Underground People Disturbed
by Farm or Household Waste

Migratory Legends of Christiansen Type 5075

edited and/or translated by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2008-2019


  1. Raginal (Denmark).

  2. The Young Lady of Hellerup (Sweden).

  3. Sir Godfrey Macculloch and the Fairies (Scotland).

  4. The Tulman (Scotland).

  5. Why Deunant Has the Front Door in the Back (Wales).

  6. Why the Back Door Was Front (Wales).

  7. The Underground People in Stocksee (Germany).

  8. The Stallion and the Underground People (Germany).

  9. Underground People beneath the Horse Stall (Germany).

  10. The Underground People (Germany).

  11. A Horse Stall Is Moved (Germany).

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A farmer fell into poverty because he could not keep any cows in his stalls, the necks of all having been broken one after another. He therefore left the farm, which was sold to another. When the new proprietor came into the cowshed one evening and saw that everything was in a dubious state, he exclaimed, "Good evening, Raginal!"

Whereupon a voice answered, "What? Do you know me?"

"Yes, I have known you for many a year!"

"If," said the troll, who dwelled beneath, "you will move your cowshed to some other place, you shall become a wealthy man. I have my habitation under the cows, and their filth falls down on my table every day, so that I have been obliged to break their necks."

The man removed the cowshed, and thrived from that time.

The Young Lady of Hellerup


Upon the estate of Hellerup, in the parish of Ljungby, there lived, many years ago, a gentleman of rank, who had a daughter renowned for her gentleness as well as for her beauty and intelligence. One night, while lying awake in her bed, watching the moonbeams dancing upon her chamber floor, her door was opened and a little fairy, clad in a gray jacket and red cap, tripped lightly in and toward her bed.

"Do not be afraid, gracious lady!" said he, and looked her in the eye in a friendly manner. "I have come to ask a favor from you."

"Willingly, if I can," answered the young lady, who began to recover from her fear.

"Oh! it will not be difficult," said the fairy. "I and mine have, for many years, lived under the floor in the kitchen, just where the water tank stands, which has become old and leaky, so that we are continually annoyed by the dripping of water, and the maids spill water upon the floor, which drips through, so that it is never dry in our home."

"That shall be seen to in the morning," promised the lady, and the fairy, making an elegant bow, disappeared as noiselessly as he came.

The next day, at the girl's request, the cask was moved, and the gratitude of the fairies was soon manifested. Never thereafter was a glass or plate broken, and if the servants had work to do that required early rising, they were always awake at the appointed hour.

Sometime later the fairy again stood at the young lady's bedside.

"Now I have another request which, in your generosity, you will certainly not refuse to grant."

"What is it, then?" asked the young lady.

"That you will honor me and my house, and tonight stand at the christening of my newly born daughter."

The young lady arose and clad herself, and followed her unknown conductor through many passages and rooms which she had never before been aware existed, until she finally came to the kitchen. Here she found a host of small folk and priest and father, whereupon the little child was baptized in the usual Christian manner.

When the young lady was about to go the fairy begged permission to put a memento in her apron.

Though what she received looked like a stick and some shavings, she appeared very thankful, and was conducted again through the winding passages back to her room.

Just as the fairy stood ready to leave her, he said, "If we should meet again, and that is probable, bear well in mind not to laugh at me or any of mine. We esteem you for your modesty and goodness, but if you laugh at us, we shall never see each other again." With these words he left the room.

When he had gone the young woman threw her present into the stove and laid herself down to sleep, and the following morning, when the maid went to build the fire, she found in the ashes jewelry of the purest gold and finest workmanship, such as had never before been seen.

Some years later the young woman was about to marry, and preparations were made for a day of pomp and splendor. For many weeks there was great bustle in the kitchen and bridal chamber. During the day all was quiet under the floor in the kitchen, but through the night one who slept lightly could hear the sounds of work as through the day. At length the wedding hour arrived.

