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Bearers of Stones

The fields owned by a farm were vital for their survival - and, perhaps not surprisingly, there were frequent disputes where the boundaries of such fields were located. Since people in earlier centuries did not have access to highly trained land surveyors - let alone modern geographic information systems - the borders between two pieces of land were set with boundary stones. It is perhaps not surprising that folklore reserved particular ire for those who moved those stones to their own advantage, which forms the basis for a large number of ghost narratives.

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The Man with the Boundary Stone

A man once set a false boundary stone in the border areas[1] of Schwerte, and he pursued a lengthy lawsuit over it. However, he won the lawsuit because he had bribed false witnesses. As punishment for this deed, he now must carry the boundary stone on his shoulders every night, and walk around in the entire border area. Many people have seen him like this. The boundary stone glows and every few moments he falls down with it, but he cannot throw it away from his person. Since the fire of the stone burns him, he jumps up and hurries onward while groaning and calling: “Where should I go with this boundary stone?”

Source: Stahl, H. Westphälische Sagen und Geschichten. 1831, p. 274. 

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[1] The German term used here was “Feldmark” (“field mark”) - the lands marked by the boundary stones of a community or estate that have not been used for construction.

Commentary: In most such narratives, the ghost of the person who moved the boundary stone is now forced to carry it - though the fire represents an extra level of punishment. This situation can only be resolved when the stone is put where it belongs (i.e. at its original position) - but the ghost is unable to figure this out on their own.

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The Billy Goat of Büntlitten

A fiery billy goat is frequently seen at night in the Büntlitten area near Dornbirn,[1] and this billy goat is thus called the “Büntlittenbock”. Illuminated by the bright glow of its flames, it jumps down from the heights,[2] then back and forth again - an eerie sight! In this manner, it must glow and jump until its hour is past, whereupon it vanishes behind the hill. This spirit has been seen for two hundred years, and it is suspected that it was a man who has committed field sacrilege,[3] or moved boundary markers.

Source: Vonbun, F. J. Die Sagen Vorarlbergs nach schriftlichen und mündlichen Überlieferungen. 1889, p. 115.

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[1] There is a “Bündtlittenstraße” road in the eastern parts of Dornbirn, close to the Fischbach stream, so that’s presumably the general area.

[2] Presumably the heights of the Rhomberg hill located right to the east of the Fischbach stream.

[3] A literal translation of the German term “Feldfrevel”, which indicates how strongly the farmers felt about this term. Beyond moving boundary markers, this covers all sorts of thefts from other people’s fields.

Commentary: While being forced to haunt the world as a ghost is not an unusual punishment for messing with the fields of other people, the form of the ghost is not exactly fitting to the crime - although we have seen people turn into animalistic ghosts before. Though at the very least, the ghost does command attention and thus represents a warning to others.

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The Man Who Moved The Boundary Stones

Many, many years ago, a greedy man lived in Niederehe[1] who moved the boundary stones next to his neighbors’ fields. Furthermore, he constantly lived in strife and had lawsuits with anyone who seemed to oppose him in the slightest. At this time, there were plans for surveying and marking the boundaries of the village forest.[2] This man, who sought to gain an advantage for his community, went into this forest and moved the boundary stones at the forest belonging to the noble’s estate. Since people didn’t pay as much attention to the boundary markers in those days, a large piece of land was taken from the noble’s estate and incorporated into the village forest, which the village still uses to this day.

However, the unjust man did not enjoy the spoils of his fraud for long. For, when he cut down a tree within the stolen forest, a branch fell off as the tree fell, and bludgeoned him to death. After people had searched for this man in vain for a long time, people finally found him at this location, and wild animals had already feasted on his corpse. But from this time onwards this man wandered around in this stolen forest while carrying a heavy stone. And, on quiet evenings, it is possible to hear his wail: “Where do I put it?”

Source: Schmidtz, J.H. Sitten und Sagen, Lieder Sprichwörter und Räthsel des Eifler Volkes. 1856, p. 30.

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[1] Niederehe is now part of the Üxheim municipality.

[2] A forest belonging to the village as a whole, as opposed to individuals or the higher-level governments. About one-fifth of all forests in Germany are still municipal forests of this type.

Commentary: While this man seemed to be rather unpleasant to be around while alive, it is interesting that the deed that finally did him in benefited not just merely himself, but his entire village. The narrator seems to be deeply offended by the theft from the local feudal overlords (which would be House of Arensberg in this case), while I personally would see as “stealing from one’s oppressors” and thus possibly as an act of civic virtue. This makes me wonder who originally came up with this tale.

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The Farmer Who Had Moved The Boundary Stones

(From the teacher Ernst in Braunschweig)

Once, a farmer in Lichtenberg[1] died who had moved boundary stones and, in this manner, increased the size of his own land. As a punishment, he then had to carry the boundary stones around in his arms while wandering around on the field at night. People who passed by late in the evening heard him moan and call out: “Where am I going to put them?” One person who heard this gathered his courage and shouted at him: “You old scoundrel, put them where you got them from!” Since then, the haunting had ceased.

Source: Voges, T. Sagen aus dem Lande Braunschweig. 1895, p.112.

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[1] This most likely refers to the district of modern-day Salzgitter.

Commentary: Sometimes, the conditions for releasing a ghost from their turmoil are highly specific, and can only be attempted once every few generations. But “boundary marker ghosts” tend to be among the lucky ones, as many tales such as this one resolve the situation by telling the ghost to put the stones back from where they came from - without even having to specify where precisely this was.

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The Unrighteous Plowman

(From the teacher Hanne in Opperhausen)

Once, a man with a glowing plow was plowing every night between 11 and 12 o’clock on a swampy meadow between Hunzen and Halle.[1] He was condemned to this fate because he once cut away a piece of his neighbor’s land with his plow. He had to labor until the entire land, which he had attained unjustly, was returned to its proper owner. However, in each hour he was only able to move a single grain of sand. Many years ago, another man once talked with him and offered to plow for him. He did as offered, but once he had finished, the plow and the harness[2] vanished, and the ghost has not returned since then. For the last of the stolen land had been returned to the neighbor thanks to this effort, and thus the unrighteous plowman finally found peace in the grave.

Source: Voges, T. Sagen aus dem Lande Braunschweig. 1895, p.118f.

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[1] This refers to Halle (Holzminden), a municipality in Lower Saxony - not the more well-known city in Saxony-Anhalt. Hunzen is a village which is now part of that municipality.

[2] It is unknown if the ghost had ghostly draft animals, or if he pulled the plow himself.

Translation note: The ghostly plowman is described as “falsch” in the text and the title. A literal translation of this would be “false”, or “wrong”, but in this context I settled for “unrighteous”, in the sense of “bearing false witness”.

Commentary: This ghost might have reached salvation on his own - eventually. But, as with many other salvation stories, the process is greatly accelerated by the assistance of one of the living.

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