The Smith of Mitterbach

Many, many years ago there was a smith living in Mitterbach1) who was bad at maintaining his household and lost all his money to drinking and gambling. Eventually, he was so desperate that he called on the evil Enemy for aid. Thus summoned, the Devil appeared, and the foolish smith dedicated himself to him with body and soul by his own blood signature - the Devil should have him, as long as he would serve the smith for three years in all things.

The smith now thoroughly enjoyed himself and wasted his money in a manner so that the whole neighborhood was astonished. When the three years had passed, Lucifer appeared in the living room of the smithy and wanted to sit down on the bench near the oven. The smith's wife prevented this by fetching him an upholstered chair from the guest room with exaggerated politeness. Lucifer asked after her husband, and she replied that her husband was shoeing the innkeeper's horses at the inn. But this was just a woman's stratagem, for in his fear and desperation the smith had told his wife about his dark secret.

While his wife provided the Evil One with plenty of good food and drink and pretended to send their journeyman to the smith, the smith was actually visiting an old grandmother living in the village and asking her for advice. For she was a wise woman, a skilled diviner, and a witch. Thus, the smith came back to the smithy in a cheerful mood and asked Satan politely to extend his life's span, but the latter flatly denied this and admonished him to leave with him.

As they walked the through the garden behind the house where the cherry trees were full of red fruits, the smith asked the Devil as a last request to climb on one of the trees and hand him some cherries. Since the Devil believed the smith's will to be broken, he agreed to the request - but while he was on the tree, the smith had drawn a circle around the tree with a miraculous white chalk the wise woman had given him, and Satan sat on the tree branch as if he had been glued to it.

The smith called up to him and told him to throw down their contract - afterwards he would be released from the binding. The Duke of Hell refused to do so for a long time, and then he threw down a forged contract to the waiting smith, but the smith recognized the scam. Thus the Devil spent six hours on his aerial perch, baring his teeth, wailing, and spreading an indescribable stench. However, the Hour of the Ghosts2) was about to end and the Evil One now risked losing his reign forever, which wore him down (as can readily be imagined). He unscrewed his horn, took out a yellowed piece of parchment, and threw it down to the smith. The smith recognized it as his handwriting and tore it into a thousand pieces. Then he used black chalk with curious properties to draw a circle, and after that Satan was gone like the wind, spreading a great stench.

But those who made deals with Hell have already succumbed to it and will not be able to extricate themselves. This was also true for our smith. He once again made a deal with the Devil, and this time the fleeced Satan took great care not to be cheated out of his reward again. After the time was over, the poor sinner requested three final wishes before he had to leave his dear wife and children - if he received those wishes, then he would be gladly willing to leave for Hell. And then the wife joined in the pleading and the young, apple-cheeked daughters stroked the Goatfoot's hairy cheeks and pleaded dearly as well. Then the old curmudgeon couldn't resist and softened to agree to this request.

The first request was that overnight all fields, meadows, grazing grounds and hills belonging to the smith should be surrounded by walls 10 foot high and 5 foot thick made out of ashlar-shaped stones. This request was fulfilled in full, and as the smith arose in the morning and walked around his property, the wall was as magnificent as it could be imagined. Then the smith mounted his gray horse, which was as fast as the wind, and told the Black One to pave the path in front of him and then remove the stones behind him just as quickly. This too was accomplished, even though the smith rode until the horse died from exhaustion. Now the smith had no more ideas and went to the wise woman in the village again. She hold him to give the Evil One a lock of his curly hair from his head3) and tell him to hammer out its kinks. Happy to have received such advice, the smith plucked out a lock and gave it to the Godbewithus. The Devil hammered on it for a long time until he recognized the impossibility of this undertaking. Full of anger and frustration he vanished while uttering a multitude of threats. The smith, made blind and brazen by such frequent deliverance from his fate, signed himself over for the third time and now had to go straight to Hell without recourse.

In Hell there is a place intended for those who have not murdered anyone, who have committed no robbery or any other major atrocities, but only spent their life's time drinking, gambling, and pursuing other distractions. There the merry brethren sit in a pitch-black smoke-filled chamber which is lit only by small pieces of kindling. They drink beer and schnapps, sniff Brazilian tobacco4), smoke Dreikönigs cigars5), play card and dice games, cheat each other, fight with each other, reconcile with each other, and sing all sorts of drinking songs. The devils have to pour out and clean up, but due to their inborn maliciousness they sometimes pinch the players with their red-hot pliers and otherwise bully them in all sorts of ways, and the players are unable to protect themselves nor able to take revenge on these pests.

Then the smith arrived in the smoky chamber with his smithing tools in his knapsack, accompanied by the High Devil. All of the players were delighted at meeting him, since they heard funny stories about how the smith had tricked their Lord and Master. He immediately sat down at a table and after an initial round of drinks started to play with the others, but soon he was distracted by the devils, who did not intend to leave him in peace either with their deviltries. He thus grabbed his hammer, bludgeoned the little horned men around the room, and after a heroic fight stuck them all into his knapsack, after which he continued to pinch them with his pliers. They cried for mercy, and the Duke of Hell himself released the smith because he was too unruly. The smith proudly threw the knapsack with the badly maltreated little devils into a corner, said a fond farewell to his cheerful companions, and quickly left, holding hammer and pliers in his fists.

The smith now walked directly towards Heaven, and in his usual style knocked on Heaven's Gate with his hammer. But St. Peter refused to open for him. Then the smith got angry, pushed the gate open by force, threw St. Peter down the stairs to heaven, and pushed until he faced God. Got called to him: “Begone, unrighteous one, and wander for all eternity! You don't belong in heaven, are not suited for Hell, and you may never return to Earth!” Since then the smith of Mitterbach wanders - nobody knows where - and he will have to continue his wanderings for all eternity.

Source: Panzer, F. Bayerische Sagen und Bräuche. Beitrag zur deutschen Mythologie. Erster Band, 1848. p. 94ff.

Notes & commentary: The Devil and the Smith

Now part of Berchtesgaden, Upper Bavaria.
I.e. midnight.
Yes, the German text explicitly says that the curly hair is from his head. This may be a story about the Devil, but it still should be suitable for children.
Brazilian tobacco was considered to be of very high quality.
As far as I can tell, “Dreikönigs” (“Three Kings”, the German term for the Three Wise Men) was a popular tobacco brand in the early 18th century, making this a rare case of product placement in German folklore.