Prayer calls in Central Switzerland


Category:
Oral expressions
  • Social practices
Canton:

Description

The Betruf (prayer call) is a traditional shepherds’ and herders’ prayer that is spoken and sung during the summer grazing period on many alpine meadows in Central Switzerland. At the end of a long working day, a herdsman – usually the head shepherd – seeks a suitable, preferably elevated location, often one adorned with a wooden cross. By cupping his hands around his mouth or using a wooden milk funnel, he makes a noise that can be heard far and wide, sometimes as far away as the valley floor. The caller’s recitation functions as a protective ritual. In High German tinged with elements of Swiss dialect, he asks God, Mary, Jesus, the Holy Ghost and various saints to protect all living creatures on the mountain pastures against harm, in particular the dangers of the night. Storms, wolves, robbers or ghosts are often named as threats. Within the boundaries of modern Switzerland, the earliest evidence of this practice, once known as the 'Ave-Mariarüeffen', originated in the 16th century from the alpine meadows of the mountain Pilatus. Its origins probably date back to the late middle ages, however. From a musical history perspective, comparisons can be drawn with litany chants and biblical recitations. The prayer call can be interpreted as a popularised Gregorian chant that has continued to develop in the mountainous Catholic regions over many centuries and is still passed on orally amongst shepherds and herdsman.

Image gallery

  • Prayer caller Heinz Bucher, Under Blatte alpine meadow near Flühli, Lucerne, 2005 © Priska Ketterer, Luzern
  • Prayer caller Franz Gamma, Alp Läcki on the Urnerboden (UR), 2010 © Christof Hirtler, Altdorf
  • A cross marks the site of the ritual. Alpine meadow above Engelberg, Obwalden, around 1940 © Walter Kuster, Engelberg/Talmuseum Engelberg
  • A shepherd calling the evening prayer with a Folle (wooden funnel), Alp Brunni near Engelberg, Obwalden. Around 1940 © Walter Kuster, Engelberg/Talmuseum Engelberg
  • A postcard depicting the prayer call. Alpine meadow in Nidwalden, around 1980 © Arnold Odermatt, Stans
  • The prayer call as a traditional icon: sticker in a collector's album on traditional Swiss customs, 1954 © Nestlé Historical Archives, Vevey
  • Prayer caller Heinz Bucher, Under Blatte alpine meadow near Flühli, Lucerne, 2005 © Priska Ketterer, Luzern
  • Prayer caller Franz Gamma, Alp Läcki on the Urnerboden (UR), 2010 © Christof Hirtler, Altdorf
  • A cross marks the site of the ritual. Alpine meadow above Engelberg, Obwalden, around 1940 © Walter Kuster, Engelberg/Talmuseum Engelberg
  • A shepherd calling the evening prayer with a Folle (wooden funnel), Alp Brunni near Engelberg, Obwalden. Around 1940 © Walter Kuster, Engelberg/Talmuseum Engelberg
  • A postcard depicting the prayer call. Alpine meadow in Nidwalden, around 1980 © Arnold Odermatt, Stans
  • The prayer call as a traditional icon: sticker in a collector's album on traditional Swiss customs, 1954 © Nestlé Historical Archives, Vevey

References and documentation

Publications
  • Brigitte Bachmann-Geiser (Ed.): Bättruef – Alpsegen. Swiss Alpine Prayer. Oberhofen am Thunersee, 2006 (Compact Disc)

  • Max Peter Baumann: Zur Bedeutung des Betrufes in Uri. In: Festschrift Felix Hoerburger. Regensburg, 1977

  • Bernhard Bremberger: Der Betruf auf dem Urnerboden im Umfeld von Geschichte, Inhalt und Funktion. In: Jahrbuch für Volksliedforschung 29. Berlin, 1984, p. 65-96

  • Dokumentation zum Betruf mit unpublizierten Materialien im Haus der Volksmusik in Altdorf

  • Hans Marti: Der Betruf auf den Entlebucher Alpen. In: Luzerner Hauskalender 184. Luzern, 1985, p. 53-60

  • Bruno Moll: Alpsegen. Kinofilm, Schweizerdeutsch mit deutschen und französischen Untertiteln. Zürich, 2012

  • Martin Staehelin: Bemerkungen zum sogenannten Alpsegen: Wesen und historische Tiefe. In: Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde 78. Basel, 1982, p. 1-35

  • August Wirz: Der Betruf in den Schweizer Alpen. Dissertation (maschinengeschrieben, n. p.). Freiburg im Uechtland, 1943

  • Tonisep Wyss-Meier: Der Betruf im deutschsprachigen und rätoromanischen Raum. Sammlung von Texten und Erläuterungen. Appenzell, 2007

Multimedia
  • Alpsegen auf der Frutt OW (Leo Bucher) 
    Bättruef - Alpsegen - Swiss Alpine Prayer 
    Alpsegen Leo Bucher auf der Obwaldner Frutt
    Ref. Swiss National Sound Archives:
    CD40147 Tr. 7

  • Urner Juchzer
    Bättruef - Alpsegen - Swiss Alpine Prayer
    Juchzer in Uri
    Ref. Swiss National Sound Archives:
    CD40147 Tr. 3

  • Betruf 
    Obwalden (Alpage de Triebenalp)  
    Betruf von der Obwaldner Tribenalp, 1948
    Ref. Swiss National Sound Archives:
    HR5327 Tr. B

Documentation