Decked with laurels and crown, the bride was conducted to the hall where the guests were gathered. During the ceremonies she chanced to cast a glance toward the fireplace in the corner of the hall, where she saw the fairies gathered for a like feast. The bridegroom was a little fairy and the bride her goddaughter, and everything was conducted in the same manner as in the hall.

None of the guests saw what was going on in their vicinity, but it was observed that the bride could not take her eyes from the fireplace. Later in the evening, when she again saw the strange bridal feast, she saw one of the fairies who was acting as waiter stumble and fall over a twig. Unmindful of the caution she had received, she burst out into a hearty laugh. Instantly the scene vanished, and from that time no fairies have been seen at Hellerup.

Sir Godfrey Macculloch and the Fairies


The Scottish Fairies, in like manner, sometimes reside in subterranean abodes, in the vicinity of human habitations, or, according to the popular phrase, under the "door-stane," or threshold; in which situation, they sometimes establish an intercourse with men, by borrowing and lending, and other kindly offices. In this capacity they are termed "the good neighbors," from supplying privately the wants of their friends, and assisting them in all their transactions, while their favors are concealed. Of this the traditionary story of Sir Godfrey Macculloch forms a curious example.

As this Gallovidian gentleman was taking the air on horseback, near his own house, he was suddenly accosted by a little old man, arrayed in green, and mounted upon a white palfrey. After mutual salutation, the old man gave Sir Godfrey to understand, that he resided under his habitation, and that he had great reason to complain of the direction of a drain, or common sewer, which emptied itself directly into his chamber of dais.*

Sir Godfrey Macculloch was a good deal startled at this extraordinary complaint; but, guessing the nature of the being he had to deal with, he assured the old man, with great courtesy, that the direction of the drain should be altered; and caused it to be done accordingly.

Many years afterwards, Sir Godfrey had the misfortune to kill, in a fray, a gentleman of the neighborhood. He was apprehended, tried, and condemned.† The scaffold, upon which his head was to be struck off, was erected on the Castle-Hill of Edinburgh; but hardly had he reached the fatal spot, when the old man, upon his white palfrey, pressed through the crowd, with the rapidity of lightning. Sir Godfrey, at his command, sprung on behind him ; the "good neighbor" spurred his horse down the steep bank, and neither he nor the criminal were ever again seen.

The Tulman


There was a woman in Baile Thangusdail, and she was out seeking a couple of calves; and the night and lateness caught her, and there came rain and tempest, and she was seeking shelter. She went to a knoll with the couple of calves, and she was striking a tether-peg into it. The knoll opened. She heard a gleegashing as if a pot-hook were clashing beside a pot. She took wonder, and she stopped striking the tether-peg.

A woman put out her head and all above her middle, and she said, "What business hast thou to be troubling this tulman in which I make my dwelling?"

"I am taking care of this couple of calves, and I am but weak. Where shall I go with them?"

"Thou shalt go with them to that breast down yonder. Thou wilt see a tuft of grass. If thy couple of calves eat that tuft of grass, thou wilt not be a day without a milk cow as long as thou art alive, because thou hast taken my counsel."

As she said, she never was without a milk cow after that, and she was alive fourscore and fifteen years after the night that was there.

Why Deunant Has the Front Door in the Back


The cattle of the farmer living at Deunant, close to Aberdaron, were grievously afflicted with the "short disease," which is the malady known in English as the black quarter. Naturally, he thought they were bewitched. Old Beti'r Bont, whose character was by no means above suspicion -- she was thought to earn her living by stealing babies for the fairies -- had called at Deunant when they were feathering geese and had begged much for one, but she had been refused, and the farmer concluded she was taking her revenge by harassing his stock. So he went to old Beti and told her that he would tie her hands and feet and throw her into a river unless she removed the charm. She vehemently denied possessing any magical powers, and repeated the Lord's Prayer correctly in proof of her innocence. The farmer was not altogether convinced even by this, and made her say, "Rhad Duw ar y da," "God's blessing be on the cattle." Now, if this is spoken over bewitched animals, they are always freed from their disease, but the farmer's stock was no better even after his invocation, and he was at his wits' end.

