Our guest columnist Richard H. Fay, is back this week for his last topical post before Halloween (fear not, this series will continue after the 31st!). You can read his blog here, and, since not only is he a notable historian of the occult but also a talented artist, we also recommend checking out his Zazzle Store.
According to traditional Germanic lore, strange creatures haunted the craggy peaks and shadowed vales of the European Alps. Some of these beings delighted in troubling humankind, using supernatural powers to harass and even prey upon vulnerable mortals. Certain examples of Alpine bogey, such as the Alp and its more dangerous and ghoulish sub-type the Schrattl, combined the traits of fairy, vampire, and sorcerer to become feared threats to those living in the shadows of the snow-capped mountains of central Europe. A few even exhibited a taste for blood reminiscent of the Slavic vampire.
Several different folkloric threads seem to have been woven together by Alpine storytellers in the creation of the tapestry of Alp lore. Originally, Alpe were conceived as magical metal-working dwarves, inhabitants of the dark places deep within the mountains (Rose, 1998). Later, Alpe evolved into bringers of nightmares and disease, beings with a penchant for sitting on the chests of unsuspecting sleepers to cause breathing troubles and bad dreams (Franklin, 2002). At times, Alpe sexually assaulted humans in the manner of incubi, and were even known to suck blood from the nipples of both sexes (Guiley, 2005). In addition to blood, Alpe also consumed milk and semen (Curran, 2005). In a motif echoed in the fairy lore of Europe’s Celtic fringe, Alpe occasionally knotted the hair of sleeping mortals and took nighttime joyrides on the backs of unprotected horses (Franklin, 2002).
The exact nature of the Alp often depended upon location, varying from place to place. In parts of Germany and Austria, the Alp manifested as a malignant revenant (Curran, 2005). In other parts of Germany, Alpe remained living dwarfs, albeit ones imbued with elemental powers (Curran, 2005). Certain tales told of Alpe appearing as vampiric butterflies released by the breath of the demonic horerczy (Guiley, 2005). In the Brocken and Herz Mountains, Alpe served witches, often spreading evil in the form of cats or voles (Curran, 2005). Under certain circumstances, living mortals could become Alpe, either through sinister sorcery or through a mother’s unforgiven sins (Curran, 2005). Regardless of appearance, whether it be pig, bird, cat, vole, or lecherous dog, each Alp in animal form typically wore a magical hat which granted it the ability to shape-shift and to render itself invisible (Guiley, 2005).
While some variations of the Alp undoubtedly displayed vampiric tendencies amongst their diverse range of disturbing traits, the Austrian Schrattl was a vampire in the truest sense, a revenant roaming Alpine nights in search of blood. Roused to a semblance of life while still interred in the grave, the animated corpse of the Schrattl would tear and gnaw at its funeral shroud until it devoured the winding cloths (Curran, 2005). The Schrattl then turned its hunger toward the bodies of those buried in nearby graves and launched attacks against its former family and friends (Curran, 2005). Not content with assaults against humans alone, the Schrattl assailed animals and property as well (Curran, 2005). Possessed of fearsome mental powers, the Schrattl could drive its potential victims and those it wished to control insane (Curran, 2005). Typical of vampires worldwide, the Schrattl also spread disease in its dreadful wake (Curran, 2005).
Germanic tellers of dark tales threw various strains of ancient belief into the pot to create the potentially deadly stew that was Alp lore. Witches, demons, sorcerers, dwarfs, fairies, and vampires all lent different attributes to the Alp hodge-podge. No matter the form the Alp took, dangerous dwarf or vampiric butterfly, ghoulish revenant or shape-shifting sorcerer, it could be a potent threat to human life and well-being. Although various Alpe may have thirsted for blood and other bodily fluids, the vampiric nature of these creatures expressed itself most strongly in the shroud-eating Schrattl. Powerful and extremely malignant, the Schrattl troubled all mortals it encountered during its nocturnal forays across the Alpine countryside.
Curran, Dr. Bob. (2005). Vampires: A Field Guide to the Creatures That Stalk the Night. Franklin Lakes, New Jersey: New Page Books.
Franklin, Anna. (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Fairies. London: Anova Books.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters. New York: Checkmark Books.
Rose, Carol. (1998). Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
(Article originally published in Hungur, Issue 10, Walpurgisnacht 2010.)