wanted to go to Pomerania and the main land. He accordingly got an immense apron made, and he tied it round his waist and filled it with earth, for he wanted to make a dam of earth for himself from the island to the mainland. As he was going with his load over Rodenkirchen, a hole tore in the apron, and the clay that fell out formed the Nine-hills. He stopped the hole and went on; but when he he had gotten to Gustau, another hole tore in the apron, and thirteen little hills fell out. He proceeded to the sea with what he had now remaining, and pouring the earth into the waters, formed the hook of Prosnitz, and the pretty little peninsula of Drigge. But there still remained a small space between Rügen and Pomerania, which so incensed the Giant that he fell down in a fit and died, from which unfortunate accident his dam was never finished." [b]
A Giant-maiden commenced a similar operation on the Pomeranian side "in order," said she, "that I may be able to go over the bit of water without wetting my little slippers." So she filled her apron with sand and hurried down to the sea-side. But there was a hole in the apron and just behind Sagard a part of the sand ran out and formed a little hill named Dubbleworth. "Ah!" said she, "now my mother will scold me." She stopped the hole with her hand and ran on as fast as she could. But her mother looked over the wood and cried, "You nasty child, what are you about? Come here and you shall get a good whipping." The daughter in a fright let go the apron, and all the sand ran out and formed the barren hifis near Litzow. [c]
The Dwarfs took up their abode in the Nine-hills. The White ones own two of them, and the Brown ones seven, for there are no Black ones there. These dwell chiefly on the coast-hills, along the shore between the Ahlbeck and Mönchgut, where they hold their assemblies, and plunder the ships that are wrecked on the coast.
The Neck is called in Rügen Nickel. Some fishers once launched their boat on a lonely lake. Next day when they came they saw it in a high beech-tree. "Who the devil has put the boat in the tree?" cried one. A voice replied, but they saw no one, "'Twas no devil at all, but I and my brother Nickel." [d]
The following stories Mr. Arndt, who, as we have observed, is a native of Rügen, says he heard in his boyhood from Hinrich Vieck, the Statthalter or Bailiff of Grabitz, who abounded in these legends; "so that it is, properly speaking," says he, "Hinrich Vieck, and not I, that relates." We therefore see no reason to doubt of their genuineness, though they may be a little embellished. [e]

[a] Arndt, Märchen und Jugenderinnerungen. Berlin, 1818.
[b] A Danish legend (Thiele, 1. 79) tells the same of the sand-hills of Nestved in Zealand. A Troll who dwelt near it wished to destroy it, and for that purpose he went down to the sea-shore and filled his wallet with sand and threw it on his back. Fortunately there was a hole in the wallet, and so many sand-hills fell out of it, that when he came to Nestved there only remained enough to form one hill more. Another Troll, to punish a farmer, filled one of his gloves with sand, which sufficed to cover his victim's house completely. With what remained in the fingers he formed a row of hillocks near it.
[c] Grimm, Dent. Myth., p. 502
[d] Grimm, Deutsche Sagen, i, p. 70.
[e] Grimm also appears to regard them as genuine.

Next: Adventures of John Dietrich