The Ridge Trains
People in all communities of the Valais told of the “Gratzug” (“ridge trains”) or “Synagog”. The “ridge trains” are tunnels, paths, roads, or, more accurately, processions in which the dead wander in the mountains or the countryside. Usually, they form large caravans and long processions. A “Synagog”, on the other hand, are the trains, processions, and congregations of the witch people, over which Satan presides. It is claimed that they often betray their presence through buzzing, drumming, whistling, and all sorts of music from hollow instruments. Those who venture into such processions of ghosts, or those who somehow get surprised by them, will be swallowed by the train and fall sick. Their whole bodies might be afflicted or only individual limbs. This sickness is often very aggressive, causing them to suffer for a long time or even become crippled. If the sickness is less severe and ends completely in approximately two times twenty-four hours, people say that they have only entered “the Winds”.
This is what the people commonly believe, and these beliefs get regularly reinforced by new incidents. When people feel dread, get frightened, or get a cold through incautious behavior, they often get sick since the blood more or less shreds itself and then purifies itself again through small rashes of the skin, or even through paralyzation of whole limbs. Such rashes usually appear around the mouth, and thus they are called the characteristics of the “kiss of the dead”, as if ghosts had kissed them. Thus, as long as people are not free from the cold, from fear, or of dread, there will always be some who entered “the winds” or “the ridge train”.
The usual corridors and paths which the dead pass through are sometimes identified precisely. Folk belief usually puts them into the high alps, where those paths lead from mountain to mountain, and high alpine meadow to high alpine meadow. They are called “The Jingle Road”, and it is believed that this road runs through ninety-nine distinct meadows. When the ghost roads cross, then this is called a “crossroad”, and those who reach such a site receive extraordinary knowledge from the realm of the dead and the spirits. According to folk belief, they know how to do more than just eat bread.
The people also tell often and many things of the processions of the dead, who hurry along with fast steps. - “The dead ride quickly” is a common saying. There are people who are believed to see more than ordinary humans, and thus claim that they have perceived the wandering dead at times.They show up in the clothes in which they were carried to the grave, or, more frequently, in the gowns which was handed out to guards or the poor in their name to provide them succor. A pious custom thus demands that a full set of clothing of deceased people should be given to the poor. This clothing is called “God’s garment”. It is claimed that deceased people have been seen who were missing one piece of clothing or another. In this manner, one dead man had to walk barefooted, but had to carry two skirts as a jacket was given away instead of shoes. A dead woman, on the other hand, had to wear a ball of butter on her head, as butter was given away instead of a hat.
A dead man was once seen in Visperterminen who had no girdle for his white gown. Thus, he was only able to follow those who had hurried ahead under great difficulties while sweating profusely, as he constantly had to hold up his loose clothing with his hands. Out of pity, the living witness gave his neckcloth to the dead man, and helped him wrap the same around his body. Giving thanks, the dead man hurried away with fast steps, remarking that he would only be able to catch up with those who had hurried onward at the ninety-ninth graveyard.
In Natersberg, an alpine hut allegedly sits next to a path of the dead. One day, the caretaker left a stockpile of firewood on the path, as he was running late for splitting it. Around midnight, there was a loud knocking at the entrance door, and he was admonished that if he still wanted to save his hut, he should open up the road, for the procession of the dead was approaching. The startled man hurriedly followed this instruction. When, as the first dead person arrived, he had barely managed to carry the wood aside, his foot was still on the path, and the procession reached the foot’s heel. This heel subsequently sickened in a worrisome manner.
The man in Visperterminen, who had seen the dead man without a girdle for his gown, was once woken up from his sleep in order to clear a path for the procession of the dead, as he had left a tree trunk on it. On the Aletschbort in the Lusgeralp meadow there used to be a hut in the middle of a ghost road. The windows and the back door were always found open no matter how often they were closed, since the ghosts moved through them. For this reason, the hut was taken down and rebuilt at the “Rotzwang” at the Belalp meadow, where it is still standing today.
