THE GHOST RIDERS OF KARNEID
Many years ago a dreadful plague raged in the Tyrol. From his castle high on the cliffs, the lord of Karneid surveyed the devastation in the valleys below. Fearing for the safety of his wife, his children and his followers, he made a solemn vow that if God spared the castle from disease he and his followers would perform a pilgrimage to the church of Maria Weissenstein to give thanks to the Virgin Mary.
In the weeks that followed, the plague gradually retreated and all those residing in Karneid escaped unharmed. There was much celebration and the pilgrimage was soon forgotten as people returned gratefully to their everyday routines.
But the terror of the Black Death soon returned to the valley and this time struck the castle, carrying off its inhabitants one by one. The knight's entire clan, his wife and his children perished. He himself was the last to pass, a year to the day after he had made his vow. Every year on the night of the anniversary of their Lord's death, when the grapes have ripened on the vines in the valley, the cursed inhabitants of Karneid rise from their graves to fulfil their promise and perform their pilgrimage to Weissenstein. Many a pious pilgrim seeking shelter late at night has seen the skeletal forms of the knight and his family slowly riding up the mountain, doomed to fulfil their vow for all eternity.
A farmers boy from St. Valentin near Seis who was also the master of a witches coven on the Schlern. He was fabulously strong, able to leap from the top of the Schlern to his farmstead in a single leap. Once in a fit of fury, he threw a giant boulder, the Tschanstein from the Schlern onto the Seiser Alm, where it still rests today. Hans was an historical
figure, executed for witchcraft in 1638 at Castle Karneid.
THE WITCH STONE OF VÖLS
Long ago there lived a pastor in Völs who had made it his business to fight the local witches coven. Through prayer and careful vigilance, he was able to avert many disasters and protect the local people from the violent storms the witches conjured from their mountain refuge on the Schlern. One evening the priest, returning to his village, lay down to rest in the soft moss under a large boulder in the forest near the Völser Pond and fell fast asleep. It was past midnight when he awoke to the noise of a witches sabbath taking place around him. When the witches discovered the priest they fell upon him. Horribly mutilated, the priest was found by the villagers next morning quite dead. The 'witches stone' is still there today and is avoided by local travellers on moonless nights.
LAURIN'S ROSE GARDEN
King Laurin was a dwarf king who lived in the mountains and mined them for precious jewels and valuable ores. He lived in a subterranean palace made of sparkling quartz but his special pride and joy was the rose garden located at the entrance to his underground castle.
One day King Laurin saw the beautiful Princess Similde riding in the hills near his garden and fell in love with her. Putting on a magical cap of invisibility, he abducted her to his underground realm. Similde's father the King called upon the bravest knights in the land to rescue her. The knights Hartwig & Dittich & the mighty Prince Dietrich of Bern set forth to rescue Similde.
King Laurin was confident that no-one would ever be able to rescue Similde because as well as his magical cap of invisibility, he also possessed a belt that gave him superhuman strength. But Dietrich had a clever squire named Hildebrand who told him how to sneak up on Laurin by looking out for where the roses swayed as Laurin walked in his garden. Dietrich hid amongst the flowers and as Laurin walked by jumped up, tore off his belt and cap and took him prisoner. Furious at his capture, King Laurin cursed the magical garden that had betrayed him; "Not by day and not by night, shall man enjoy your lovely sight" and immediately, the garden disappeared. It remains invisible to this day, except at twilight, the time between day and night, when the rose garden can be glimpsed glowing pink amongst the mountains of King Laurin's old domain in the Rosengarten.
THE TORTURED BULL
In Bozen, in what is now the district of Rentsch, there once stood a beautiful and rich city. The vines grew far up the hills and life was abundant. But despite their good fortune and prosperity the city's inhabitants grew arrogant and dissatisfied with life. Some amongst them decided to stage a great feast and to skin a bull alive for their amusement. The mighty tortured animal roared with pain and its misery should have stirred the stoniest hearts. But the inhabitants of the city laughed at the animals distress and danced around the fire where the animal was to be roasted. Suddenly the sky grew dark and a terrible storm broke over the city and the earth began to tremble. A part of the mountain overlooking the city broke loose and buried the whole city and its sinful inhabitants. In its place over time the peaceful village of Rentsch arose with a church dedicated to St Laurentius, the patron of butchers. Some say that in the bottom of the old village fountain lies the ruined church tower of the old city.