One night before going to bed he was standing a few steps in front of his house, meditating over his trouble. "I cannot imagine why the cattle do not get better," said he out loud to himself.

"I will tell you," said a squeaky little voice close by him. The farmer turned in the direction of the sound and saw a tiny little man, looking very angrily at him. "It is," continued the manikin, "because your family keeps on annoying mine so much."

"How is that?" asked the farmer, surprised and puzzled.

"They are always throwing the slops from your house down the chimney of my house," said the little man.

"That cannot be," retorted the farmer. "There is no house within a mile of mine."

"Put your foot on mine," said the small stranger, "and you will see that what I say is true."

The farmer, complying, put his foot on the other's foot, and he could clearly see that all the slops thrown out of his house went down the chimney of the other's house, which stood far below in a street he had never seen before. Directly he took his foot off the other's, however, there was no sign of house or chimney. "Well, indeed, I am very sorry," said the farmer. "What can I do to make up for the annoyance which my family has caused you?"

The tiny little man was satisfied by the farmer's apology, and he said, "You had better wall up the door on this side of your house and make another in the other side. If you do that, your slops will no longer be a nuisance to my family and myself." Having said this he vanished in the dusk of the night.

The farmer obeyed, and his cattle recovered. Ever after he was a most prosperous man, and nobody was so successful as he in rearing stock in all Lleyn. Unless they have pulled it down to build a new one, you can see the house with the front door at the back.

Why the Back Door Was Front


In the days when were no books, or writing, and folk tales were the only ones told, there was an old woman, who had a bad reputation. She pretended to be very poor, so as not to attract or tempt robbers. Yet those who knew her best, knew also, as a subject of common talk, that she was always counting out her coins.

Besides this, she lived in a nice house, and it was believed that she made a living by stealing babies out of their cradles to sell to the bad fairies.

It was matter of rumor that she would, for an extra large sum, take a wicked fairy's ugly brat, and put it in place of a mother's darling.

In addition to these horrid charges against her, it was rumored that she laid a spell, or charm, on the cattle of people whom she did not like, in order to take revenge on them.

The old woman denied all this, and declared it was only silly gossip of envious people who wanted her money. She lived so comfortably, she averred, because her son, who was a stone mason, who made much money by building chimneys, which had then first come into fashion. When he brought to her the profits of his jobs, she counted the coins, and because of this, some people were jealous, and told bad stories about her. She declared she was thrifty, but neither a miser, nor a kidnaper, nor a witch.

One day, this old woman wanted more feathers to stuff into her bed, to make it softer and feel pleasanter for her old bones to rest upon, for what she slept on was nearly worn through. So she went to a farm, where they were plucking geese, and asked for a few handfuls of feathers.

But the rich farmer's people refused and ordered her out of the farm yard.

Shortly after this event, the cows of this farmer, who was opposed to chimneys, and did not like her or her son, suffered dreadfully from the disease called the black quarter. As they had no horse doctors or professors of animal economy, or veterinaries in those days, many of the cows died. The rich farmer lost much money, for he had now no milk or beef to sell. At once, he suspected that his cattle were bewitched, and that the old woman had cast a spell on them. In those days, it was very easy to think so.

So the angry man went one day to the old crone, when she was alone, and her stout son was away on a distant job. He told her to remove the charm, which she had laid on his beasts, or he would tie her arms and legs together, and pitch her into the river.

The old woman denied vehemently that she possessed any such powers, or had ever practiced such black arts.

To make sure of it, the farmer made her say out loud, "The Blessing of God be upon your cattle!" To clinch the matter, he compelled her to repeat the Lord's Prayer, which she was able to do, without missing one syllable. She used the form of words which are not found in the prayer book, but are in the Bible, and was very earnest, when she prayed "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."

But after all that trouble, and the rough way which the rich farmer took to save his cattle, his efforts were in vain. In spite of that kind of religion which he professed -- which was shown by bullying a poor old woman -- his cattle were still sick, with no sign of improvement. He was at his wits' end to know what to do next.

