The book in my hands in the photo in the previous post is “Vorchristliche Kultrelikte im oberen Inntal” (Pre-christian cult relics in the Upper Inn Valley), Norbert Mantl, Schlern Publishing, 1967. I bought it full of hopes that I’d learn a lot of forgotten lore about the region. And, well, I did indeed learn a lot, although some of it just might be greatly exaggerated, and some of it hooey.
I’ll start with the premises I might be willing to accept, which are in fact quite interesting: the indigenous people of the Inn Valley, as others in the alpine regions, saw their gods and spirits in the sun and moon, in the mountain peaks, caves and springs, and erected stone altars on hilltops to give up offerings and prayers. There seems to have existed, maybe only in a spiritual sense, a trinity of women — the three Beten*. Their given names, Ambet, Borbet, Wilbet — are possibly still with us in the names of mountains, caves, springs and other old places (Bettelwurf, Bötlerkuche, Barwies, Wildermieming, Bötlerbrunnele, etc), the meanings of which have been lost or attached to later, revised tales about beggars (Bettlern). The legend of Frau Hitt, Mantl maintains, is very old, not about a beggar’s curse and not originally connected to the protruding rock we call that name, but with the namesake of the Heiterwand and Hötting, a mountain deity named alte Hattle.
Mantl makes some interesting leaps in connecting names with old words and meanings, assuming that the pre-indo-germanic mountain folk spoke a language of which parts have survived, in the local dialects, over the millennia. His argument is that these peoples were pushed out of the Inn Valley by a string of newcomers, including (but not limited to) the Romans, the Franks, the Baiuwarii. They headed for the hills, which kept them isolated from each other and insular in their customs, languages, (hence particular dialects) and legends.
(The idea about dialects hadn’t occurred to me before: that it’s the “old” language of the original inhabitants showing through the “new” language. As an American I had assumed that the language came first and then the regional differences, but it could be the other way around. )
This argument strikes me as plausible, although there might be a bit of wishful thinking about the good old days in there. (His chapter on architecture confused me, and the one on bells and music just had me shaking my head. I am not qualified to comment on the chapter on Fasnacht costumes and traditions.) If one is to believe that so many place names signify holy ground, the entire Inn Valley would be lousy with pre-Christian holy sites and nothing else. Mantl also covers the pre-Roman history of Bergisel, Veldidena, the Romedius legend, and the giants Haymon and Thyrsus, but curiously says not a word about either of the two known Raetian settlements, near Wattens and Birgitz (the latter, at least, was known well before the book was written) nor about the sacrificial altar at Goldbichl.
I found dangerously high levels of jumping to conclusions, which makes me want to put Mantl in the same drawer as the English blokes who insist Ötzi was killed by a meteor blast, and Hans Haid. Nevertheless he has collected a ton of very localized myths and tales here (and in other books), and has a lot of information about local culture which started disappearing by the first world war. Naturally a lot of it is concentrated on the upper Inn valley, as the title suggests; places pretty much unknown to me —Nassereith, Dormitz, Imst, the Pitztal. I should probably get up there someday. There is an local archaeology museum in Fliess…
But what would indeed be fascinating, even if not completely provable, is a connective line from three Germanic goddesses of fate to the Celtic/Roman Matrones, and the Norns, then to the three saints/three virgins, later Faith-Hope-and-Charity and, in our time, to the three ladies with strange and wondrous powers who visit Sleeping Beauty’s cradle!
*A very generous Druid in Bavaria wrote and uploaded a comprehensive piece about the Beten and their later incarnations throughout Germanic history. You can read it here.
UPDATE: that link seems to be broken. Try here. And see also here, a later post about the Beten found in Leutstetten, Bavaria