The Wildg’fahr

In Northern Germany, the Wild Army, the Raging Army, the Wild Hunt, the Wild Huntsman rage and dashe and roar through the air during Advent and the holy times, led by all sorts of figures such as Wuotan, Abel, Hackelbärend, Hackelberg, and Tutofel. In Southern Bavaria and the shores of the Danube, they are frequently called the “wilde Gejaid”. But this demonic apparition is less prominent in the legends of the Tyrol, although it is present and known under the names “Wildg’fahr”, “wild G’fahr”, “wild Geschroa” (“Geschrei”/”screaming”). To prevent this term from being misunderstood, it should be mentioned here that it does not derive from “Gefahr” (“danger”), but from “Gefahre” (“rush”, “drive”, “roaming”). The Tyrolean farmers call everything a “G’fahr” what moves around with significant noise. If the boys jump around with much noise, the farmers will say: “The brats have a G’fahr.” Similar phrases are used for the drive towards the alpine meadows, the drive back home, and to the market - even though the cattle is driven very slowly, and occurs at a pedestrian’s pace. Therefore, the processions of devils and witches for them a “Wildg’fahr”. And, as an echo of the long-ago legends of Wuotan’s Army, an infernal figure joined the procession. The Devil himself was portrayed as a green or black huntsman who rode on a stallion snorting fire. And the army of evil spirits followed him in the shape of birds and monsters. In this manner, many claim to have seen the wild G’fahr. But most lost their sight and hearing during such encounters so that they could not explain in detail what they claim to have witnessed.

The time during which the Wildgefahr shows itself is, like everywhere, the time of Advent until Epiphany. Putzes roam around during this time, and all other kinds of hauntings are twice as active as during other times of the year. Furthermore, they are likely to join the company of the Wildgefahr, and increase the noise of the nightly army alongside demonic Habergaißes (owls), Kuhtuddlers (nightjars), dogs, and so forth.

So far, the Wildgefahr of Tyrol seems to be wholly corresponding to the Wild Army in the rest of Germany, or almost so. However, it nevertheless attains a whole other form and significance by appearing as a singular monster, an entirely strange creature. In this way, the Wildgefahr may appear in all sorts of places, and is not bound to any given time. Instead, it may haunt throughout the entire year, and the imagination of the people have given this terrifying spirit all sorts of marvelous attributes.

In this manner, one Wildg’fahr dwells in the rock cave in the Rosnerwald estate near Naturns (close to Meran). It has an appearance as if two horses had grown together - with one head and only one tail, but two pairs of legs on each side. (Compare with the eight-legged steed of the gods of Scandinavian myth.) If it ventures forth, then it makes a rustling noise like dried furs because its skin rasps across its bones - it does not have any flesh. But the nerves of those who hear this rustling are torn asunder, and they gain a malicious character and suffer from epilepsy for the rest of their lives.

A Wildg’fahr haunts the region near Münster in the Lower Inn Valley. It shows itself on a meadow in the form of a rapidly moving wagon full of coal-black birds which are as large as vultures. They all beat their wings, and make a horrendous noise. The wheels rattle, and sparks spray from the ravens, and the storm accompanies the rolling wagon with mighty roars, throws trees to the ground, and rips off rooftops. (The cart of the highest gods and goddesses of the North.)

Above Meran, in the Lorch Valley, the Wildgefahr appears as a “fiery hog” - a gargantuan pig that shines from the fire that covers its entire body. It blows streams of sparks from its oversized snout, it opens up its throat fantastically wide, and it has a tail that is as large and thick as an old, overgrown mountain pine. (The golden boar hunted by the einherjar in the myths of the northern lands.)

The whirlwind, too, is a “Wildg’fahr”. But such a whirlwind must be stronger and more violent than the common ones made by witches, which are merry dancers on the military roads, which joyfully turn over hay on the meadows, and which, at most, tear a haystack apart. Against these jesters, blessed water, making the sign of the cross, and protective knives might help. But it is not possible to protect oneself against the Wildg’fahr-Twister with such things. When it comes roaring, it tears everything down or apart, as it wishes. It takes everything away which is “not blessed”, whether children or livestock. Whoever sees this terrible monster approach must immediately throw themselves on the ground and cower, form crosses with hands and feed, and start to pray. For otherwise the Wildf’fahr will take them with it, and they should consider themselves fortunate if they are merely dropped in a neighboring valley in a manner that breaks all of their ribs. Thus, everyone who sees the Wildg’fahr coming must seek to protect themselves in the described manner, and appeal to God the Highest. Then no monster and no infernal haunting will be able to harm them.

The element of the “Wild Hunt” that shows up in Bavaria - namely, that beautiful music is audible as well - does not occur in Tyrol. The “Türst” of Swiss legends has another character as well, for he carries cows up into the air, which can only be summoned back down by the Alpine Prayer.(*)

(*) See L. Bechstein: Deutsches Sagenbuch 13.

Source: von Alpenburg, J. N. R. Mythen und Sagen Tirols. 1857, p. 53ff.

Notes & commentary: Roaming Wild - The Wildg'fahr