At the “Egge” at the Jungen meadow, in St. Niklaus, people can hear the procession of the dead or the Synagog during the Fall Ember Week. They pass by with clearly audible sounds of music and heavy drum beats so that they echo from nearby rocks. “Those who don’t believe this should go there and hear it for themselves”, the locals say.
The people of the Eringertal valley have likewise much to tell of the ridge train, Synagog, and processions of the dead. If someone encounters these, they should quickly step into the shadow of a tree, for otherwise they would be sawed into pieces by the dead. In one alpine meadow of Hérémence, there is a well with good drinking water which is called “Totenbrunnen - Fontaine des morts” (“Well of the Dead”). Next to this well a decrepit path passes by, which is called “Totenstraße - chemin des morts” (“Road of the Dead”). The path originates in the peaks near Nendaz and meanders through the Hérémence valley into the direction of Augsttal, but is cut short by mighty glaciers. According to local custom, everyone who drinks at this Well of the Dead should put a small wooden cross into the ground next to the well. For this reason, many such crosses can be seen at the Well of the Dead next to the Road of the Dead in the Hérémence Valley, especially in the fall before the heavy snow of winter destroys them again.
 “Winne”/”Winna” in the original, also called “wind” in this online dictionary of Swiss idioms, describing both a state of dread and the disease outlined here. It is not quite clear whether this has the same linguistic roots as the word “Wind” (identical to the English word), though it seems likely.
 The German phrase here was “Alpstafel” - roughly, “alpine stables”. Most alpine meadows were divided into several such “stables” divided by elevation, where the cattle grazed at different times during the high alpine grazing season.
 I.e. they have knowledge of hidden, occult things - including supernatural powers.
 I’ve been unable to identify this location. There is a reference to a “Natersberg” that place it between Schwarzenegg (a hamlet now part of Unterlangenegg) and Eggiwil, to the southwest of Bern - but those are far away from the Valois, the region the book this tale is from covers. It is more likely that this refers to a mountain near the town of Naters, but it is unclear which one.
 The Belalp meadow is the only location I could identify - it survives as a high-altitude ski and tourist resort into the modern day and is part of the Naters municipality.
 The Ember Days are days of fasting in the liturgical calendar. The Fall Ember Week would fall into the third week of September.
 The German name for the Val d’Herens. It is located in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.
 An outdated German name for the Aosta Valley in Italy.
 Presumably the assorted glaciers west of the Matterhorn. Of course, thanks to global warming, they are no longer as mighty as they used to be…
Translation note: The original German term, “Gratzug”, requires some explanation. “Grat” means arête - a narrow ridge of rock separating two valleys. “Zug” can mean “train” in both the sense of vehicles and as an organized group of people traveling, as well as continuous pulling motions (“Luftzug” means “draft” - the bane of all Germans traveling to regions with air conditioning). Obviously, this tale uses to the second definition.
Commentary: Quite an eerie image - dead people hurriedly moving from mountain to mountain, graveyard to graveyard, in a never-ending procession to unknown destinations. We never learn whether the dead are condemned to this fate for some past transgressions during their lives, or if this is the “normal” state of affairs for all dead people. We do get the sense that the dead feel compelled to follow these paths and each other, as in the case of the poor fellow who lacked a girdle.
That contact with the dead can be hazardous to one’s health is a common element we have seen before, such as in the tales “The Heavily Loaded Men” and “A Dead Man Searches for his Gown”. Gaining supernatural insight from a crossroad is something that we have encountered in the story “The Wild Hunt at Surheim”, and in fact it shows up elsewhere - but here we get a clarification that not just any place where two roads meet fits the criteria.
Finally, the notion of spirits moving across the countryside and presenting a danger to those they encounter has many parallels in tales of the Wild Hunt - or the thematically similar “Nachtfolk”/”Night People” of the Voralberg region in nearby Austria, which I will delve into at another time.