THE Tyrolians believe in the existence of the Orco, who is accounted to be a huge and powerful mountain ghost, who never ages; he is said to reside generally in the clefts and chasms of the precipices between Enneberg Abbey and Buchenstein and the surrounding mountains. He adopts every form, and exercises his enormous strength only in destroying. Everything he does is for the terror and annoyance of mankind; he very seldom takes the human form, and when he does it is of gigantic stature, with the most malevolent, wild, and cruel expression; he is then dressed in the manner of the giants, or quite naked, but covered thickly with hair, like the coat of a bear.
The following legends, collected on the spot, give a few instances of when and where he has been seen:--
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The Innkeeper, Anton Trebo, in Enneberg, who died in the year 1853, was a firm-minded man and noted as a great quarreller; he was sharp and enterprising in his business, and laughed to scorn all his guests when they ventured to recount anything about the Orco, who was held in most terrible dread by all the inhabitants of the surrounding country. Anton Trebo used to say that he believed in no apparition from either heaven or hell.
It was in the year 1825 that he returned from the market of St. Lorenz in his cart, with his son Franz. As he arrived at the rock called “Delles Gracies” (Rock of Grace), where in the hollow niches of the rock still stand many carved wooden statues of Christ and His saints, and just as he passed by, there all at once appeared a huge monstrous black dog, which ran round his cart and horses, and looked so diabolically that even the otherwise courageous bully was almost terrified. He held the reins tightly, and said to his son, “What is the dog doing there? Drive him away.” Franz tried to frighten the brute off with stones and blows, but the dog would not move, and Trebo, becoming more and more frightened, made the sign of the cross, and all at once the dog disappeared before their eyes.
Since this adventure, the innkeeper of Enneberg, believed firmly that it had really been the Orco, and has always defended his conviction of the existence of this fearful mountain ghost. Franz has taken the place of his father, and is now innkeeper of Enneberg, where one of his brothers lives with him.
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In 1816 a brave peasant woman of Brenta, in the valley of Buchenstein, whose name was Maria Vinazzer, went with her son, who was nine years old, to meet her herd of cows which were returning from the Crontrin Alp. It was a beautiful autumn day, and they advanced the more gaily, as they were accompanied by the worthy parish singer, Lazar. As they arrived on the mountain side, all at once a wild horse trotted before them so suddenly that it appeared as though he had sprung from the ground, and wherever he trod fire played round about his heels.
Lazar, who was a courageous mountaineer, threw stones at the brute, but they rebounded from his sides, as though he had thrown them at a rock. The horse would not be driven away, and always galloped before them. On seeing this extraordinary apparition, Maria said, “This is certainly the Orco, and if he meets the herd he will surely disperse it, as he has often done, and the cows will run in all directions over the precipices and chasms.” They all three crossed themselves and repeated a prayer.
At that moment they arrived at the cross-way, called Livine, where stands a crucifix, and as the Orco approached near to it, he disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared; he neither sank into the earth, nor flew away through the air, but like a soap-bubble he vanished in an instant.
All three stood and prayed a little time before the cross, where the herd soon after gaily arrived, and the pious mother said joyfully to her son, “Look, dear child, he who is with God is everywhere safe, and no Orco or other evil spirit can harm him.”
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From the village of St. Kassian a young fellow went one evening to a distant farm to visit his sweetheart, and it was getting already dark. The youth heard several times the Orco calling out from a distance, but he paid no attention to it, and continued quietly his way. All at once he saw a little empty cart, dragged by four cats, run across the road; at this sight he was rather frightened, but still continued his way, not being able to make out what it all meant, when, on a sudden, there arrived a big black dog, with fiery lynx eyes, which grew bigger and bigger the nearer he came. “That is the Orco,” thought the boy; so he crossed himself, and ran home as fast as his legs could carry him.
The dog bounded constantly after him for about a distance of three miles, and his fiery tongue hung for more than half a yard out of his jaws. The saliva which dropped from his mouth was like blue flaming fire, and burned like sulphur, filling the air around with a suffocating smell. The boy reached home, unharmed by the dog; but he had run so hard that his lungs became diseased, and he was always suffering, till death released him a few months afterwards.
“The cats which dragged the cart over the road,” said the people who recounted this legend, “were hags, of whom there were thousands about at that time.”
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One day two young men of Ornella, in the Buchenstein valley, started on a brilliant night to pay a visit in a neighbouring village to their loves. They had scarcely left home when they noticed that they were followed by the gigantic Orco, in the form of a wild bull, who first walked quietly behind them, and then, as they began to run, changed himself into a huge ball, which rolled after them, bounding over high rocks, and alighting again on the ground close to them, with so much force and such a terrible noise that they were afraid of being crushed to death.
In their anxiety, they took the way over the meadows to the village of Valazzo, and jumping over the fence, which they had no time to open or break down, fell into the yard, at the foot of a large crucifix, which stands there, and embraced the cross, in a dying condition, with their arms. The Orco appeared at the fence, though now in human form; but the poor youths were so terrified that they dare no longer regard him, and therefore were unable to describe his appearance. He beat with his hands upon the fence-bars so furiously, that the marks of his blows remained for years afterwards, as though they had been branded in by red-hot irons, until the wood decayed and a new fencing had to be put up; but the saving cross still stands upon the same spot.
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A peasant boy of Enneberg, walking through the deep and vast forest of Plaiswald, heard from afar the voices of men shouting, and took them for woodcutters, so, according to the usage of the country, he answered them, and shouted several times just in the same tones as the voices he had heard. But then the horrible idea rushed into his mind that it might have been the Orco, and, at the same instant, he heard it quite close, for if one imitates the Orco, the monster arrives as fast as lightning. The youth tried to run away, but he felt as though petrified; all around him became darkness, and he fell senseless to the ground.
On the following day, when he came to himself, he discovered that he was in the forests of Wellschellen, on the highest peak of the mountain, and it became clear to him that the Orco had carried him there, although the forests of Wellschellen were on the other side of terrifically deep chasms and precipices, into which the Orco would most certainly have thrown him, had the peasant boy been a godless fellow. He returned home, covered with bruises and scratches, for Orco had torn him in such a terrible manner that to the end of his days he never attempted again to imitate the voice of any one in the forests. The way over which the Orco dragged the peasant is a good seven miles.