DANCING GYPSY GOLD
At the Unterwirt Inn in the Eggental, gypsies often came to rest on their travels. They would sleep in the haystack, peacefully tend to their beasts and the inn's landlord made them welcome. On one occasion several of the gypsies had too much to drink and ended up fighting and causing damage to the inn. The next day they came to ask what they owed, paid for the damage with gold and left. As soon as they were gone, the landlord saw that the gold coins on the table began slowly dancing towards the door, in the direction the gypsies had taken. Quickly the landlord grabbed the coins and dropped them in a vessel of holy water hanging by the door and the coins stopped moving. Had he not done so, the coins would have found their way back to their gypsy masters and he would not have been paid.
TITSCH THE GIANT
The Emperor in Vienna once had a court giant famed for his strength. The Emperor made it known that whoever beat his giant in a wrestling match could marry his daughter but whoever was defeated would be thrown into his dungeons. One after the other men tried to defeat the giant and become the Emperor's son-in-law, but none succeeded. At that time there lived in Deutschnofen a farmer named Titsch who was famed for his strength and courage and he heard of the Emperor's challenge and decided to go to Vienna to try his luck. When Titsch arrived and introduced himself to the emperor the giant was sent for. Seeing Titsch, the giant grinned and said to the Emperor: "He's got a big mouth, but I'll stuff it for him!" Titsch politely approached the giant to introduce himself and stretched out his hand to greet him. Taking his hand, the giant cried out: "Let me go, let me go!" wincing with pain. Titsch's friendly handshake had almost broken the giant's hand. The giant refused to wrestle with Titsch and gave up without a fight. So the Emperor prepared to give Titsch his daughter in marriage as promised. But Titsch waved him off and said he had already a wife at home. The grateful Emperor promptly sent him on his way with a bag of gold as a reward!
THE TOAD WOMAN
Many years ago a woman who lived in Bozen promised to make a pilgrimage to the monastery at Maria Weißenstein but died without fulfilling her vow. After her death she was cursed to return to life as a toad to keep her promise. For seven long years she slowly hopped and crawled from Bozen to Maria Weißenstein and when finally she reached her destination she was released from her vow and flew to heaven in the shape of a white dove. If you see a toad on your way to Maria Weißenstein remember, keep your promises!
THE WILD MAN OF THE SCHLERN
One evening in early summer after the snows had melted a cattleman working on the Schlern returned to his summer cabin to rest for the night. As darkness fell, he crawled into the small haystack left from the previous summer to sleep. Just as he was nodding off, the door to the cabin opened and a huge wild looking man dressed in rags and furs entered. Petrified, the herder hid in his hay bed and stayed as quiet as a mouse. The wild man went straight to the hearth, lit a fire and with it's ashes and water soon began to cook a porridge. The herder watched quietly from his hiding place, praying he would not be seen.
When the porridge was ready, the savage, without turning around, quietly beckoned the dairyman to join him. Not daring to refuse, the herder descended from his hiding place and approached the fire. The savage began to eat his porridge and motioned the man to join him; he demurred, saying he had already eaten but when the wild man waved his hand a second time, the herder forced a little of the disgusting mix down. The savage grinned, content that he had eaten and when the porridge was finished, the wild man quietly got up and left, disappearing into the night.
THE JEALOUS KNIGHT
During the time of the crusades there lived a rich knight in Castle Hauenstein. Filled with the crusaders urge, the knight decided to travel to the holy land. Before leaving, he gathered food and drink in the castle and then locked up his beautiful young wife with a single servant within the castle walls. As jealous as he was, he did not want anyone to visit his young spouse during his absence, which he planned to be a year at most.
A little while after the knight's departure the beautiful young wife realised she was pregnant and her loneliness was eased by the thought of the arrival of her first baby. In time a healthy baby boy was born, the spitting image of his father. The first few months of the young child's life flew by and his mother began to look forward to her husbands return. The days and weeks passed but there was no sign of the knight. With the supply of food running out the young woman with her child and the maid, began to fear she might starve to death. Day after day passed without the knight returning and the last of the food was consumed.
When the knight finally returned home, he found the faithful maid lying dead in the courtyard and his wife dead in a window niche with his son at her breast, having breathed his last. At this sight the knight fell to the ground howling with grief, dying of a broken heart the same day. The family were buried together in the cemetery in Kastelruth but in some years (when the harvest has been particularly plentifu), in the days after Michaelmas, the ruins of Castle Hauenstein are said to still echo with the howls of the grieving knight.
THE WHITE WORM
Many years ago the farmers and livestock on the Seiseralm were plagued by numerous poisonous snakes that lived there. One summer, during which an unusually large number of cattle had been bitten, a thin little man visited the dairyman on the Alm, inquiring how it was with him. The dairyman complained at length about the snakes and the trouble they brought.
