Mittwoch, 1. März 2017

Thoughts on a knife-German Jagdnicker

 This is part of my not exactly tiny collection of German hunting knives, representatives of a very distinct and ancient style of knife. You can find knives with a very similar outline and concept as early as from the Roman empire, and throughout the medieval ages. It presumeably developed from both utility knives from the medieval ages as well as the "Lange Messer" / "Grosse Messer" and the "Bauernwehr". For the most part, a "Jadnicker" is seen as genuine, if it has the following properties:
-OAL 15-25cm
-Integral bolster, the "Kropf"
-usually single-edged with a somewhat triangular blade shape. Newer versions sometimes also have recurved cutting edges or a more En-nep or Kopis edge line.
-Handle material often is stag antler, although there are also cow, buffalo or ram´s horn, bone and wood around.
-The integral bolster for the most part has a fuller running rectangularily over the fingerpiece to the edge line and incisions or fileworks on the part towards the handle
-The tang can be either a short rat-tail tang or a full tang. Both are historical. If the tang is a rat-tail tang, there is an often richly decorated ferrule from either nickel silver, silver, and sometimes bronze or pewter. Newer versions are often cast, only but recently there are some reconstructions using sheet-metal techniques.

The term "Jagdnicker" refers to a hunting technique, when the knife is used to stab an animal into the neck to sever the nerves running from the brain through the spine, to kill it immediately. The vertebra directly under the skull base in German hunting jargon is called a "Nicker" (from the word nicken-to nod), the process is called "abnicken". The prefix "ab-" refers to a terminating action in this case.
This technique was always employed to ease an animal´s pain and in hunting folklore accompagnied by the word "Halali", which derives from Arabic "Halál": lawful, permissive. See also the term "helal" as anattribute for food. In hunting folklore in Germany, this was connotated into "May he rest in peace", and, psychologically speaking served as a legitimation for the killing of the prey. But this was far more than barely a lame excuse. There seems always to have been a more esoteric kind of folklore surviving in German hunting culture where the hunter was identified with the prey (Miracle and vision of St. Hubertus, St. Eustachius etc., Cernunnos-mythology), and so the call "Halali" also had to do with the wish to legitimate the own death in the death of the prey.

The Jagdnicker was widely in use since the medieaval ages. In early modern times there was the custom of an apotropaic use (use as a talisman against evil spirits). A most excellent essay in German you can find on the site of Peter Pfaffinger:, who also does some of the best modern interpretations. The use of knives and metal objects as "apotropaion" is presumeably as old as metalworking an known throughout every human culture.

Also this style of knife was an integral part of the "Fuhrmannsbesteck", a set of cutlery, including a knife of triangular shape, a fork (up to two forks, to be precise) and a strop that could double as an awl. As such, it was (and is even now) carried in a separate pouch on the leg of the "Lederhosen" (leather pants) in traditional Bavarian attire. The custom of carrying two forks, one smaller one was, by the way, to provide one´s female accompany with an additional fork to partake in a feast, and called "Dirnd´l - Gabel" (Girl´s fork).

The Jagdnicker so has a very broad cultural background. What connects all of the aspects is a sort of ritualistic use. On many "Fuhrmannsbesteck" knives there are inscriptions found such as the Lord´s prayer, with an emphasis on the line "give us this day our daily bread", but also the AGLA - sigil:, the SATOR-square, INRI or IHS (Iesus Hominem salvator). Here ( I have already written something about an encounter with Peter and some of the symbolic meanings of this style of knife.

Now keeping in mind the hunter´s call "Halali" and its Arabian roots I want to point out as a byline that there is a stunning similarity between the Persian Kard and the German Jagdnicker. See this ( as an example. You might also want to visit _ Russian and Persian knife and sword culture, for a load more examples. Now there seems to be a custom in the Achaemenid culture of Iran in the context of the paradise gardens (look here:, where hunts were staged. It is therefore relatively safe to state that medieval courts in Europe were influenced by these concepts in their staged hunts, since the oriental influence on high medieval culture in Europe was being very strong. Of course that does not necessarily mean that the Jagdnicker was directly derived from the Persian Kard, and also a similarity by functionality might be possible, but it is highly probable. In a most interesting thread on bladesmith´s forum there is a "Bauernwehr" :, see the more utilitarian version that also shares the cylindrical tip of Persian Kards.