Now, as we have said, this was about the time that chimneys came into fashion. In very old days, the Cymric house was a round hut, with a thatched roof, without glass windows, and the smoke got out through the door and holes in the walls, in the best way it could. The only tapestry in the hut was in the shape of long festoons of soot, that hung from the roof or rafters. These, when the wind blew, or the fire was lively, would swing or dance or whirl, and often fall on the heads, or into the food, while the folks were eating. When the children cried, or made wry faces at the black stuff, their daddy only laughed, and said it was healthy, or was for good luck.

But by and by, the carpenters and masons made much improvement, especially when, instead of flint hatchets, they had iron axes and tools. Then they hewed down trees, that had thick cross branches and set up columns in the center, and made timber walls and rafters. Then the house was square or oblong. In other words, the Cymric folks squared the circle.

Now they began to have lattices, and, much later, even glass windows. They removed the fireplace from the middle of the floor and set it at the end of the house, opposite the door, and built chimneys.

Then they set the beds at the side, and made sleeping rooms. This was done by stretching curtains between partitions. They had also a loft, in which to keep odds and ends. They hung up the bacon and hams, and strings of onions, and made a mantle piece over the fireplace. They even began to decorate the walls with pictures and to set pewter dishes, china cats, and Dresden shepherds in rows on the shelves for ornaments.

Now people wore shoes and the floor, instead of being muddy, or dusty, with pools and puddles of water in the time of rainy weather and with the pigs and chickens running in and out, was of clay, beaten down flat and hard, and neatly whitewashed at the edges. Outside, in front, were laid nice flat flagstones, that made a pleasant path to the front door. Flowers, inside and out, added to the beauty of the home and made perfume for those who loved them.

The rich farmer had just left his old round hut and now lived in one of the new and better kind of houses. He was very proud of his chimney, which he had built higher than any of his neighbors, but he could not be happy, while so many of his cows were sick or dying. Besides, he was envious of other people's prosperity and cared nothing, when they, too, suffered.

One night, while he was standing in front of his fine house and wondering why he must be vexed with so many troubles, he talked to himself and, speaking out loud, said, "Why don't my cows get well?"

"I'll tell you," said a voice behind him. It seemed half way between a squeak and a growl.

He turned round and there he saw a little, angry man. He was dressed in red, and stood hardly as high as the farmer's knee. The little old man glared at the big fellow and cried out in a high tone of voice, "You must change your habits of disposing of your garbage, for other people have chimneys besides you."

"What has that to do with sickness among my cows?"

"Much indeed. Your family is the cause of your troubles, for they throw all their slops down my chimney and put out my fire."

The farmer was puzzled beyond the telling, for he owned all the land within a mile, and knew of no house in sight.

"Put your foot on mine, and then you will have the power of vision, to see clearly."

The farmer's big boot was at once placed on the little man's slipper, and when he looked down he almost laughed at the contrast in size. What was his real surprise, when he saw that the slops thrown out of his house, did actually fall down; and, besides, the contents of the full bucket, when emptied, kept on dripping into the chimney of a house which stood far below, but which he had never seen before.

But as soon as he took his foot off that of the tiny little man, he saw nothing. Everything like a building vanished as in a dream.

"I see that my family have done wrong and injured yours. Pray forgive me. I'll do what I can to make amends for it."

"It's no matter now, if you only do as I ask you. Shut up your front door, build a wall in its place, and then my family will not suffer from yours."

The rich farmer thought all this was very funny, and he had a hearty laugh over it all.

Yet he did exactly as the little man in the red cloak had so politely asked him. He walled up the old door at the front, and built another at the back of the house, which opened out into the garden. Then he made the path, on which to go in from the roadway to the threshold, around the corners and over a longer line of flagstones. Then he removed the fireplace and chimney to what had been the front side of the house, but was now the back. For the next thing, he had a copper doorsill nailed down, which his housemaid polished, until it shone as bright as gold.

