How does the Spirit move? Spirit roads

Is all discussion of spirit roads straight talking? Ulrich Magin finds traditional indications of both the straight and crooked passage of spirits


What do spirits prefer? Straight or crooked travel?

This question has led to some conflict in the discussion of leys and often to grand statements about what folklore says and what it does not say. Some even have denied that straight spirit travel actually occurs.

Yet, people unconnected with the ley hunting movement have often – as if it were common knowledge and no sources were necessary – stated flatly that spirits travel in straight lines. To give just three examples: Hermann Kern, in Labyrinthe1, says that “the labyrinth is one of the oldest apotropaic  [evil-averting: eds] symbols. This is based on the idea that evil spirits can only fly in straight lines and therefore cannot find their way in the winding labyrinth.”

This is  confirmed in an article about cart ruts in Europe that was published in an archaeological magazine. In Malta, at Naxxar Gap, a rut jumps for several inches to the side, so that a cart cannot negotiate the pair of ruts without being manually transferred from one set of ruts to the pair of ruts on the side. Archaeologists suspect that in this case the cart which was drawn in the rut was ceromonial, because the jump on the rut served to “shake off evil spirits who can only travel straight”. 2

In 2001, the New Age publisher Smaragd published a novel by the pseudonymous Evelyn Felderbach, Das verschlossene Buch. This is a fairy tale for adults based on a short story from the 1920s by Gustav Goes. In the novel, a boy is abducted by Hagan, the head of the wild hunt, probably also the Wandering Jew. The wild hunt first rides through his village, then through a dark forest. “We now rode a slightly rising mountain on a dead straight  path. It led dead straight into a bank of clouds which hung over the summit.” And on the flight of the wild hunt goes through the air. 3 I interviewed ‘Evelyn Felderbach’ (I know the author) and asked him if this motif was his own or if he had found it in the original story. He said it was not his own invention and should have been in the 1920s original. This means that there exists a broad range of sources, unconnected to the ley discussion, that simply takes it for granted that evil spirits at least move in straight lines.

However, sometimes concepts of straight travel show, upon research, to actually follow crooked ways. One of the most fascinating examples is the ‘Rodensteiner’.


A curved spirit path –

the Rodensteiner

   As far as I am aware, there have been ocasional references to the Rodensteiner in fortean and earth mysteries literature. In his chapter on phenomenal roads in Phenomena, John Michell says that the Rodensteiner Wild Hunt travels on a “straight route” between the castles Rodenstein and Schnellert, destroying everything in its path. A Mr Wirth had reported on the phenomenon in 1850 and found that the last sighting had been in June 1764. 4

Now, the Rodensteiner is one of the most famous German examples of the Wild Hunt, documented for centuries in local legal files, and made into a short story by Germany’s finest writer of the 19th century, Heinrich von
Kleist, in his newspaper Berliner Abendblätter. There are several, mainly 19th-century folk-tales to explain how the owner of Rodenstein Castle became the Wild Hunt, but we may justly assume it is in the most part a romantic
invention. From what survives these later additions, we know the Rodensteiner tore down everything in its path and dragged people on its path into the air, only to return them after a hundred years – in essence, the usual Wild Hunt/fairy encounter type stories.

From the material by John Michell and the description by Kleist, I thought that the Rodensteiner could be a further example of what in Prussia was called ‘Leichenflugbahn’, the flightpath of the corpses. Sadly, research showed the Rodensteiner does not use a straight flight path, but a slightly curved one.

Castles Rodenstein and Schnellerts are situated in the heart of the Odenwald Forest SE of Frankfurt, on opposite sides of the Gersprenz Valley. Rodenstein Castle, SW of Fränkisch-Grumbach was built at the end of the 13th century as a simple keep, but was enlarged in 1550 and left to decay in 1640. Today, only little remains, and a local society cares for the ruins. Schnellerts Castle lies NE of Fränkisch-Grumbach; little more than a few walls still stand. Local place names show clearly that the whole region is Rodensteiner country; there is a ‘Zum Wilder Jäger’ (Wild Hunt) restaurant at Nieder-Kainsbach, and several road names with Rodensteiner in it.

According to tradition, the apparition moves in stormy nights on the equinoxes and around Christmas between both castles and foretells wars.

The name Rodensteiner, however, for the phenomenon is a fairly recent one,
barely 200 years old, and the work of early folklorists. The Wild Hunt was known as the Schnellertsherr, the Master of Schnellerts Castle. In the 19th century, the Schnellertsheer was associated with the Rodensteiner, the count of Rodenstein Castle who was cursed for his evil deeds to wander forever, leading the army of the dead. It seems nothing changed much with the reformulation of the tale, but just the base of the apparition was moved from
one castle to the other. Reports of experiences had to be filed at Castle Reichelsheim since 1742, but these files were sadly lost in a bombing raid in 1944.

There are also direct experiences of the phenomenon. The last sighting of the Rodensteiner was in 1989. In autumn 1936, Emilie Schwinn, now 90 years old, was on her way home from Kirch-Beerfurth to Reichelsheim with her husband when, “as we went over the ridge between Kirch-Beerfurth and Pfaffen-Berrfurth, about midnight and dead quiet, no wind, we heard high above us in the sky a loud noise. Trample of horses’ hoofs, whinnying, the cracking of whips, the rattle of chains and the rattle of cart wheels. But there was nothing to be seen. I wanted to jump when I heard it but my husband grabbed my arm and held me tight”. It all lasted for roughly a minute, and the apparition vanished in the direction of Bockenrod, ultimately to Castle Rodenstein. There were no reports in the newspaper, and the weather office reported only a quiet and still night.

Wilhelm Ripper owns the Haal Farm at Ober-Kainsbach. The buildings are “directly on the path of the knight’s ghost, when he moves from Castle Schnellerts to Rodenstein.” While on its procession, the Wild Hunt moved
through a shed on the grounds, and through two doors in the walls. Once an owner wanted to get rid of the phenomenon by blocking the doors – the walls were torn down.

The folktales and the eyewitness reports give us several firm points which the Rodensteiner passes. The starting points are Schnellerts and Rodensteiner Castle. The Hunt moves right through the farm of Haal-Höfe at Ober-Kainsbach, and over the bridge between Kirch-Beerfurth and Pfaffen-Beerfurth. These four points are not in alignment, and even if we discount the bridge report as modern experience and take the farm only as traditional reference point, we have a winding path of the Rodensteiner. Although the tale has all the ingredients of a ghost road and spirit’s flight path, it is not straight, but in keeping with the Wild Hunt in Germany, winding and curving. 5

There is no real structural difference between a procession of the dead on stormy nights and the Wild Hunt. However, all tales of the Wild Hunt from Germany which state a certain route describe winding or curving paths, while the ghost roads are always dead straight. It seems that in folklore there was an unconscious distinction between straight and winding paths, the first ascribed to the procession of the dead, the second to the Wild Hunt.
Therefore, however unintentional, folklore terminology knew of both variants and clearly distinguished between both.


  1. Hermann Kern, Labyrinthe. Munich: Prestel 1982, p. 30, 107
  2. Georg O. Brunner, ‘Karrengeleise: ausgefahren oder handgemacht, antik oder neuzeitlich?’ Bündner Monatsblatt 4, 1999, pp. 243-263
  3. Evelyn Felderbach. Das verschlossene Buch. Woldert: Smaragd 2001, p.32-33
  4. John Michell & R.J.M. Rickard. Die Welt steckt voller Wunder. Econ: Düsseldorf 1979, p. 202

5.:  http://www.echo-omline/kultur/detail.php3?id=129493


Published in NE92, Winter 2002, p13-15