“The Enchanted Armies of Ochsenfeld,” an Alsatian folktale

(Just posted to the site.  Enjoy!)

I translated this particular version of the tale from Récits historiques et légendaires d’Alsace, collected by Robert Wolf. 1922.


Not far from Cernay lies a great, desolate plain called the Ochsenfeld1 cattlefield. There, come evening, a faint clatter of weapons can often be heard. It is here that the armies of the infamous sons of Louis the Debonair who betrayed their father on this land in 8332are enchanted and imprisoned in immense subterranean caverns. Travelers out too late must often submit, until they reach the lands of Cernay and of Thann, to the worrisome company of warriors outfitted in a heavy cuirass.

One day, as a countryman was passing by the field, a warrior suddenly emerged from the earth and announced the era when he and his comrades would be delivered from the spell pronounced against them. Then, just as suddenly, he disappeared. In the Middle Ages, the entire army was also sometimes seen passing through the air, especially during a full moon3.


1. German for “cattlefield” due to its purpose back in the Middle Ages, Ochsenfeld has persisted as the name of the plain between Thann and Mulhouse. It’s a place rich with history and old battles.

2. Here comes a brief history lesson. Once upon a time, an Emperor named Louis the Debonaire, or Louis the Pious, had three grown sons–Lothaire, Pepin, and Louis–and laws of inheritance already spelled out. Then he remarried and had a fourth son, Charles, and was so taken with him, he decided to give him an inheritance of his own, including Alemannia, of which Alsace was a part. Now, this Emperor’s eldest son, Lothaire, did not like the idea of inheriting less, and so he went to war against his father, persuading his brothers to join him.
The Field of Lies, also called the Field of Blood, was the legendary location (now disputed) where the Emperor’s own army and other allies, one by one, were persuaded to give him up to his sons and their armies. In other words, there was a lot of betrayal going on. Sons against their father, armies against their emperor, the pope against his ally, and so on and so forth.

3. I find this tale similar to tales of the Wild Hunt, in which an army of the ghostly dead rises to ride during thunderstorms or during the full moon, led by Odin or Wodan or another powerful figure.
This tale also reminds me of a less kind version of the tale of King Arthur and his sleeping armies, waiting to rise in a time of need as Britain’s “once and future king.”
Another version of this tale of the sleeping warriors at Ochsenfeld says that the warriors asleep beneath the plain did not belong to Lothaire and the other traitorous sons of the emperor but to Charles, the last-born and promised king of this region. In that version, warriors who die are said to join the sleeping army, waiting to rise again not from a curse of shame or guilt, but as an honor for those good men who die in battle. These are called the Ochsenfeldritter in German, and the knights of the Ochsenfeld, in French.

An alternate version of “The Silver Rose.”

(I translated this a while back and posted it to the site, just never got around to posting it to the blog.)

 

Auguste Stoeber’s version of “The Silver Rose” folktale, from the Revue d’Alsace collection:

La rose d’argent. – The king of the dwarves who headed the exploitation of the siver mines of Sainte-Marie and of Eschery, once so abundant but today abandoned, held a great friendship for the habitants of those lands who saw him as their master teacher.

One day, at the very moment he left the mountain grotto to breathe the air made sweet with spring flowers, he saw the daughter of the miner whose work he had longtime favored. Captivated by her charms, he offered her all his riches if she would consent to love him and to follow him into his mysterious abode. The young girl, a little wary of living out her days in the depths of the earth and becoming the companion of a dwarf, frankly refused his offer.

In the days following, the powerful spirit, seeing his love disdained, collapsed his vast tunnels, shut away the rich veins of silver, and retired to the interior of the mountain, cursing the ingratitude of men.

Nevertheless, tradition adds that the dwarf, wanting to leave the young girl a token of his love, emerged from his retreat one last time and gifted her with a silver rose, artistically wrought; then immediately disappeared.

This rose, which has remained till this day in the possession of the descendents of the miner’s daughter, has the virtue of blooming every time a happy event must take place within the family and closing if some misfortune must strike.

Sometimes, at the back of the mountain, the hammerstrikes of the king of the dwarves can still be heard, and the inhabitants of the valley maintain the conviction in their hearts that a day will come where the spirit, reconciled to the human race, will reopen the source–too long withdrawn–of their prosperity.

Final note in this collection:

The disappearance of the giants and dwarves marks the end of the “fabled time” of the Alsace region.

Although the region’s traditions are still aware of an infinite number of fantastic beings, such as faeries, white ladies, sleeping knights in the ruins of their manoirs, the feral hunter, spirits of the damned wearing the body of some animal or appearing in the form of a “wild flame”: all these fantastic beings which still prick the imagination of the people in our day, belong to a time long past. They are the heritage of the Celts and Germanic tribes, our ancestors, and of the religious myths they melded together, much later, with the superstitions that arose from a christianity disfigured or misunderstood.

-Auguste Stoeber, regent at the College of Mulhouse, 1851