After listening to the dairyman, the little man gave him a book with the instructions that he should make a great fire, draw a circle near the fire with a consecrated object, enter the circle and begin reading from the book. The little man warned the dairyman that he would see and hear terrible things but that he should not be afraid and not leave the circle, otherwise he would be doomed. After the little man had finished speaking he vanished.
The dairyman did as he was told. He built a fire, drew the circle, entered it and began to read from the book. As he read, one snake after another came slithering and hissing out of the darkness and threw itself into the flames.
When the last of the snakes had been taken by the flames, the dairyman saw a huge, white serpent, the great Worm of the Seiseralm, approach. It reared up, its fangs dripping poison, lunging for the dairyman who was very afraid and would have fled but for the warning from the little man to stay in the circle. Finally, after a terrifying few moments, the white snake leaped hissing into the flames and burned. Since that day, the Seiseralm has been free of poisonous snakes.
THE HAZEL WITCH
One evening many years ago in a farmhouse on the Seiser Alm, a farmer's boy observed the farm dairy maid rubbing her stove-fork in the kitchen with cooking fat whilst whispering,
"Everywhere and nowhere!"
Before his eyes the dairy maid flew up the chimney and disappeared into the night. Seeing the pot of grease by the fire, the servant boy took the opportunity, smeared it on a broom, straddled it, and whispered,
"Anywhere and nowhere!"
He also flew up the chimney but having got the spell wrong, he went up banging and crashing, cracking his head and a few ribs along the way!
Flying swiftly through the night, the farmers boy reached the top of the Schlern where the dairy maid and other witches were gathered, dancing and singing. When the dance was over, the witches dragged the dairy maid away, butchered her and roasted and feasted on her flesh. Mocking the boy, they threw him a rib to eat and he, horrified, slipped it into his pocket and crept away into the dark to watch and listen from a distance.
When the witches had finished feasting, they gathered up the maid's bones, laid them in the ashes of the fires and with a powerful spell brought the dairy maid back to life as if nothing had happened. But the rib the servant had kept for himself was missing so the witches had to replace it with a rib of hazel wood. The witches warned the maid that she was now a Hazel Witch and if anyone called her by that name, she would immediately fall down dead.
The next evening back in the farmhouse the servant and the dairy maid were eating with the farmers family and the servant said to the farmer,
"There is a witch in your house!"
The farmer angrily told the boy to stop talking nonsense. The servant repeated, "There is a witch at your table! A hazel witch!" and at that very moment the dairy maid fell dead from her chair in a heap of dry broken bones onto the floor.
THE MERMAID OF THE KARERSEE
Once upon a time there lived a beautiful mermaid in the clear blue waters of the Karersee. A powerful wizard named Masaré who lived in the mountains nearby saw her one day from his mountain lair and fell in love with her. Desperate to win her for himself, he sought the advice of the witch Lanwerda. She told him to disguise himself as a rich merchant and to cast a rainbow between the Catinaccio and Latemar mountains that overlooked the lake. This she assured the wizard would lure the mermaid from the depths of the lake to the shore, from where he could woo her.
The wizard used his magic to cast a magnificent rainbow and conjure up treasure and fine clothes to dazzle the mermaid but in his haste forgot to disguise his face. As he approached the lake, the mermaid, who had come to the shore as the witch had foretold, saw the wizard and recognising him for who he was vanished with a flash of her tail. Furious, the wizard threw the rainbow and the jewels into the lake and left. The mermaid was never seen again but to this day the lake surface shines with the colours of the rainbow and it's depths with the colours of the jewels.
THE MOON PRINCESS
Once upon a time there lived a handsome prince in a hidden valley in the Dolomites. His life was comfortable and happy but he was tormented by a strange desire to travel to the moon. Night after night he roamed the woods near his palace, gazing up at its surface pale and out of reach in the heavens.
One night whilst out in the forest, he heard voices and following them came across two old men seated in a cave. They were explorers from the moon, they explained to the astonished prince. After much pleading, the men agreed to take the prince back with them to their home. There he was introduced to the beautiful daughter of the moon king and instantly fell in love and presented her with red alpine roses that he had brought with him. She was delighted as on the moon all flowers were white and soon she too had fallen in love.
In the weeks that followed the prince lived happily with his new love in her father's beautiful white palace, but gradually his sight began to fade as his eyes became overwhelmed by the bright white world all around him. He told his love that he could no longer stay and begged her to return with him to earth and she agreed. Together they flew back, she bringing with her the white flowers of the moon as a reminder of home. The flowers still grow in the mountains today and the inhabitants called them edelweiss - 'noble white'.
