Jan 4, 2021
People capable of binding and exorcising spirits were a special breed. In the story “The Barber of Penzlin”, we’ve seen a “secular” user of magic plying his trade, but monks of all kinds were also believed to be experts in getting rid of unruly spirits.
The Banished Paper Miller’s Wife
Behind Goslar, there used to be a paper mill. An old couple lived within who had only one son. As he grew up, he found himself a woman he loved, but his parents could not stand the relationship. Nevertheless, he could not be deterred and courted her. Soon after the marriage, the paper miller’s wife died and the paper miller handed over the premises and everything within them to his son, moved to Goslar, and established his own household there. Time passed, and the young woman gave birth to a son. The two maids had to keep watch with the new mother. When the time approached midnight, the two girls became tired along with the mother, and all fell asleep. When they woke up the next morning, the boy lay dead next to the mother, and nobody knew what caused his death.
More time passed, and the young paper miller’s wife gave birth to a little girl. Then everything happened again as before. Some time after the death of the daughter, the woman gave birth to a boy again. At that time, there was a new maid among the two maids watching over her. She chatted with and told things to the other one, and in this manner both stayed awake. But it was a wonderful night, the moon was shining brightly, and when the hour approached eleven o’clock, the new girl said that she wanted to step outside for a moment. There was a large side building opposite of the paper mill, and as she was outside, there was suddenly a noise coming from this building. Then, a window opened and a white figure looked outside. As the bell struck twelve, the white figure closed the window, walked across the floor, and went away.
When the young master woke up the next morning, the maids told him of these events. He initially did not want to believe this, and decided to stay awake with them himself the following night. As soon as the bell struck eleven, the figure appeared again, and the young paper miller recognized his mother. At twelve o’clock, the figure threw the window shut and vanished. The next day, the old paper miller was brought to the mill. He, too, stayed awake during the night and was able to convince himself that the first two children had been killed by none other than his wife.
He thus sent out a call for discalced monks who could banish the ghost. The physician and the midwife were fetched as well, in case something happened to the mother while the ghost was to be banished from the chamber in which she was lying. The monks ordered the miller to leave everything open in the house, and he did so. However, when the guard passed by, he closed the main entrance and the window of the main chamber. First, the two monks drew three rings on the floor of the mother’s chamber. There was a young monk and an old one. The young one sat down at the bottom of the bed at a small table, took his large book, put it down before him backwards, and started to read in it. The old one stood next to him.
As the hour struck eleven, the old woman appeared at the window of the side building. When she had looked outside for a while, she closed the window and entered the main house. At the first circle, she stopped. Then the young monk asked: “Spirit, declare if you a good spirit or an evil spirit! Thus I command you to speak!” She did not reply, and he asked for a second time. But she did not answer again, and when he asked for the third time, she confronted him that he had once had stolen a penny from his mother. While he replied that he had bought paper with this money, he still had to stand up, and the old monk sat down in his place.
When he talked to the ghost, she began to shake and confessed that she could not rest, for she had not wanted his son to court his wife, and that she was guilty for the death of the two children. And if the girl hadn’t stayed awake this time, the third child would have suffered the same fate. Then the monk commanded her to leave for the Red Sea, but in answer she started to beg. She asked them to leave her a corner in the house, even if it was only a hole she could climb into. Then this monk asked her son and her husband if they would be content that she would stay within the house. These two did not want to abide by this, and said: “No, she should go to the Red Sea.” As soon as the bell struck twelve, she turned around and vanished, and left a terrible stench behind. When they went down to the main chamber where the guard had closed everything, they discovered that she had taken a panel of glass from one of the window frames with her. But from this time onward, she never reappeared again.
 This might refer to the Grand Ducal papermill at Oker (which now is the easternmost district of Goslar itself), which was founded in 1580, and was a major supplier for the assorted ducal offices as well as the (now defunct) University of Helmstedt. On the other hand, I’ve found an online post by a local historian referring to a historic paper mill in the valley of the Grane river, south of the Granestausee (barrier lake) and to the northeast of Hahnenklee, the southwesternmost borough of Goslar. Since the paper mill seems fairly affluent (two maids, a guard, and the ability to afford a town retirement home for the father), I am inclined towards the paper mill in Oker.
 The German term used here was “Wöchnerin”, which roughly translates as “week woman” - referring to the weeks after childbirth when the mother was still recovering from her ordeal.
 Monks of religious orders who either wore only sandals or walked barefooted - most likely Franciscans. The German term, “Barfüßer”, implies that they went barefooted, although this might merely be a general reference to these orders instead of actually true in the case of these specific monks.
Translation note: The German word used for the banishment process in this story was “verweisen” - roughly “telling someone to leave a certain place”. This word, in itself, does not usually have a supernatural context, although the approach in this story certainly does. “Banishing” seemed like the best fit for this context.
Commentary: “The Barber of Penzlin” was more action-packed, but this story makes up for it with details on ritual exorcism. Once the spirit shows up, the first step is the discernment - determining whether the ritualist is encountering a benevolent or a malevolent spirit. This was of vital importance, since evil spirits could appear in any guise, and thus the ritualist couldn’t determine the nature of the spirit by appearance alone (for a full discussion of this topic, I recommend the book Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits in the Early Modern Period).
Then the younger monk (the apprentice?) fails to control the spirit, as he has committed a minor sin in the past (it is not clear why "buying paper" with the stolen money should be an excuse - perhaps he needed it for his religious studies?). This is a theme we have seen before in the story “The Farmer and the Kobold”, and it shows up in other tales with malevolent spirits as well. It is unclear whether this represents the end of the younger monk’s career as an exorcist, or if he could cleanse his sin by confession and absolution.
When the actual exorcism occurs, it is clear that the goal is not sending the ghost to the actual afterlife (like a psychopomp would) - this is beyond the power of the exorcists. The monks cannot do anything about the (self-inflicted) state of purgatory the ghost is in - all they can do is to send her somewhere where she will do no harm. Like Andres in “The Barber of Penzlin”, she attempts to plead her way out of this fate - but unlike with Andres, her pleas fall on deaf ears. Which is not surprising, since she just confessed to murdering two children and the intent to kill the third one, too.
The Haunt on the Harth
There is a spirit haunting the forest of Malberg, which also called “auf der Harth” (“on the Harth”), and many people could tell of the pranks he played on them. A Capuchin monk thus led the spirit away from this spot, and to another, where he could no longer bother anyone. A woman, who was part of the procession, told the Capuchin: “Let me see the spirit.” The Capuchin replied: “Step on my right foot with your left foot, and look back over my left shoulder.” The woman did so immediately, but before the eyes of everyone present fainted, and fell down to the ground unconscious.
 The exact position is unclear to me, although by implication this probably refers to one of the hills to the northwest or northeast of the village of Malberg.
 While the spirit is referred to as male, this does actually mean that the spirit was actually gendered - the noun used in the German text (“Spukgeist” - “haunting spirit”) is gendered male by default.
 Presumably, the procession transporting the spirit.
Commentary: It is not entirely clear whether the spirit transported here was ever human to begin with - it could be a ghost, or something else entirely. Clearly, its default state seems to be invisible, while many other ghosts and spirits can be seen by ordinary people.
Unlike the ghost in the previous story, it was apparently necessary to accompany the spirit to its final destination by the monk who bound it. “Looking over someone else’s shoulder” to see something otherworldly is a narrative element that shows up in other German folklore tales from time to time, but it’s not quite clear how this works - is it part of a spell, or just a general ability of people standing on the threshold of the supernatural?