Rachel Busk
The Valleys of Tirol: Their traditions and customs and how to visit them

The Valleys of Tirol: Their traditions and customs and how to visit them
Rachel Busk

The Valleys of Tirol: Their traditions and customs and how to visit them


There are none who know Tirol but are forward to express regret that so picturesque and so primitive a country should be as yet, comparatively with other tracks of travel, so little opened up to the dilettante explorer.

It is quite true, on the other hand, that just in proportion as a country becomes better known, it loses, little by little, its merit of being primitive and even picturesque. Intercourse with the world beyond the mountains naturally sweeps away the idiosyncracies of the mountaineers; and though the trail of progress which the civilized tourist leaves behind him cannot absolutely obliterate the actual configuration of the country, yet its original characteristics must inevitably be modified by the changes which his visits almost insensibly occasion. The new traditions which he brings with him of vast manufacturing enterprise and rapid commercial success cannot but replace in the minds of the people the old traditions of the fire-side and the Filò, with their dreams of treasure-granting dwarfs and the Bergsegen dependent on prayer. The uniform erections of a monster Hotel Company, ‘convenient to the Railway Station,’ supersede the frescoed or timbered hostelry perched on high to receive the wayfarer at his weariest. The giant mill-chimneys, which sooner or later spring up from seed unwittingly scattered by the way-side, not only mar the landscape with their intrinsic deformity, but actually strip the mountains of their natural covering, and convert wooded slopes into grey and barren wastes;[1 - This is what the introduction of manufactories is doing in Italy at this moment. The director of a large establishment in Tuscany, which devours, to its own share, the growth of a whole hill-side every year, smiled at my simplicity when I expressed regret at hearing that no provision was made for replacing the timber as it is consumed.] just as the shriek of the whistle overpowers the Jödel-call, and the barrel-organ supersedes the zitther and the guitar.

Such considerations naturally make one shrink from the responsibility of taking a part (how insignificant soever) in directing the migration of tourists into such a country as Tirol. I have heard a Tirolese, while at the same time mourning that the attractions of his country were so often passed over, express this feeling very strongly, and allege it as a reason why he did not give the result of his local observations to the press; and I listened to his apprehensions with sympathy. But then these changes must be. The attempt to delay them is idle; nor would individual abstention from participating in the necessary movement of events have any sensible effect in stemming the even course of inevitable development. Circumstances oblige us continually to co-operate in bringing about results which we might personally deprecate.

‘In whatsoe’er we perpetrate
We do but row; we’re steered by fate.’

And after all, why should we deprecate the result? We all admire the simple mind and chubby face of childhood; yet who (except the sentimental father in the French ballad, ‘Reste toujours petit!’) would wish to see his son in petticoats and leading-strings all his days. The morning mists which lend their precious charm of mystery to the sunrise landscape must be dispelled as day advances, or day would be of little use to man.

The day cannot be all morning; man’s life cannot be all infancy; and we have no right so much as to wish – even though wishes avail nothing – that the minds of others should be involved in absurd illusions to which we should scorn to be thought a prey ourselves.

Nature has richly endowed Tirol with beauty and healthfulness; and they must be dull indeed who, coming in search of these qualities, do not find them enhanced a hundredfold by the clothing of poetry with which the people have superindued them. Who, in penetrating its mountain solitudes, would not thank the guide who peoples them for him with mysterious beings of transcendent power; who interprets for him, in the nondescript echoes of evening, the utterances of a world unknown; and in the voices of the storm and of the breeze the expression of an avenging power or the whisperings of an almighty tenderness.

But then – if this is found to be something more than poetry, if the allegory which delights our fancy turns out to be a grotesque blunder in the system of the peasant who narrates it, – it cannot be fair to wish that he should continue subject to fallacious fancies, in order that we may be entertained by their recital.

It is one thing for a man who has settled the grounds of his belief (or his unbelief) to his best satisfaction in any rational way, to say, ‘I take this beautiful allegory into my repertory; it elevates my moral perceptions and illustrates my higher reaches of thought;’ but it is quite another thing if one reasons thus with himself, ‘My belief is so and so, because a certain supernatural visitation proves it;’ when actually the said supernatural visitation never took place at all, and was nothing but an allegory, or still less, a mere freak of fancy in its beginning.

