Berggeist literally means “Mountain Spirit.” He is the spirit of iron mines. Each mine may have its own Berggeist who presides over the mine. Once upon a time, he anticipated gifts, offerings, and requests for permission to dig. Post-Christianity, offerings and rituals dried up. The Berggeist was blamed for disasters in the mine and accused of being in league with the devil. Every once in a while, however, he is described as favouring someone and directing them to untapped veins in the mine.

The Berggeist is now most famous as the inspiration for the character Gandalf. While vacationing in the Swiss Alps, author J. R. R. Tolkien bought a postcard version of a painting called Der Berggeist by German artist Josef Madlener (1881–1967). He preserved it, later describing it as the origin of Gandalf.


As depicted in Madlener’s painting, the Berggeist is an elderly white-bearded man dressed in a red cloak and wide-brimmed hat. He is accompanied by a young deer.


Dwarves; Knockers; Kobold; Supay


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.

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