Posted in Curiosa & Forteana, Historia & Memoria, Interna by Suzanne on November 19th, 2005 | BBC Wikipedia
Being a rather unnostalgic person who’s often terribly thrilled and curious about new places, I tend to forget where I came from and what brought me here.
Well, provided that my birth certificate isn’t a cheap Hungarian fake and I’m indeed not a fisherman’s daughter from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, then the origin of all that I am lies in the very heart of Switzerland, in a city called Lucerne. An idyllic little Hobbiton with a lake as clear as spring water and a natural 360° fortification made of magnificent mountains that make the Great Wall of China look like Lego®Land.
So those are the places I wander about in my dreams: My granny’s house, the forest behind our house, the spooky little English graveyard across the hill, the ever-threatening Eastern face of Mount Pilatus under the cold milky full moon light.
Maybe I just suffered from an acute “Heidi in Frankfurt” trauma when I lived in Basel, but I do believe that there’s much more to miss about Lucerne than just its picturesque quaintness.
As a matter of fact, I realised the other day that most of Lucerne’s traditions, mentality phenomena and superstitions I missed have something to do with Catholicism and its changing policy towards old Swiss Paganism.
Even though I’m convinced that the fact that cities like Zurich, Basel & Bern are protestant cities makes them much more dynamic, pragmatic, youthful, ever-changing, open-minded and multicultural places, I’m also certain – even if I might sound like Heinrich Heine – that they’ll never quite give you this dubious, deep-rooted feeling of the existence of the supernatural and the inexplainable.
Despite the fact that the first Christian monastery of Lucerne (Kloster im Hof) was built at the beginning of the 8th century, the authorities and the church could never fully control – let alone destroy – the Pagan traditions in the Alpine heart of Switzerland. And it’s precisely those parts where the “Old Lore”, natural medicine, superstitions & crafts survived until today. Maybe it’s the ambiguous awe towards these century-old powers and skills that makes a city like Lucerne so open to introspection & speculation and yet so utterly closed and ignorant towards reforms & changes.
However, if there is such a thing as “affirmative conservatism” that protects old “truths” where they’re too weak to defend themselves and that doesn’t shut its eye to much needed change, I consider myself a conservative. On the other hand, there’s absolutely no doubt that a misunderstood feeling of consistency & tranquility only too often leads to self-righteousness, protectionism, isolationism, lack of self-reformation and unhealthy national pride. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the double-edged Neo-Folk Movement is currently so popular here that it’ll probably swallow the small Goth scene of Lucerne sooner or later.
Anyway, back to the Frühe Neuzeit: I believe that certain forces may have been active around the area of Lucerne in the late Middle Ages who deliberately (to get more support to ward off the Reformist Movement) or subconsciously (due to a vague feeling of pre-Renaissance historical romanticism) strengthened old Pagan lore and mixed it with Catholic beliefs & superstitions.
One fine example for this amalgamated understanding of religion and rites is the so-called “Geisslechlöpfe” – a traditional form of whipping in the open air after nightfall. On one hand, the Catholic church sees this as a way to pay tribute to Saint Nicholas of Myra – patron of pharmacists, fishermen, sailors and thieves (sic!) – and a symbolised form of Catholic self-flagellation. On the other hand, people from more Alpine and rural parts of Lucerne clearly understand the act of whipping as a way to drive away demons, ghosts, succubi & incubi and most importantly, as a preventive measure to keep the dragon that lives on Mount Pilatus from stealing their children and young cattle. The sound of the whip is also said to protect the cattle from rabies and make the milk creamier. Furthermore, whipping is obviously still used as a form of emergency communication from one Alp to another – just like fires, Alphorns and the so-called “Alpsegen”.
And for me, it’s the sound that’s as essentially connected with the coming of winter as is snow, cinnamon milk and the cracking noise of frozen twigs.
I truly never expected to find so much of my self here.
It’s good to be back where you come from.
- Verzeichnis der Totentänze in der Schweiz (Inventory of Danses Macabres in Switzerland – German version)
- Dance of the Death at the Spreuer Bridge, Lucerne, Switzerland (English / German versions)
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Totentanz, 1815. (German version – embedded RealPlayer)
Myths & Legends
- Luzerner Sagen (Legends from the City and Canton of Lucerne – German version)
- Mount Pilatus – Legends & Myths (Multilingual)
- Reformation und Gegenreformation: Schweizer Geschichte 1523 – 1712 (Reformation and Anti-Reformation in Switzerland 1523 – 1712 – German version)
General / Tourism
- Official website of the City of Lucerne (Multilingual)
- Official website of Mount Pilatus (Multilingual)
- Lucerne Tourist Board (Multilingual)
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