At first the princess was happy on earth, but before long she became melancholy and unwell. The world of the deep valley where she lived with the prince was too dark and the huge grey black mountains all around her blocked out the bright light she needed to thrive and be happy. So the prince returned with her to the moon but still unable to bear the brightness of her world with great sadness he had to return to earth without her.
Devastated and alone the prince turned away from the world, roaming the forests of his father's kingdom at night, gazing up at the moon and dreaming of his lost love. One night whilst wandering through the high forest the prince came across a dwarf resting in a cave and they set to talking. The dwarf introduced himself as the King of the Salwàns, explaining that he was seeking refuge for himself and his exiled people after a terrible war in their homeland. In turn the prince told the dwarf king his story and after the prince had finished, the dwarf king clapped his hands and exclaimed that he had a scheme that might save them both. He explained that his people the Salwàns came from far in the east where the sun rose and so possessed the magic art of weaving light. If the prince gave them refuge, the dwarf king would summon his people to weave light into the dark mountains of his kingdom and lure back his beloved from her bright home on the moon.
So it happened that the Salwàns came to the prince's valley kingdom to work their magic, night after night delicately plucking moonbeams from the sky and weaving them into the rocks of the the entire mountain range until it began to glow pale white. From her palace on the moon the moon princess saw the transformation and overjoyed flew to earth to the arms of her waiting lover. The couple lived happily ever after, the Salwàns made the mountains their home and the pale mountains of the Dolomites have kept their white colour to this day.
THE WITCHING WIND
One day a young man was sitting in his father's meadow in Enneberg, watching the neighbour's workmen as they raked in the fresh mown hay from the fields. It was a hot summer day and everyone was working hard to bring in the hay before the afternoon storms.
Suddenly a whirlwind appeared and swept across the meadow, blowing the freshly raked hay high into the air. One of the servant girls working in the field grabbed her rake and began stabbing and slashing furiously at the whirlwind, screaming and shouting and soon it blew away. When the young man saw this he laughed, crying out to the girl to explain her foolishness. The girl looked over to him in astonishment and answered, "Don't you know anything? A summer whirlwind is always ridden by a witch, so I chased her away!"
THE VENETIANS OF THE LATEMAR
Many years ago the mountains of the Latemar were mined for precious metals by Venetian adventurers who lived in dark caves and shafts that they dug into the rocks near the Reiterjoch pass. The miners hid their riches in caves deep inside the mountain far from prying eyes and it was said that only the sacred fires lit on St. John's eve at midsummer could reveal the entrances.
One late afternoon after midsummer, two farmers from nearby Welschnofen ventured up into the rugged moonscapes of the Latemar hunting for treasure and were lucky enough to find one of the entrances to a cave. They carefully entered a dark tunnel and after only a few steps saw a human skull lying on the ground. One of the two farmers carefully took off his hat, put it on the skull and lifted it into the air on the end of his walking stick. Suddenly an arrow shot out of the darkness, piercing the skull and knocking it to the ground.
Very cautiously, the two farmers ventured deeper into the tunnel until they reached a large cave. The ceiling, walls and floor shone with precious metals and gold and silver treasures lay littered on the ground. In one corner they saw a beautiful game of skittles of solid gold, guarded by 2 huge black dogs with fiery eyes. The two farmers stood frozen, not daring to proceed. Suddenly there came the sounds of a terrible thunderstorm from outside the cave. Claps of thunder made the mountain shake, flashes of lightning lit up the distant cave entrance and the roar of a fierce mountain wind could be heard echoing around the cave walls. Fearing the cave would collapse the two farmers stumbled out into the night ready to face the storm, but found a clear moonless, warm summer night.
Confused and relieved, the two farmers turned back to the cave entrance but it had vanished. Despite searching all night and for many days after, they never found it again.
Every year on the 5th December a mangled, monstrously deranged face with bloodshot eyes, long horns and a giant furry black body can be seen stalking the mountain villages of South Tirol in the gathering winter gloom. On the same day St. Nicholas, the cheerful bearded patron of brewers and prostitutes also visits these villages. Children who have been good and who have helped their parents in the home and in the fields to get things ready for winter will be rewarded by St Nick with gifts of treats and sweets. Children who have been naughty dread the arrival of the Krampus, the hairy horned monster from the shadows who has been sent to punish them. The ancient monster's name means 'the claw' and if they are lucky they will get away with a fright and beating with a birch branch but if they have been very bad they may disappear forever, stuffed into a sack and hauled off to the monsters lair to be tortured or even eaten. Over the centuries many people have tried to banish the Krampus but on St. Nicholas' Eve you can still seem him stalk the streets of the mountain villages of Tirol and woe betide you if you have been naughty!
