Spreading fear and mayhem in the visual arts.

Und unten zerschellt das Gerippe

Posted in Curiosa & Forteana, Historia & Memoria, Interna by Suzanne on November 19th, 2005 | BBC Wikipedia

Danse Macabre (detail) at the Rittersche Palast in Lucerne, founded by Archbishop Carlo Borromeo from Milano in 1577 - click to enlarge

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.



Danses Macabres

- 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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17 comments to " Und unten zerschellt das Gerippe "

  1. Gravatar

    anaglyph says:

    Cinnamon milk?

    November 19th, 2005 at 10:21 pm

  2. Gravatar

    Suzanne says:

    Yes indeed! It's a most exquisite winter drink.

    All you need is a cup of milk, honey and a stick of cinnamon.

    Simply boil the milk with the cinnamon stick for 5 - 10 minutes and add a little honey.

    Some people like to add a teaspoon of Brandy to the drink but I think it spoils the sweetness of the honey.

    November 19th, 2005 at 10:33 pm

  3. Gravatar

    John says:

    Robertson Davies' novels helped me to be more aware of and sensitive to that inner catholic/protestant split that makes schizophrenics out of us all--or, at least those of us of European descent. I don't think we Americans are consciously in touch with our inner pagan, and rather than reconcile we deny, and medicate. To Robertson Davies [gulugulgulu . . .]

    November 20th, 2005 at 12:37 am

  4. Gravatar

    tristanforward says:

    where's that signed photograph of you in lederhosen that you promised me ....

    November 20th, 2005 at 10:36 am

  5. Gravatar

    [arch]Bishop Z says:

    ghoooooooost giiiiiiirl!!!!!

    November 20th, 2005 at 12:56 pm

  6. Gravatar

    Hedi says:

    Margaret Thatcher (Iron Lady UK) once said :" Home is where you come to when you have nothing better do to."
    I hope that for you there are one or two better motives in it.
    Danke fuers Hueten des heimischen Herdfeuers. Heimkommen war nie schoener!!
    Hedi (Mutter e.V.)

    November 20th, 2005 at 5:04 pm

  7. Gravatar

    peacay says:

    So is it whip cracking or the screams of the whipped that communicate/protect?

    Love the totentanz! A few others from misteraitch, but not Lucerne - which sound ethereally ancient.

    November 20th, 2005 at 9:33 pm

  8. Gravatar

    Thomas Anderson says:

    very interesting. I hope you're enjoying yourself.

    November 20th, 2005 at 10:03 pm

  9. Gravatar

    Thomas Anderson says:

    I think I remember Lucerne. Is that the city with the cool wooden bridge with all the spooky pictures? It's very nice, except for the fact that it was raining at the time (of course!)

    November 20th, 2005 at 10:10 pm

  10. Gravatar

    Steph says:

    A very interesting piece - I always get a feeling of the "old world" when going back to Germany (just up the road from Basel, actually) in the winter; The colder weather, the darker forest, the more primal traditions. Undoubtedly, it's nostalgia on my part, but it definitely feels older, darker and yet more familiar and comforting, somehow.

    November 21st, 2005 at 12:59 am

  11. Gravatar

    Juju says:

    Nice post Suzanne, you should write lengthier posts more often :)

    On a similar topic I'll post some pictures to Flickr of Edinburgh's Samhain fire festival... I'll let you know when they are there

    November 21st, 2005 at 1:23 pm

  12. Gravatar

    camilla says:

    good to hear you`re doing more than fine.
    have a very nice winter...

    November 21st, 2005 at 7:42 pm

  13. Gravatar

    Lafave says:

    Je fis de Macabre la danse,
    Qui tout gent maine à sa trace
    E a la fosse les adresse.

    Respit de la Mort
    Jean Lefevre

    November 22nd, 2005 at 2:56 am

  14. Gravatar

    Cliff says:

    re: Geisslechlöpfe - who's getting whipped? or is it an inanimate target? sounds like goods times either way.
    The mixing of Christianity with native religions reminds me of what happened over here in New Orleans - Voodoo practitioners worship the same gods that they used to, but they've been merged in with the Catholic saints. It's wacky.

    November 22nd, 2005 at 8:45 pm

  15. Gravatar

    damien says:

    that's a superb little piece of writing suzie.

    November 24th, 2005 at 1:39 am

  16. Gravatar

    Diabolo-Menthe says:

    Indeed it was.
    Btw i don't think the neofolk scene would fully absorb what's left of "goth spirit" as long as you are still around. Take care of you.

    November 26th, 2005 at 2:04 pm

  17. Gravatar

    nico says:

    alles einfach wunderbar! du bist halt beschaeftigt beim bloggen oder? wirklich geil. danke!

    December 30th, 2011 at 3:48 am

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