Perhaps if the vote could be taken, and if desires availed anything, the general consensus of thinking people would go in favour of the desire that there had been no myths, no legends. But the vote would involve the consequence that we should have antecedently to be possessed of a complete innate knowledge of the forces of being, corresponding to the correct criteria, which we flatter ourselves do indwell us of the principles of beauty and of harmony. If there are any who are sanguine enough to believe that science will one of these days give us a certain knowledge of how everything came about, it is beyond dispute that for long ages past mankind has been profoundly puzzled about the question, and it cannot be an uninteresting study to trace its gropings round and round it.

Perfect precision of ideas again would involve perfect exactness of expression. No one can fail to regret the inadequacies and vagaries of language which so often disguise instead of expressing thought, and lead to the most terrible disputes just where men seek to be most definite. If we could dedicate one articulate expression to every possible idea, we should no longer be continually called to litigate on the meanings of creeds and documents, and even verbal statements.

But when we had attained all this, we should have surrendered all the occupation of conjecture and all the charms of mystery; we should have parted with all poetry and all jeux d’esprit. If knowledge was so positive and language so precise that misunderstanding had no existence, then neither could we indulge in metaphor nor égayer la matière with any play on words. In fact, there would be nothing left to say at all!

Perhaps the price could not be too high; but in the meantime we have to deal with circumstances as they are. We cannot suppress mythology, or make it non-existent by ignoring it. It exists, and we may as well see what we can make of it, either as a study or a recreation. Conjectures and fancies surround us like thistles and roses; and as brains won’t stand the wear of being ceaselessly carded with the thistles of conjecture, we may take refuge in the alternative of amusing ourselves on a holiday tour with plucking the roses which old world fancy has planted – and planted nowhere more prolifically than in Tirol.

In speaking of Tirol as comparatively little opened up, I have not overlooked the publications of pioneers who have gone before. The pages of Inglis, though both interesting and appreciative, are unhappily almost forgotten, and they only treat quite incidentally of the people’s traditions. But as it is the most salient points of any matter which must always arrest attention first, it has been chiefly the mountains of Tirol to which attention has hitherto been drawn. Besides the universally useful ‘Murray’ and others, very efficient guidance to them has of late years been afforded in the pages of ‘Ball’s Central Alps,’ in some of the contributions to ‘Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers;’ in the various works of Messrs. Gilbert and Churchill; and now Miss A. B. Edwards has shown what even ladies may do among its Untrodden Peaks. The aspects of its scenery and character, for which it is my object on the other hand to claim attention, lie hidden among its Valleys, Trodden and Untrodden. And down in its Valleys it is that its traditions dwell.[2 - Except the Legends of the Marmolata, which I have given in ‘Household Stories from the Land of Hofer; or, Popular Myths of Tirol,’ I hardly remember to have met any concerning its prominent heights.]

If the names of the Valleys of Tirol do not at present awaken in our mind stirring memories such as cling to other European routes whither our steps are invited, ours is the fault, in that we have overlooked their history. The past has scattered liberally among them characteristic landmarks dating from every age, and far beyond the reach of dates. Every stage even of the geological formation of the country – which may almost boast of being in its courage and its probity, as it does boast of being in the shape in which it is fashioned, the heart of Europe – is sung of in popular Sage as the result of some poetically conceived agency; humdrum physical forces transformed by the wand of imagination into personal beings; now bountiful, now retributive; now loving; now terrible; but nearly always rational and just.

To the use of those who care to find such gleams of poetry thrown athwart Nature’s work the following pages are dedicated. The traditions they record do not claim to have been all gathered at first hand from the stocks on which they were grown or grafted. A life, or several lives, would hardly have sufficed for the work. In Germany, unlike Italy, myths have called into being a whole race of collectors, and Tirol has an abundant share of them among her offspring. Not only have able and diligent sons devoted themselves professionally to the preservation of her traditions, but every valley nurtures appreciative minds to whom it is a delight to store them in silence, and who willingly discuss such lore with the traveller who has a taste for it.

That a foreigner should attempt to add another to these very full, if not exhaustive collections, would seem an impertinent labour of supererogation. My work, therefore, has been to collate and arrange those traditions which have been given me, or which I have found ready heaped up; to select from the exuberant mass those which, for one reason or another, appeared to possess the most considerable interest; and to localise them in such a way as to facilitate their study both by myself and others along the wayside; not neglecting, however, any opportunity that has come in my way of conversing about them with the people themselves, and so meeting them again, living, as it were, in their respective homes. This task, as far as I know, has not been performed by any native writer.[3 - I published much of the matter of the following pages in the first instance in the Monthly Packet, and I have to thank the Editor for my present use of them.]

