Places and its names always have a story attached to them. In fact, stories permeate various aspects of human life – there’s nothing in your personal history that doesn’t involve a story of how things came about. We even communicate using stories, and the best kind of conversations tend to have stories in it.
That considered, it’s no surprise, then, that one of the highly anticipated parts of travels are those that allow the sharing of stories. When it comes to hiking, those parts include bonfire conversations, which usually come with stories of the terrain being explored. And when your hike takes you through the Swiss Alps, you can’t help wondering what stories those snow-capped peaks and weather-worn trails would tell if they were given the power of speech.
If indeed those mountains could talk, they might probably tell you about the creatures that live within its bowels. No, not the many-legged kind that crawl close to the ground. Rather, the ones that travel on two feet, albeit standing at a height half of a normal human’s.
It’s said that the dwarfs of Switzerland, said to live in hills and even in the ground, are described as helpful, lively, and really kind. They’re said to be preoccupied in raising a type of cattle called chamois, the milk of which is used to make a special cheese, which can grow back after a piece is sliced off. Incidentally, some trails in the Swiss Alps take you through green meadows dotted by cattle and other wildlife – a scenery that also very well describes the habitat of these beings.
This mythical creature, described as a “wild, ferocious-looking beast,” is said to be the protector of the Aletsch Glacier. As such, he lives somewhere in this vast meandering river of ice as he is said to like the solitude and stillness of the area. Although he loves nature and has a firm sense of justice, he can be unpleasant with anyone who intentionally harms the area, including the animals that are found there.
Speaking of the Aletsch Glacier, which is the largest glacier in the Alps and sits in between the Bern and Valais cantons, it’s said that mountain people and alpine residents in the past were careful to avoid the glacier at midnight on a full moon night because one is said to be likely to encounter the Gratzug and will be drawn into the company of dead people, the consequences of which are death or fatal sickness.
The Hardermannli Legends
At Interlaken, there is a place in Harder Kulm called the Hardermannli, a part of which has a rock face that seemingly looks similar to a man’s. There are two versions of a legend that explains this spectacle. One version says that a hard-hearted abbot of a monastery, Harder, became obsessed with the daughter of a fisherman, so much so that he got her pregnant. To escape her shame, the daughter drank poison right after telling her father what happened. This angered the father, who took an ax and hacked it into the abbot’s skull. Thunder and lightning soon followed at the Interlaken after the killing. After this, the residents noticed that the rock wall somehow took the shape of Harder’s face.
The Tall Trio
Jungfrau, one of the summits in the Bernese Alps, actually refers to “virgin.” It was named so as there used to be a convent at the base of the mountain itself. A similar explanation also holds for the naming of the Mönch, which means “monk.” In a play of words, it can also be said that the Mönch mountain is shielding the Jungfrau from its neighboring peak, the Eiger, which means “ogre.”
However, legend has it that the said peaks were once giants, or rather a family of mean giants, as the story goes. A day came when a poor, old man in tattered clothing arrived at the giants’ doorstep and asked for some milk. Naturally, the giants did not give him any and even told him he doesn’t deserve to be given water. Angered by their unkindness, the poor man insulted them and decided to teach them a lesson. As it turns out, he was a mountain spirit who had powers beyond the giants’ strength. He cast a spell on the giants, who started growing until they became mountains and ice. The father is now what is called the Eiger, while the sons turned into the Mönch, and the daughter became what is now known as the Jungfrau.
Heard of other legends and stories about the Swiss Alps? Share them with us!