The Drudes

Many years ago, in the night before Epiphany1), two old women arose from their holes in the forest and set forth on the path to the Ahornbauer2) farmer. They were full of wrinkles, ugly to look at with short grey hair, and each carried an ash stick. These were evil Drudes, who committed nefarious deeds against humans and cattle alike all night long.

When they had arrived at the farm, they stepped into the main chamber where a fire had already been kindled and the married couple owning the farm had already sat down for dinner. The Drudes, pretending to be on a pilgrimage to Sankt Hermann3), asked food and a place to stay for the night. In exchange they promised to pray for them at Sankt Hermann. The farmer, a God-fearing man, agreed to this request. But his young wife, who was pregnant, had ill premonitions about this.

The Drudes spoke much of holy matters, and the couple, sitting at the spinning wheel, listened with much astonishment. As the eleventh hour approached, one of the Drudes (who was named “Muss”) whispered to the other (who was called “Kan”) that she couldn't stand it any more - she had to go and squeeze a living being. Kan told her to be calm, for they should not harm their benefactors. But as the 11th hour approached, Muss was no longer able to contain herself and went into the chamber of the younger maid, who had gone to bed early. However, the maid was careful and had pointed the tips of her shoes outwards, away from the bed, and therefore the Drude was not able to touch her.

Thus thwarted, the witch ran into the stables - but all the animals were locked away, and the gates to their stalls were sealed with holy symbols after good Christian tradition. Even the farm dog had a blessed amulet around its neck. From all this frustration Muss became crazed and hugged a tree lying in the yard until she squeezed herself to death.

Meanwhile everyone in the farm had gone to sleep, but the farmer's wife felt unwell and realized that she was close to childbirth. The oldest farmhand thus had to mount their sorrel horse and ride to Kolmberg4) in order to get the priest and the barber. Noticing this, Kann sat down on the back of the horse. The fear of the farmhand was hardly describable, for the Drude weighted down like lead on the horse, and no matter how hard he drove it onward the animal would hardly move an inch. Finally the church bells rang for the morning prayers, and the witch quickly jumped off the horse. But the farmhand, who was a clever man, called after the old woman: “Come back today, and borrow something!”

Immediately he heard crying and wailing, causing him to almost regret his words. At the ninth hour he returned to Ahornwies, the castle chaplain5) and the barber in tow. When they arrived there was much fear and confusion, as the squashed Drude had been discovered and there was fear that the newborn child had come to harm. But the new mother and her child were healthy and well.

Then Kan, who was not as far gone as the evil Muss, returned. Crying, she begged for a pan with which she could make some mush for the newborn child. However, everyone opposed her. The priest made warding prayers against her. The maids arrived with fire hooks and brooms, and the farmhands with pitchforks and flails so that they could beat her down. But the old barber, who had found mother and child to be healthy, was well-versed in all magical arts and contemplated the Drude's request, stopping all abuse against her.

Now Kan became cheerful. The farmers were surprised, for now she no longer appeared as an ugly old woman to them, but beautiful and lovely. She stepped behind the stove and cooked a tasteful mush for the child. And from that moment on she became the children's maid for the Ahornwieser farmer and helped him raise ten children. She was no longer called a Drude, but Gertraud. And she no longer was a cursed person but a good Christian. She sang lovely songs to the children, spoke of Christ to them, and there were good fortune and blessings within the house. She lived for a long time and was kept in high honors when she became too old to work. Finally she died a peaceful death at an age of more than two hundred years, surrounded by the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the long-dead original Ahornwieser farmer.

Source: Panzer, F. Bayerische Sagen und Bräuche. Beitrag zur deutschen Mythologie. Erster Band, 1848. p. 88ff.

Notes & commentary: Pressure Spirits: The Drudes

January 6th.
“Ahornbauer” should be read here as “the farmer of the hamlet of Ahornwies”, a hamlet about 4 km north of the village of Sankt Englmar in Lower Bavaria. The suffix “-bauer” means “farmer”.
A pilgrimage church in Bischofsmais, about 25 kilometers to the southwest of where this story takes place.
A hamlet now part of Sankt Englmar and about 3 km north of Ahornwies.
The nearest castle, or “Schloss”, seems to be Schloss Hagn in Neukirchen - about 10 km to the southeast of Ahornwies, and thus in a rather different direction than Kolmberg. If the chaplain was from this castle, then presumably he was on a tour to the different hamlets, and his schedule was known to the farmers of Ahornwies. If not… then maybe he was from a different castle after all.