It is kind of a juicy aspect of all this that some hunters who are very traditional also tend to the right wing of the political spectrum and deny e.g. Syrian immigrants any kind of culture, while the very tradition they so much adore might be derived from a very ancient aspect of Syrian /Iranian/Persian culture, and more so, the tradition they uphold has its very roots in Islamic belief. Now do not get me wrong: I am not saying we all should convert to Islam (if we don´t mean it). But what I am decisively saying is that we have to admit that this world IS F***ING ROUND. Without so - called "foreign influences" any culture will die or be corrupted by incestual processes. And I am decisively saying that we should concentrate on what we have in common in order to sort out the things we must differ on. That does not mean we should adapt to any silly things that do not make sense to us. But we have to get in contact and decide without bias.

Things like these knives help me in the process. 

Another juicy thing: The décor on the blade of this knife is called "arabesque" for a reason... ;-)
The etching on the Hartkopf Jagdnicker depicts a stag, black-on-black.
This is a rare Hubertus piece with art nouveau ferrule and cap...

Below you can see one of my own works. Made from Wootz I found in the woods, 95x6mm blade, heat-coloured stag antler, selective temper, high, almost flat convex bevel to zero.
An early (2004) replica of a knife found in the Tyrolean Paseirer valley, originating from 1765. Forged from an old chisel with a full bainite temper.

Below there is the knife of my laid father. Hubertus full tang (tapered), 90x4mm, 1.4109 steel, full temper. He used it for just about everything from snacking to cutting drywall, from whittling to harvesting mushrooms for 30 years and loved it almost to death. When he was already sick, he tried to regrind it and completely messed it up and it was one of his joys when I managed to save it, so much in fact, that he gave it to me.  

This is another treasured knife, and one I found on a flea market in Wuppertal. It is a pre-WWI Solingen Jagdnicker (according to the style of stamping). The handle was rotten through and the tang corroded, so I epoxied a brass tube to it and, using the original ferrule, fitted a new stag handle. It is made from crucible steel (which showed a pattern), has a convex bevel to zero and is "nagelgehend", meaning the edge is ground as thin that it can be elastically deformed when drawn along a metal edge, such as a nail or steel finger ring.

This post can be by its very nature just be a teaser. The topic is vast and incorporates more knife types and regional variants, of course, and I plan to do some more work on it. As a conclusion, I want to say that I obviously love this style of knife. Obviously this is, because I grew up with it, but also for practical and cultural reasons. The knife has a lot of lessons to teach and questions to answer, while it also asks a lot more questions. It is a challenge and a treasure at the same time. And it is an important part of German culture.

This is something I want to emphasize. German culture and tradition is something that is held up either by right wing assholes or put down by superficial left wing madmen. But, if you stick to the mere facts (something that cannot be overrated in times of our everyday factocalypse), it has a lot of things to offer. German culture is rich, and it is rewarding to hold it up and live some of its traditions in a modern way. It has absorbed a lot of cultural influences and integrated them into its own context.

What makes me proud to be a German, if that phrase be allowed, stands out in stark contrast to what those right - wing hate preachers state. To me, German culture is that rich, because it was always open for new things while remaining true to itself.

I am proud that Germany welcomes refugees. That does not mean I am blind towards the fact that it is a difficult situation. There are a lot of fears involved, but the difficulties of the situation are not to be solved by hatemongering. If there is a large enough group of people, there is an ever growing chance that you will find an increasing number of assholes among them. If anyone I had welcomed as a guest in my home does not behave according to manners generally consented upon, the least thing I would do is give him a kicking outta my flat. If anyone acts as an asshole towards me, I will return the same coin. Of course. Anyone would do. But the culprit is: If your personality is strong enough, you can cope with foreign influences and take what they have to offer as your own, while dismissing what you do not want. So, say, you welcome a Syrian in your home, and you took turns cooking, you´d be in for some tasty adventures (I did, and I was), as would be the other way round. You don´t have to wear Syrian clothes or eat Mazza the whole time. But the fact is, interaction and the resulting cultural dynamics is never wrong. You just need firm ground on which to operate. Namely a strong cultural identity, and, yap, another problem, a solid material background. But without a true cultural identity, no solid material background would be possible.  

Enter the Jagdnicker. There are books on Puukos, Kards, Bowie knives, Khukuris, Ulus and whatnot. The only book on German knife culture I could find was a booklet, more of a brochure of some 35 pages and argueably written with a bit of political bias. People simply do not know. And yet I have the opinion that there is a lesson waiting to be learned. And if you do not know yourself, how can you possibly develop strength in your personality? A strong personality is capable of coping with arguments in a non-violent way. A strong personality is able to discuss criticism. But where is a strong and healthy personality in the German psyche? What would we lose, if we accepted our hunting traditions were originally influenced by Persian customs? A book written on German knives would gain quite a lot of pages and become a more interesting read if one would dare to analyse the roots in that.

There are a lot more questions to be asked, of course, and I am not saying I provide answers. But in my opinion, here´s a thread with which to begin. So this will not be the last post on German knife culture.  

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