The High Devil: A Race Against a Nightmare

Updated on December 13, 2016
Eva Weggelaar profile image

Eva Weggelaar is a writer and translator, especially interested in poetry and folklore. She also runs her own blog: Paradise is this Way.

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Delivering Wood

Once there was a farmer from Nunspeet who went to Wiesel for wood; but when he had loaded the wagon high, his horse couldn’t go forward and he learned that the animal had fallen ill. So it happened that he left his horse in Wiesel and went to fetch a vet, after he had asked a neighbouring farmer to bring the wagonload of wood to Nunspeet for him. This farmer sent his apprentice and his horse. The lad put the black in the traces and drove off. The sun was burning brightly and the glow of the shivering afternoon heat hung over the moor. In that manner, he travelled to Nunspeet.

By the time he turned homewards on the loose horse, the flaming torches of the sun had long been extinguished and even the red fires of the evening’s afterglow had stopped smouldering.
A single star twinkled among a few tender night-clouds.
Silence reigned everywhere. The villages and neighbourhoods he rode through were already lying asleep against the hillsides.
The pounding of the hooves shattered the silence and in the forest the cry of the woodcock1 rang out, ‘cree-u, ‘c cree-u’. The farmer’s lad heard it, but he was a reckless young man and he yelled back, so that the sleeping echoes were startled awake.

The Evil Osschaert

Deep in the night he finally reached the High Devil. He recalled the tales he’d heard about the evil spirit Osschaert2, who lived there and had tormented the entire area, until the holy hermit who lived near the Uddeler-lake had cast the plague out, containing him on the High Devil, where he had to remain for nine and ninety years.
The farmer whom the lad served had sometimes heard the evil Osschaert snoring in the bushes, and seen a blue light shine on the High Devil. And the neighbour had once shouted there, in mockery:
‘Grab me, grab me anyhow,
if you want me, grab me now.’
Then a large black monster had jumped on him, weighing him down and digging its claws in his back, until he thought he would die. He had kept on walking with the last strength born of despair, until the monster had suddenly let him go, unable to stray any farther from the High Devil.

The apprentice didn’t believe a word of those stories, and had laughed at them. Now that he was riding up the mountain, he wanted to see how much truth those foolish tales held. Even if something should happen, it still wouldn’t matter. As soon as he reached the opposite foot of the mountain, the plague would have to let him go.
When he came to the top of the mountain, he called out with all his might:
‘Grab me, grab me anyhow,
if you want me, grab me now...’

A flame rose up from the mountain, a thundering blow followed. The horse bucked, so that the young man would have fallen if he hadn’t been such a good horseman.
At the same time the lad saw a large black monster come towards him from behind, grabbing at him with fiery claws. He spurred his horse into a trot and with the ears in the neck the animal stormed down the hill with its rider. The evil Osschaert was left behind.

A Terrible Ride

The adventure had scared the rider, but, considering himself safe now he’d reached the oak at the foot of the mountain, he turned the horse and mockingly laughed at the plague.

There the spirit howled in anger, the sound ringing through the forest, which grows on both sides of the road and is called the Red Hedge, and a number of werewolves with green-glowing eyes appeared. Now the time for laughter was over and the reckless lad became very frightened.

The timid horse stormed over the road like a whirlwind; its head outstretched, its nostrils trembling in fear, the gallop of its hooves dislodging boulders and earth.
It became a devilish race between life and death.
With dizzying speed the horse dragged its rider past branches and bushes and still the man urged it to ride faster, at the same time terrified that the animal would exhaust its strength before they reached the end of the road.

The werewolves howled at his heels like a made terror; but the swift black finally won some distance from the pursuers, which bayed terribly and followed the rider at an ever faster pace.
Now the horse threatened to fall down from exhaustion. It kept stumbling, but still raced on.
In the distance the rider could see the safe homestead, but the werewolves were winning. He could hear their cries, nearer and nearer, and for the last time he urged on his faithful black.
The animal stumbled, tripped again; the rider still held on. The branches whipped his face.
In a mad rush they rode into the yard and with its last strength the stout animal carried him into the stable. It was just in time.

The Nightmare's Revenge

When the lad shut the large stable doors and bolted them, the ghostly wolves were only two yards away. He heard them howl with regret outside.
The shivering horse looked around with wild eyes, as if it didn’t recognise its own stable, and was so wet with sweat that it looked as if it had just come out of the water.
The lad kindly patted the animal on the neck in gratitude, took good care of it, and then went to bed.

But the next day the farmer found his Black lying dead in the hay.
That night, when everyone had been asleep, the nightmare had managed to enter the stable to avenge itself on the innocent animal, despite the horsehead on the roof3.
The farmer broke out in a mad fury when the apprentice told him about the terrible ride and fired him on the spot.

From Legends of the Veluwe/Veluwsche Sagen by Gust van de Wall Perné, published in 1910-1912 by Scheltens & Giltay and translated by Eva Weggelaar

John Atkinson Grimshaw
John Atkinson Grimshaw

Footnotes

1. Poetical name for a tawny owl.
2. Osschaert (also known as Oessaart, Oschaert, Osgaard, Osschaart, Oeschaart and Griepke) is a water spirit that could change itself into an animal, usually a dog, rabbit, horse or donkey. Also described as a bull with a human head, dragging heavy chains. It jumped on the back of travellers, riding them to death and abusing them, and threw drunks into the water. The being was able to make itself look huge. People gave it fish as an offering to ensure a good catch. His origins lie in Belgium, but tales about him can also be found in Zeeland and the Veluwe.
3. In the old days, one could often see the skull of a horse on the roofs of farms and homesteads. People believed it kept away the nightmare. They thought that at night, old shrews were able to change themselves into a nightmare or mare, an evil ghostly creature that roamed around, harming people, animals and even plants, or entering the stable at night to ride the horses to death.

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