THE MASON OF KARNEID
Once upon a time not so long ago, the new lord of Karneid arrived to inspect his property for the first time. Standing at the gate he saw what a fine old place the castle was but also that after hundreds of years of neglect it was in a terrible state of repair. The battlements had collapsed, the walls were crumbling and the furniture had been burnt for firewood. Yet, despite all this he thought he might have the means to make the castle habitable again. Climbing a nearby rock to get a better view he realised to his dismay that the foundations of the entire southeastern part of the castle which were built on the edge of a ravine, had crumbled away. In places the rock underneath the walls had completely collapsed so that whole sections of masonry were hanging in thin air with large, deep cracks in the walls.
The next day the owner summoned a master architect and master builder from Bozen to assess the cost of repairs. These learned men told him that the masonry work would not be very expensive but because of the prevailing high price of timber and the depth of the ravine, the scaffolding required would cost at least 4000 guilders (over €1m today). This news led the owner to consider abandoning Karneid. He was not in a position to pay for proper repairs and did not want the proud old building falling into further disrepair whilst in his possession. As the owner sat alone that evening in a nearby tavern wondering what to do, the old caretaker who still lived in the castle arrived and introduced him to a local mason who was looking for work. The lord laughed wryly and said that there was plenty of work for a mason but sadly no way of doing it. Intrigued the mason asked what the work was.
"The foundations are gone, can you repair them?" the lord asked.
"I should think so" replied the mason.
Expecting him to say, "I need a scaffold," the lord asked asked him, "So, what do you need?"
"Just some time, some limestone and some sand. I can gather the stones myself. When shall I start?"
Astonished the lord told him that if he wanted to attempt the task he could start right away and a few days later left for his estates in the north. On his return a few months later he asked the caretaker if there was any news from the mason.
"Yes, he was here" the caretaker replied.
"What has he done?"
"Well, he seems to have worked hard. Every morning he let himself down on a rope from the windows over the precipice, his apprentice passed him the limestone, sand and stones in a basket and he worked from 5 to 9 in the morning and 4 to 8 in the afternoon all summer. Looks to me like he's done a good job."
The next day the lord of Karneid climbed the hill overlooking the castle and saw that the mason had filled in all the loose masonry, using every cleft of the rock with great skill to repair the walls. Where pieces of the rock face had permanently fallen away he had cleverly underpinned the walls with stone arches. The castle was saved and would last for many hundred of years more. After a few days the mason came calling.
"I came to see if you are satisfied with my work," he said.
"You came because you want your money," the lord said smiling. "What do I owe you?"
"Well, it wasn't an easy job. It's been a hot summer so I had to work early in the morning and late in the evening. I slept in the heat of the day"
"So, how much?"
"It was a tough job." he said, "Is 400 guilders too much?"
Delighted at the price the lord paid the man his money and so it was that a job that all the experts had said would cost at least 4000 guilders was completed by the mason and his apprentice for a tenth of the price.
The next spring a large ominous crack appeared in the wall of the castle on the west side. The experts were summoned again, but this time the mason was also asked to attend. It was decided that to secure the wall a massive iron tie rod and anchor plate would need to be fixed from the outside.
"This time you won't get around using a scaffold," said the experts, "because you can't get enough tension to tighten the anchor plate hanging from a rope." The lord of Karneid then turned to the mason and asked him for his opinion.
"Oh, there are so many clever people here, I'm sure they know better than me" he replied, "But if it were up to me, I'd make a hole in the wall above the anchor plate, climb in, brace myself, tighten the bolt and then fill in the hole afterwards." Everyone laughed, impressed at his ingenuity and that is how the job was done.
A few weeks later spring floods caused extensive damage in the valley below the castle and a bridge crossing the river at the narrowest point was partly swept away. On the lord's advice the mason was given the job of reconstructing the bridge. Once again saving on scaffolding, the mason suspended himself on a rope from a large fir tree growing on the rocky outcrop high above the bridge and began the reconstruction work.
One day the news came that the tree had broken loose, falling with the mason into the river and that his drowned body had been found downstream. So ended the life of the mason of Karneid - a diligent, humble, practical and daring man whose craftsmanship and ingenuity can be admired in the walls of Karneid castle to this day.