Death and his Horse on Mt. Napf


As children we all believed that death had his horse stable just under the top of Mt. Napf. At that time the picture of a death angel riding on a horse with rattling bones, dried out skin and rough hair hang in churches, chapels and even most houses; you could see this death-horse as a painting on small shrines at road crossings and even at the entrance of mountain valleys. Mostly it had a Latin inscription, although nobody knew Latin, but everybody understood MEMENTO MORI - be aware of your death.

Mt.Napf was the place where storm and thundering came from, where a tempest was brewed up like in old myths and legends. Napf meant for us really the steampot, a boiling pot with a lot of steam that left as mist and formed itself into thousand and thousand of variations of clouds. We were told that when we look long enough into such a brew we would see the horseman. But nobody wanted that because seeing death meant your own death. But there were different days and orders so that at certain days the clouds were the games of gnomes and fairies; and only on really bad days reserved for devils and the death. And then it was also mischief below the top in the shaking forests - dark and cold. When you yourself began to feel chilly and started also shivering you better turned away from looking up the Napf.

Some people could forsee the death-horse and the angels death-stroke. It was like clear voyance. We called it announcement: the person who was supposed to die that day would his or her death announce to you who were specially linked with or knitted to that person. Some pot broke without cause or your interference; some objects were suddenly moved without any wind or draught; or some vision went like a lightening through your body. Then this person knew: someone has announced death to me. And that was final and defintive; not even prayers would have avoided the fate. You just guessed and let it happen. And when the death message came this person had a special responsability to put everything in order with the burial and the church. The announcement was apparently a last chance for a dying person to oblige a person alive in an obsessive way with the duty never to forget her or him. It was particular that mostly women around 45 and girls in puberty experienced announcements.

Men would look up to Mt.Napf for practical reasons. How would the weather be tomorrow? Should they cut grass to make hay? From where is the wind blowing? Should apples and pears be harvested now or would some further late sun still put some force into the future schnapps The rest of the world and the problems they would speculate around a coffee schnaps by looking through the glass. In such a situation they were never afraid to face death as long as they had a coffee schnapps in their hands. As a child I got first struck by this death-horse that could ride through all walls and rooms when our maid came running one morning from the living room to the kitchen where we usually stayed when in the house. She was cleaning and dusting the living room when she suddenly smelt pitch and sulphur. She came shocked and as white as a sheet to us and cried: "The devil and his horse just rode through our living room. It smells like in hell." All went to take a smell. And true enough it smelt nauseating as sulphur. Mother went with all of us children back to the kitchen and started to pray with us Ave Marias saying thank that death didn't strike us. In the afternoon a neighbour died. The death-horse had taken a short-cut through our house.

Few years later my younger sister Julia, about 11 at that time, came frightened and said: "I have seen the death-horse disappearing around the corner." "Nonsense!" mother tried to make her quiet. "You can't see the death-horse with the angel. It was just some dust in the wind. And don't say such things," she warned. Again in the afternoon died our neigbour's grandfather. Thanks God, it was not our grandfather.

Every evening in winter time after supper and before going to bed we would recite a rosary. One day in the midst the cross hanging firmly fixed on the wooden wall ever since I remembered fall down and in such a way that mother said spontanously: "That was an announcement!" She was absoluty sure and convinced and I had seldom seen her so self secure. But the other day there was no death reported from our and the neighbouring villages. "False alarm," father teased mother. But she was stern and would not admit a joke. Few days later even father would not joke any longer. A message was received reading that one of father's best friends found his death in the mountains where he was keeping and feeding cattle even in winter time. From then on and ever since father was convinced that his friend fall down an icy slippery way and over a rock exactly when the cross in our house fall from the wall.

One beautiful summer day during the war the empty cider bottle that stood on the kitchen table got suddenly a split from top to bottom but without falling apart. Mother was alone in the kitchen. We children were all with father on the fields. When we returned we all could see the fissure. It was a doomy mood. Whenever we heard a noise we thought someone would come and announce death. Because this time all were convinced that was an announcement. But no death news arrived in the next few days and weeks. Father said: "It must have been the tension from the bombing along our border." And then it was forgotten. About half a year later mother got a letter from America. She had been in contact with the mother of a family that had long ago migrated to the States. Once a year around Christmas mother always wrote a letter to the old Mrs. Linder. In return she got a German magazine called HAUSFRAU (=housewife) which father and mother liked so much because of the moving stories. The letter was written this time by the daughter who announced her mother's death. And it was exactly the date when our cider bottle got a stroke.

Today people still die, but nobody speaks of the horse with the death angle. Mt. Napf still steams and creates clouds but people can't see any longer devil and death, gnomes and ghosts at work. And land reform had removed the MEMENTO MORI shrines. At the entrance to our valleys there is just a sober warning BE AWARE OF STONEFALLS or for winter time BE BEWARE OF AVALANCHES. Nobody talks of death angels riding in a cars since the horse is gone.

Just dry news of death and death. Warning yes, but no anouncements. No stories any longer. No sentiments because the close knitting of togetherness doesn't exist any longer. The only thing similar event to this former announcement is the sudden end of a fuse. But between men today there is not any longer an electrical field. All are just single, lonely parts. That`s all.




Al Imfeld©, 19.9.90