Prayer call or Alpine blessing – an ancient ritual

Customs Lake Lucerne Region

The Betruf or Alpsegen (Prayer call or Alpine blessing) has been practiced for 500 years, particularly in the Alps of Central Switzerland. This is an old Alpine prayer that is still sung every evening after work in the Catholic Alpine regions during the summer. With the prayer, the Alpine herdsman asks for protection from potential natural hazards. He shouts his chant through a “volle”, a wooden or tin milk funnel.

Prayer call or Alpine blessing - Bernhard Betschart

Prayer call or Alpine blessing – Bernhard Betschart

Prayer call or alpine blessing

The roots of the Betruf or Alpine blessing go back to pre-Christian or even pre-Celtic times. In Switzerland, prayer calls were first documented in the 16th century in the area around Mount Pilatus. The ritual of calling to prayer was by no means undisputed at the time, as it was considered pagan. However, the prayer was deeply rooted in the people. The Catholic Church was therefore forced to accept the ritual and attempted to incorporate Christian texts into the prayer.

In Catholic Alpine regions in central Switzerland, the old alpine prayer can still be heard in many places in the evening after work: the “Bättruf” (prayer call) or “Alpsäge” (alpine blessing). This is a monophonic, unaccompanied chant in a dialectally colored High German. It is shouted through the hands held in front of the mouth like a funnel or through a wooden milk funnel (volle).

The chant of the prayer caller has the function of a protective ritual. In dialectal High German, he asks God, Mary, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and various saints to protect all living creatures on the alp from harm and especially the dangers of the night. Storms, wolves, robbers and ghosts are often mentioned by name as threats.

Mary and the patron saints are invoked in all four directions and asked for protection for all living creatures and possessions on the alp.

All good things come in threes

Did you know that the number 3 had a special meaning for almost all peoples and was considered sacred? This is why the Hail Mary is usually sung three times during the prayer call or Alpine blessing.

The caller takes a wooden funnel from the hook and stands outside his alpine hut. He gathers himself together and then shouts the Alpine blessing through the funnel in a powerful voice.

Ave, Ave Maria (Hail, Hail Mary)
Es walte Gott und Maria (May God and Mary reign)
Der Name des Herrn sei gebenedeit (Blessed be the name of the Lord,),
von nun an bis in Ewigkeit…(from now on until eternity…)

Video Rigi Betruf

Let the prayer call inspire you…

Betruf auf der Rigi

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Video On our culture: Betruf portrait

The call to prayer is a typical alpine custom. In the evening, after the work is done, the alpine farmers ask their patron saints for a blessing with the prayer call. The verses are shouted through the “Volle”, a wooden milk funnel. The funnel shape of the “Volle” gives the chant a sound effect that carries the prayer call almost as far as the valley. The alpine farmer calls out with a strong voice – because the further the sound reaches, the wider the protection extends over the alp, his animals and the pastures.

Auf unsere Kultur: Betruf Porträt

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