Swiss folklore describes a collection of local stories, celebrations, and customs of the alpine and sub-alpine peoples that occupy Switzerland. The country of Switzerland is made up of several distinct cultures including German, French, Italian, as well as the Romansh speaking population of Graubünden. Each group has its own unique folkloric tradition.
Switzerland has always occupied a crossroads of Europe. While Switzerland has existed as an alliance and country since 1291, the Swiss as a culture and people existed well before this time. Before the Swiss, the region was occupied by Pagan and later Christian Germanic tribes which would become the Swiss. Before the Germanic peoples, the region was occupied by Roman and Gallo-Roman populations. Finally, before the Romans the Celtic Helvetii lived in what would become Switzerland. In addition to conquest, Switzerland has been a crossroads of Europe since at least the Roman Empire. Constant movement of cultures and ideas into Switzerland has created a rich and varied folklore tradition.
The study of folklore (Folkloristics) is known as Volkskunde in German.
The study of Swiss folklore originates in the 19th century. The central figure of its academic development is Eduard Hoffmann-Krayer, who founded the Swiss Society for Volkskunde in 1896.
The Abbey of St. Gall, founded on the site of his hermitage
The legends of Switzerland include historic and semi-mythic people and places that shaped the history and culture of the nation.
- Saint Gall, an Irish monk who in the early 7th century helped introduce Christianity to eastern Switzerland. The Abbey of St. Gall is believed to have been built on the site of his hermitage.
- Magnus of Füssen, a missionary saint in southern Germany. He was active in the 7th or 8th century and is considered the founder of St. Mang's Abbey, Füssen.
- Saint Fridolin, patron of Glarus. He is traditionally believed to be an Irish saint who founded Säckingen Abbey, Baden, in the 6th or 7th century. According to legend, he converted a landowner who left his estates, now the Canton of Glarus, to Fridolin. When the landowner's brother took Fridolin to court over the gift, Fridolin raised the landowner from the dead to confirm its legitimacy.
Old Swiss Confederacy
A fresco showing William Tell and his son after he shot an apple off his son's head.
- Teufelsbrücke is a bridge which was supposedly erected by the Devil.
- William Tell is a Swiss folk hero who was forced to shoot an apple off his son's head by the tyrannical reeve of Habsburg Austria. After successfully shooting the apple and escaping the reeve's men, he assassinated the reeve and started a revolution. He became a central figure in Swiss patriotism as it was constructed during the Restoration of the Confederacy after the Napoleonic era.
- Rütlischwur, a legendary oath of the Old Swiss Confederacy, taken on the Rütli, a meadow above Lake Lucerne, by three men representing Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden. It became connected to the legend of William Tell.
- Arnold Winkelried was a possibly legendary hero of the Swiss Battle of Sempach against the Habsburg Duke Leopold III of Austria. According to the story, when the Swiss army was unable to break through the Austrian pikes, Winkelried threw himself on the pikes and used his body to open a hole in the Austrian lines leading to the Swiss victory at Sempach. Though the existence of Arnold Winkelried is disputed, the story was another central part of Swiss patriotism in the 19th century.
- Bruder Klaus was a Swiss monk and ascetic who is considered the patron saint of Switzerland. In 1481 the leaders of the Old Swiss Confederacy began quarreling over treasure from the Burgundian Wars and civil war appeared likely. Bruder Klaus was consulted and passed a secret message to the quarreling leaders. The message, the contents of which are unknown, calmed the tempers and led to the drawing up of the Stanser Verkommnis which expanded the Confederation.