Simplicissimus and the Witches’ Dance….

Simplicissimus and the Witches’ Dance.

Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (1621 – August 17, 1676) wrote a very popular “picaresque” novel Simplicius Simplicissimus in 1669. A picaresque is a story following the adventures of a low caste heroic rogue or trickster who uses his wits to survive precarious times among a corrupt society.

Following is an excerpt in which Simplicissimus stumbles upon a witches’ dance while robbing a farmer’s larder:

During these my wanderings there met me once and again in the woods different country-folk, who at all times fled from me. I know not if the cause was that they were by reason of the war turned so timid and were so hunted, and never left in peace in one place, or whether the highwaymen had spread abroad in the land the adventure they had had with me, so that all which saw me thereafter believed the evil one was of a truth prowling about in that part. But for this reason I must needs fear lest my provisions should fail and so I be brought to the uttermost misery; for then must I begin again to eat roots and herbs, to which I was no longer accustomed. As I pondered on this I heard two men cutting of wood, which rejoiced me mightily. So I followed the sound of the blows, and when I came in sight of the men I took a handful of ducats out of my pouch and, creeping nearer to them, shewed them the alluring gold and cried, “My masters, if ye will but wait for me I will give you this handful of gold.” But as soon as they saw me and my gold, at once they took to their heels, and left their mallets and wedges together with their bag of bread and cheese; with this I filled my knapsack, and so betook myself back to the wood, doubting if in my life I should ever come to the company of men again. So after long pondering thereupon, I thought, “Who knoweth what may chance to thee? Thou hast money, and if thou comest in safety with it to honest folk, thou canst live on it a long while.” So it came into my head to sew it up; and to that end I made, out of my asses’ ears which made the folk so fly from me, two armlets, and companying my Hanau ducats with those of the banditti, I packed all together into these armlets and bound them on mine arms above the elbow. And now, as I had thus secured my treasure, I attacked the farms again, and got from them what I needed and what I could snap up. And though I was but simple, yet I was sly enough never to come a second time to a place where I had stolen anything; and therefore was I very lucky in my thefts and was never caught pilfering.

It fell out at the end of May, as I sought to replenish my store by my customary yet forbidden tricks, and to that end had crept into a farmyard, that I found my way into the kitchen, but soon perceived that there were people still awake (and here note that where dogs were I wisely stayed away); so I set the kitchen door, which opened into the yard, ajar, that if any danger threatened I could at once escape, and stayed still as a mouse till I might expect the people would go to bed. But meanwhile I took note of a crack that was in the kitchen-hatch that led to the living-room; thither I crept to see if the folk would not soon go to rest; but my hopes were deceived, for they had but now put on their clothes, and in place of a light there stood a sulphurous blue flame on a bench, by the light of which they anointed sticks, brooms, pitchforks, chairs, and benches, and on these flew out of the window one after another. At this I was horribly amazed, and felt great terror; yet, as being accustomed to greater horrors, and, moreover, in my whole life having never heard nor read of witches, I thought not much of this, and that chiefly because ’twas all so done in such stillness; but when all were gone I betook myself also to the living-room, and devising what I could take with me and where to find it, in such meditation sat me down straddle-wise upon a bench; whereon I had hardly sat down when I and the bench together flew straight out of the window, and left my gun and knapsack, which I had laid aside, as pay for that magical ointment. Now my sitting down, my departure, and my descent were all in one moment, for I came, methought, in a trice to a great crowd of people; but it may be that from fear I took no count how long I took for this long journey. These folk were dancing of a wondrous dance, the like of which I saw never in my life, for they had taken hands and formed many rings within one another, with their backs turned to each other like the pictures of the Three Graces, so that all faced outwards. The inmost ring was of some seven or eight persons; the second of as many again: the third contained more than the first two put together, and so on, so that in the outermost ring there were over two hundred persons; and because one ring danced towards the right and the next towards the left, I could not see how many rings they formed, nor what was in the midst around which they danced. Yet all looked monstrous strange, because all the heads wound in and out so comically. My bench that brought me alighted beside the minstrels which stood outside the rings all round the dancers, of which minstrels some had, instead of flutes, clarinets and shawms, nothing but adders, vipers and blind-worms, on which they blew right merrily: some had cats into whose breech they blew and fingered on the tail; which sounded like to bagpiper: others fiddled on horses’ skulls as on the finest violins, and others played the harp upon a cow’s skeleton such as lie in the slaughter-house yards: one was there, too, that had a bitch under his arm, on whose tail he fiddled and fingered on the teats; and throughout all the devils trumpeted with their noses till the whole wood resounded therewith: and when the dance was at an end, that whole hellish crew began to rave, to scream, to rage, to howl, to rant, to ramp, and to roar as they were all mad and lunatic. And now can any man think into what terror and fear I fell.

In this tumult there came to me a fellow that had under his arm a monstrous toad, full as big as a kettledrum, whose guts were dragged out through its breech and stuffed into its mouth, which looked so filthy that I was fit to vomit at it. “Lookye, Simplicissimus,” says he, “I know thou beest a good lute-player: let us hear a tune from thee.” But I was so terrified (because the rogue called me by name) that I fell flat: and with that terror I grew dumb, and fancied I lay in an evil dream, and earnestly I prayed in my heart I might awake from it. Now the fellow with the toad, whom I stared at all the time, went on thrusting his nose out and in like a turkey-cock, till at last it hit me on the breast, so that I was near choked. Then in a wink ’twas all pitch-dark, and I so dismayed at the heart that I fell on the ground and crossed myself a good hundred times or more.

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