Frau Gauden - Leader of the Wild Hunt

Modern media portrayals of the Wild Hunt have a fairly consistent portrayal - a huntsman on his steed, surrounded by his hounds. But when you actually start looking into European folk tales of "Wild Hunt"-type phenomena, you quickly notice that the portrayal is rather more diverse than you'd think. Here is one of my favorite examples:

Frau Gauden

There once was a rich and lofty woman by the name of “Frau Gauden”. She was such a passionate huntress that she did not restrain herself from saying these sinful words: The hunt was better than Heaven, and as long as she was able to hunt for all eternity she would never want to enter Heaven. Frau Gauden had twenty-four daughters, and all of them shared the same desire. Once, when mother and daughters again hunted through forests and fields in wild abandon, their joy reached its highest pinnacle and once again the reprobate words left their lips: “The hunt is better than Heaven, and as long as we are able to hunt for all eternity we never want to enter Heaven.”

And behold: Before the eyes of the mother the beautiful clothes of the daughters transformed into shaggy hair, the arms into legs, the human forms into those of animals and - twenty-four she-dogs barked around the hunting wagon of the shocked mother. Four of them took over the role of the horses, and the others roamed around the wagon as hunting dogs. Then the wild hunting party soared forth into the clouds and then, just as they wished, they hunted without end between the sky and the earth, from one day to the next and from one year to the next. But they have long since tired of their wild chase and now regretfully bemoan their sacrilegious wish. Especially the mother grieved not only for her own sad fate, but also that of her unfortunate daughters. But they all must bear their self-inflicted fate until the hour of their salvation. Until then, they may only make their wailing heard before the children of man.

For this reason Frau Gauden steers her wagon to the homes of humans during the Twelve Nights of Christmas, for at other times we children of men cannot perceive her activities. She favors traveling through the streets of the village during Christmas Night and New Year’s Eve, and wherever she finds the door of a house open, she sends one one of her companions into it. A small dog now wags at the inhabitants of the house the next morning and harms no one other than disturbing the peace of the night through its whining. It can neither be calmed nor chased away. If it is killed, it transforms into a stone during the day which, if thrown away, is returned to the house by an invisible force and transforms into a dog again during the night. But now this reanimated dog retaliates by whining throughout the entire year and bringing disease and death over people and animals of the house alike as well as the risk of a fire. Only with the return of the Twelve Nights will peace return to the house, if it has evaded complete doom until then.

Those who do not wish to host such an eerie guest in their house take care to carefully lock the main entrance of their homes during the Twelve Nights. Careless people sometimes neglect to do this, and it is thus their own fault that Frau Gauden pays them a visit. This happened to the grandparents of domestic servants currently living in Bresegard. They were even so foolish to kill the small dog of Frau Gauden, and in return there were neither good tidings nor fortune in the house until the house itself went up in flames. Those who performed a service to Frau Gauden were more fortunate. Occasionally she loses her way in the dark of night and happens upon a crossroads. Crossroads are a bane to her, and every time she comes across one something on her wagon breaks that she is unable to repair by herself. She once visited a farmhand lying in his bed at his farm, woke him up, and pleaded for his assistance in her emergency. The farmhand let himself be persuaded, followed her to the crossroads, and discovered that one of the wheels had fallen off her wagon. He quickly restored the vehicle to motion, and as thanks for his labors she commanded him to gather all the dog droppings into his pocket that her companions had left during her stay on the crossroads. The farmhand was annoyed about such a proposal, but let himself be persuaded when assured that this gift would not be so worthless to himself as he surmised. Both disbelieving and curious he took several droppings with him. And to his considerable astonishment the pickings had turned into gold the next morning. Now he regretted deeply that he only took a few dog droppings with him, instead of all of them, for during the day there was not a trace to be found of the riches he had left behind.

Another time Frau Gauden rewarded a man in Conow who set a new drawbar into her wagon, and at another time still she rewarded a woman in Göhren who carved a new whippletree for her wagon. Both received all the wood shavings which fell down from the drawbar and the whippletree, which turned into pure, splendid gold. Furthermore, Frau Gauden also loves children and at times showers them with gifts. For this reason, children sing the following verse when playing “Frau Gauden”:

“Frau Gauden gave me a little lamb,
with it I shall live in happiness.”

Nowadays she no longer favors anyone in this area but has completely turned away from us for the following reason: Neglectful people near Semmerin once left their front door wide open during New Year’s Eve. For this reason they discovered a small black dog lying down on their fireplace which tormented the ears of the residents with its wailing. Thus they desperately needed good advice on how to get this unwelcome guest out of their house. And indeed they found advice from a wise woman who was well-versed in secret arts. She told them that all home-brewed beer should be brewed through an eggshell. So they did - an eggshell was placed into the bunghole of the brew kettle, and as soon as the unfermented beer had run through it, Frau Gauden’s little dog rose up and spoke with clear and understandable voice:

“I am as old
as Bohemian gold,
but I never dared in my life
to brew beer through an eggshell.”

And as soon as it had said that it vanished, and since that time nobody in this region has seen either Frau Gauden or her dogs.

Source: Bartsch, K. Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Mecklenburg, 1879. p. 20f.

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