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Switzerland

Characteristics. Switzerland is a federation of twenty-six somewhat independent cantons. About eight million people live here. The country is famous for its chocolate, cheese, banking system, solid economy, watches and mountains - and for being among the happiest ten countries in the world, according to the ◦World Happiness Report Update 2016. It is a UN report.

There are lots of high mountains in Switzerland. They are called the Alps. They cross the middle and the southern part of the country. They are very tall in the centre and south of Switzerland. About a hundred peaks are over 4000 meters above sea level. Many mountains have ice on them all year, that is, there are glaciers in the heights. There are no mountains in the north of Switzerland. This caused many cities and towns to be built in the north. The Jura mountains are in the northwest of Switzerland.

To the north of Switzerland is Germany, to the east is Austria and Liechtenstein, to the south is Italy and to the west is France. People who migrated to Switzerland throughout its history used German, French, Italian and Romansh. These are the four official languages of Switzerland. The German-speaking people of Switzerland - they are about two thirds of the population - speak Alemannic, which is considered a German dialect. However, Swiss people write like the people from Germany and also speak standard German very well.

The rivers Rhine, Rhône, and other rivers start in the mountains of Switzerland. There are many lakes in Switzerland too.

History. In 1291, people from Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden wanted to be free from Habsburg rule, united, fought battles and won all of them. People from other areas joined the alliance. In 1648, Switzerland was officially a free country. More areas came to be part of Switzerland.

In 1798, the military from France, led by Napoleon, invaded Switzerland. He changed many laws. But in 1815 Switzerland became free from France. Since then, Switzerland has been largely neutral. Switzerland did not fight in World War I or World War II. Since 2002, Switzerland is part of the United Nations. It did not join the United Nations for 57 years because it was neutral.

Seven people (called ministers) take turns being president. They are called the Federal Council in English. Every year one of them is made president. The president is not more important than the other six.

Cultural Outlets: A Few Dips

Different cultures and ideas have influenced and moulded the country's rich and varied folklore. There are many local legends about Swiss persons. The different language groups - German, French, Italian and Romansh - , have their own treasured folklore traditions, apart from what they have in common, and the bridging.

Heidi, a book for children by Johanna Spyri, is the most famous book of Switzerland. It was originally published in two parts in 1880. There are descriptions of Swiss Alps, and the lives of the simple country folk in their picturesque places. "Every goat even, has its personality," observes Charles Wharton Stork, Ph.D in the introduction to an English translation (below).

Should we see what folktales and legends they have recounted to one another in Switzerland? (Friedrich Gottlieb) Otto Suter Meister (1832-1901) thought it might be wise. He was a Swiss folklorist and professor at the University of Bern, and collected and revised many stories, legends, fables and proverbs. He was greatly influenced by the Grimm brothers, and rewrote many stories so they could fit young readers.

Another driving force in Swiss folklore - Volkskunde in German - was Eduard Hoffmann-Krayer (1864-1936). He founded the Swiss folklore society, Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Volkskunde, in 1896.

Folklore and customs

Swiss folklore contains a collection of local stories, celebrations and customs of the alpine and sub-alpine peoples of Switzerland. There are some typical characters in Swiss folklore. Some are quite as common German ones. But others have other origins and come in addition. A selection:

  • Barbegazi are creatures of Swiss and French mythology. Belonging to a variety of dwarfs or gnomes, a barbegazi looks like a small white-furred man with a long beard and enormous feet. They live in the mountains and travel in the mountains by skiing with their massive feet, or use them as snowshoes. They are rarely seen, in part because they spend their time in caves and tunnels when there is no snow around, and do not come out until the first snowfall, and in part because they prefer high altitudes and low temperatures. Sometimes they help shepherds round up lost sheep, and sometimes they try to dig up humans that have been captured by avalanches, to save them.
  • Berchtold in a white robe leads the Die Wilde Jagd. Berchtold is the leader of the Wild Hunt in German folklore of the 1500s.
  • Böögg is a Swiss bogeyman.
  • Dwarfs live in hills and down in the earth. They are described as happy all the same. They have cattle and make magic cheese(s).
  • Kobold (cobold): A nature spirit or house spirit in German folklore. It is described as a "servant".
  • White Women, Weisse Frauen in German folklore are elflike spirits that may be seen in sunlight. They are beautiful, enchanted creatures who are seen bathing in a brook. They may be guarding treasures or castles and entreat mortals to break their spell. The Weisse Frauen have counterparts in neighbouring countries: In the Netherlands the Witte Wieven, and in France the Dames blanches.
  • Jack o' the Bowl, or Bowl-Jacob, is the most famous brownie or helping house-spirit of Switzerland. He is named Bowl-Jacob from the custom of placing a bowl of fresh sweet cream for him every night on the roof of the cow-house, to thank him or be on good terms with him. The bowl is sure to be empty before morning.
  • The Devil, der Teufel in German and Alpine folklore may be outwitted and cheated by people who strike bargains with him, but is scary all along: It pays to be well guarded.

    In many religions, myths and cultures the Devil is believed to be a supernatural evildoer. In mainstream and Christianity, God and the Devil are usually portrayed as fighting over the souls of humans. The Devil commands a force of evil spirits, commonly known as demons. Many other religions have one or several tricksters or tempter figures with demoniac features. One contemporary conception of the Devil is that it symbolizes the lower, sinful human or ape nature.

    In folklore, several portrayals of Devil appear in the Western Christian tradition, particularly as a character that through wagers and deals tries to trick and outwit others in order to catch souls. In some tales, the Devil is portrayed as more of a folk villain than as the personification of evil. The Devil also appears in many stories of saintly lives (hagiographical tales), in part outside the authorized religious canon.

About half of the stories that follow, stem from Guerber's Legends of Switzerland. There are book references at the bottom of the page too.

- Tormod Kinnes

Altered Marigold painting by Félix Valliton
Marigolds

Contents


Swiss folktales and legends, Literature  

In German

Grimm, Jacob. Deutsche Sagen. Berlin: Neues Leben, 1986.

Kuoni, Jakob. Sagen des Kantons St. Gallent. St. Gallen: Verlag Wider und Frey, 1903.

Lienert, Meinrad. Schweizer Sagen und Heldengeschichten. Levy und Müller. Stuttgart, 1915.

Müller, Josef. Sagen aus Uri Sagen aus Uri aus dem Volksmunde gesammelt. 3 Vols. Bd. 1-2 ed. Hanns Bächtold-Stäubli; Bd. 3 ed. Robert Wildhaber. Basel: G. Krebs, 1926 (auch 1929, 1945).

Spyri. Johanna. Heidi. Tr. E. Stork. Gift ed. London: J. B. Lippincott, 1919.

Suter, Kaspar. Kaspar Suters Zuger Chronik 1549. Ediert von Adolf A. Steiner. Zug: Verein f. Heimatgeschichte, 1964.

Sutermeister, Otto. Kinder- und Hausmärchen aus der Schweiz. 2nd ed. Aarau: H. R. Sauerländer, 1873.

Vernaleken, Theodor, coll. Alpensagen: Volksüberlieferungen aus der Schweiz, aus Vorarlberg, Kärnten, Steiermark, Salzburg, Ober- und Niederösterreich. Wien: L. W. Seidel, 1868.

In English

Duvoisin, Roger. Fairy tales from Switzerland. The Three Sneezes and Other Swiss Tales. New York. Alfred A. Knopf, 1941 (and later editions).

Grimm, Jacob Ludwig Karl. The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm. Vol. 1 and Vol 2. Ed. and tr. Donald Ward. Philadelphia: The Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1981.

Guerber, Hélène Adeline. Legends of Switzerland. New York: Dodd, Mead And Company, 1909.

Potts, Katharine, tr. Swiss-Alpine Folk-Tales Re-told by Fritz Müller-Güggenbühl. London: Oxford University Press, 1958.

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