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Rübezahl by Moritz von Schwind, 1859

Rübezahl (Polish: Liczyrzepa, Czech: Krakonoš) is a capricious giant, gnome or mountain spirit (woodwose) in Germanic legends and fairy tales.


Place

Rübezahl allegedly lived in the Giant Mountains (Riesengebirge, Karkonosze, Krkonoše), a mountain range along the border between the historical lands Bohemia and Silesia.


Etymology

The origin of the name is not clear. One interpretation is from the story How Rübezahl Got his Name by Johann Karl August Musäus, which recounts how the character once abducted a princess who liked turnips (German: Rübe). When he planted them for her, she asked him to count (zählen) the seeds. While he counted, she escaped. However, Rübezahl is a mocking term that makes the monster angry. The respectful name is Lord of the Mountains or Lord John. The Czech name, Krakonoš, is simply derived from the name of the mountains. In one Silesian folktale, he is called Prince of the Gnomes. 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica gives him the moniker Number Nip.


Description

Rübezahl took the appearance of a monk in a gray frock (like Wotan in his mantel of clouds)that holds a string instrument in his hand (the storm harp), and walks so heavily that the earth trembles around him.


Origin

Rübezahl is the fantastic Lord of Weather of the mountains and is similar to the Wild Hunt. Unexpectedly or playfully he sends lightning and thunder, fog, rain and snow from the mountain below, even while the sun is shining.


Behavior

With good people Rübezahl is friendly, he teaches medicine and gives presents. If someone derides him, however, his revenge is severe. He sometimes plays the role of a trickster in folk talkes


"...Rübezahl, you should know, has the nature of a powerful genius: capricious, impetuous, peculiar, rascally, crude, immodest, haughty, vain, fickle, today your warmest friend, tomorrow alien and cold; ...roguish and respectable, stubborn and flexible..." — Musäus, 1783


Tales

Rübezahl was first mentioned in 1565 as Ribicinia in a poem by Franz von Koeckritz. The Rübezahl story was first collected and written down by Johannes Praetorius in the Daemonologia Rubinzalii Silesii (1662). The character later appeared Johann Karl August Musäus's Legenden vom Rübezahl and Carl Hauptmann's Rübezahl-Buch as well as Otfried Preußler's Mein Rübezahl-Buch. Finally, there is Ferdinand Freiligrath's Aus dem schlesischen Gebirge from Ein Glaubensbekenntnis, 1844 and Robert Reinick's Rübezahls Mittagstisch. Rübezahl has probably inspired the character 'Huhn' in Gerhart Hauptmann's Und Pippa Tanzt!.


References

  • Musäus: Rübezahl und das Hirschberger Schneiderlein, illustrated by Arpad Schmidhammer, Fischer & Franke, Berlin 1901 (German).
  • Carl Hauptmann: Rübezahl-Buch.