Yet long before this, his cows had got well, and they now gave more and richer milk than ever. He became the wealthiest man in the district. His children all grew up to be fine looking men and women. His grandsons were famous engineers and introduced paving and drainage in the towns so that today, for both man and beast, Wales is one of the healthiest of countries.

The Underground People in Stocksee


There are no longer any underground people; the wild huntsman would not leave them in peace. Finally they engaged a ferryman in Lübek to take them across the great water (the Baltic). One of them made the arrangements, and before the ferryman knew what was happening his entire ship was overloaded with underground people, for all of them wanted to go. They paid very well, and the man's family still has wealth from that time.

When they were still active here at a certain house in Stocksee no one could raise calves to maturity. They always died in their first days. Then once, after they had lost another one, a tiny little woman appeared to them and said, "People, you cannot raise calves here, because my bed is directly beneath their stall. Whenever its manure drips down, the calf has to die."

Then the people moved the stall and the misfortune ceased.

The Stallion and the Underground People


In the vicinity of Neustadt-Gödens there was a peasant who had a stallion that he had brought in from the marshland for breeding. He put him into the stall.

One day his wife was alone in the house when suddenly an underground man came forth and said that they could not stand it any longer with the stallion above them. Its place was right over their quarters, and he was dropping filth onto them in the most disgusting manner. Therefore she should see to it that he be taken away, otherwise bad things would happen to her.

After saying this, he disappeared.

In all haste the people moved the stallion to a different stall.

  • Source: Adalbert Kuhn and Wilhelm Schwartz, "Der Hengst und die Unterirdischen," Norddeutsche Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Meklenburg [Mecklenburg], Pommern, der Mark, Sachsen, Thüringen, Braunschweig, Hannover, Oldenburg und Westfalen (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1848), no. 329, p. 293.

  • Return to the table of contents.

    Underground People beneath the Horse Stall


    Oral, from Bergkirchen

    The chief steward of a farm in the vicinity of Bergkirchen had been plagued with misfortune for some time. Many horses were dying, and no one knew why. One day his wife was standing at the hearth baking a pancake when a little man approached her and said that their horse stall, which was directly above the dwelling of the underground people, was causing the misfortune. If they would move it, everything would go well with them.

    The chief steward immediately moved the horses to another location. To thank him, the underground people invited him to stand as godparent [for one of their children]. Arriving underground, he was shown the place where the drippings from his manure pile formerly had fallen onto their table, and they thanked him that he now had moved it.

    In parting they gave him a few handfuls of floor sweepings. When he returned above ground they turned into pure gold.

    The Underground People


    On a farm at Dankmarkshausen the horses were dying, one after another, and no one knew why.

    Then it happened that late one evening the owner was walking across the kitchen floor when he saw a faint light and heard soft voices coming from beneath an upside-down tub. He saw that four underground people were there, kneading dough that had been left out overnight to rise.

    One said to the others: "Knead away; knead away."

    Seeing that they had been discovered, they did not flee, but instead addressed the farmer who was observing the little men with amazement: "Since you are here, we want to tell you why your horses are dying. We live beneath your stall, and we cannot stand your animals. Put them someplace else, and they no longer will be harmed."

    The farmer did what they told him to do, and from that time onward none of his horses died.

    There is an excellent horse stall at the castle in Gerstungen. But no horses can be held there, not even if they are tied up with double chains. Horses brought inside tear everything apart. They foam, go crazy, and kick about until they are taken out.

    It is said that underground people live beneath the stall, and that the horses hate them as much as they hate the horses.

    A Horse Stall Is Moved


    An Old Man's Tale

    In olden times there were dwarfs in Hagenburg on Lake Steinhudersee. They lived near a man who had his horse stall directly above their dwelling. One day they came to him and asked him to take his horses away, because "their manure falls onto our heads." Furthermore, they said that if he would do so his horses would thrive. The man did this, and afterward his horses were the best ones in all of Hagenburg. He prospered and became a wealthy man.

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    Revised November 16, 2019.