The names of the collectors I have followed are, to all who know the country, the best possible guarantee of the authenticity of what they advance; and I subjoin here a list of the chief works I have either studied myself or referred to, through the medium of kind helpers in Tirol, so as not to weary the reader as well as myself with references in every chapter: —

Von Alpenburg: Mythen und Sagen Tirols.

Brandis: Ehrenkränzel Tirols.

H. J. von Collin: Kaiser Max auf der Martinswand: ein Gedicht.

Das Drama des Mittelalters in Tirol. A. Pickler.

Hormayr: Taschenbuch für die Vaterländische Geschichte.

Meyer: Sagenkränzlein aus Tirol.

Nork: Die Mythologie der Volkssagen und Volksmärchen.

Die Oswaldlegende und ihre Beziehung auf Deutscher Mythologie.

Oswald v. Wolkenstein: Gedichte. Reprint, with introduction by Weber.

Perini: I Castelli del Tirolo.

Der Pilger durch Tirol; geschichtliche und topographische Beschreibung der Wallfahrtsorte u. Gnadenbilder in Tirol u. Vorarlberg.

A. Pickler: Frühlieder aus Tirol.

Scherer: Geographie und Geschichte von Tirol.

Simrock: Legenden.

Schneller: Märchen und Sagen aus Wälsch-Tirol.

Stafler: Das Deutsche Tirol und Vorarlberg.

Die Sage von Kaiser Max auf der Martinswand.

J. Thaler: Geschichte Tirols von der Urzeit.

Der Untersberg bei Salzburg, dessen geheimnissvolle Sagen der Vorzeit, nebst Beschreibung dieses Wunderberges.

Vonbun: Sagen Vorarlbergs.

Weber: Das Land Tirol. Drei Bänder.

Zingerle: König Laurin, oder der Rosengarten in Tirol. Die Sagen von Margaretha der Maultasche. Sagen, Märchen u. Gebräuche aus Tirol. Der berühmte Landwirth Andreas Hofer.

I hope my little maps will convey a sufficient notion of the divisions of Tirol, the position of its valleys and of the routes through them tracked in the following pages. I have been desirous to crowd them as little as possible, and to indicate as far as may be, by the size and direction of the words, the direction and the relative importance of the valleys.

Of its four divisions the present volume is concerned with the first (Vorarlberg), the fourth (Wälsch-Tirol), and with the greater part of the valleys of the second (Nord or Deutsch-Tirol.) In the remoter recesses of them all some strange and peculiar dialects linger, which perhaps hold a mine in store for the philologist. Yet, though the belief was expressed more than thirty years ago[4 - See Steub ‘Über die Urbewohner Rätiens und ihren Zusammenhang mit den Etruskern. Münich, 1843,’ quoted in Dennis’ Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, I. Preface, p. xlv.] that they might serve as a key to the Etruscan language, I believe no one has since been at the pains to pursue this most interesting research. In the hope of inducing some one to enter this field of enquiry, I will subjoin a list of some few expressions which do not carry on their face a striking resemblance to either of the main languages of the country, leaving to the better-informed to make out whence they come. The two main languages (and these will suffice the ordinary traveller for all practical purposes), are German in Vorarlberg and North Tirol, Italian in Wälsch-Tirol, mixed with occasional patches of German; and in South-Tirol with a considerable preponderance of these patches. A tendency to bring about the absorption of the Italian-speaking valleys into Italy has been much stimulated in modern times, and in the various troubled epochs of the last five-and-twenty years Garibaldian attacks have been made upon the frontier line. The population was found stedfast in its loyalty to Austria, however, and all these attempts were repulsed by the native sharp-shooters, with little assistance from the regular troops. An active club and newspaper propagandism is still going on, promoted by those who would obliterate Austria from the map of Europe. For them, there exists only German-Tirol and the Trentino. And the Trentino is now frequently spoken of as a province bordering on, instead of as in reality, a division of, Tirol.

Although German is generally spoken throughout Vorarlberg, there is a mixture of Italian expressions in the language of the people, which does not occur at all in North-Tirol: as fazanedle, for a handkerchief (Ital. fazzoletto.)

gaude, gladness (Ital. gaudio.)

guttera, a bottle (Ital. gutto a cruet.)

gespusa, a bride (Ital. sposa).