The Alps are one of the world’s largest mountain ranges, spanning eight countries in Europe. A plethora of cultures sprung under the shadows of the Alps. Each one has its own collection of myths, stories, and folklore inspired by the towering mountains and glaciers. But the best of the Alps, whether its mountains or its folklore, can be found in Switzerland.
Magical beings wander among the valleys and hills of the Swiss Alps, at least according to folklore.
The Women in White
The Weisse Frauen are beautiful creatures, clothed in white and surrounded by an ethereal glow. White Women are spirits of ill omen in other countries, but in Switzerland they are fairies of the water. They are often described bathing in mountain brooks and are guardians of great treasure and knowledge.
Cheating the Devil’s Due
Wily peasants who outsmart their enemies are a staple in Swiss folklore. One of the best examples revolves around the bridge that crosses Schöllenen Gorge. The gorge was too treacherous to build a bridge over it, much to the despair of the villagers living nearby. According to folklore, the Devil appeared and offered to build it for them. In exchange, he wanted the soul of the first creature to cross the bridge. When the Devil had finished the bridge, the villagers let a goat run across it. The Devil picked up a boulder to smash the bridge in revenge. An old woman saved the bridge by chasing the Devil away with a cross.
The barbegazi, a word derived from the French barbe-glceé or “frozen beard”, are creature unique to Swiss folklore. Their most distinct features their feet, which are so long and wide that they can ski with them. They are elusive creatures, only coming out in the winter months and enjoying the coldest days. Folklore says that they are helpful creatures, and would assist travelers during avalanches.
The Dwarves in the Deeps
We often picture dwarves as surly, beer-swilling fighters. This mental picture owes its origin to fantasy games and to the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. The beauty of the Alps actually inspired Tolkien after he trekked up the mountains in his youth.
Tolkien’s dwarves are often greedy, ill-tempered, and prone to fighting. This is a far-cry from the dwarves of Swiss folklore, who are kind and caring beings. The dwarves were creatures of the earth and the mountains, but they would often come up to the surface world. Peasants could count on their aid around farms and when retrieving lost sheep. The dwarves of the Alps were charitable and would leave food and firewood for poor children. The dwarves also had a talent with cheese, and they could make a block of one that always grows back.
The Swiss Alps are home to many mysteries, some wondrous and some fearful. But one thing is certain: their magic is best experienced personally. Who knows, you might just encounter something magical among the lofty peaks and crystalline waters of one of the most beautiful places in the world.