Roeschaard’s name is attributed to his call of “Roes, roes, roes!” Etymologically it may be derived from the Scandinavian ruske, “to rush at”; the Anglo-Saxon breosan, “terrify”, or the Dutch roezen, “making a din”. It may also simply be another variant of Osschaard, derived from ors, “horse” or “mount”, and hard, “strong”. Sometimes the name is used to simply mean the devil.
The 1874 almanac of Blankenberge tells of the dreadful storm of 1791. It destroyed the hut of a suspected witch on the beach, and the inhabitants were overjoyed, smashing what little was left of the ruins. Then a spinechilling sound rang out over the dunes – “Roes, roes, roes!” A huge black dog with bells around its neck came running down the dunes, and the villagers scattered. That dog was Roeschaard.
Roeschaard puts his shapeshifting powers to use in performing cruel pranks. There is no limit to the forms he can take. He turns into a fish and allows himself to be caught before destroying the net. He gets into boats and tips them over. He pounces on people’s backs and rides them to exhaustion. In the form of a baby, he allows people to take him home before laughing wickedly and escaping, calling out “Roes, roes, roes!” behind him.
The sailors of Blankenberge eventually found a way to escape Roeschaard’s attentions. By giving themselves a second baptism and a new name, they would break Roeschaard’s power over them. The ceremony undertaken by new sailors involved being splashed with salt water while the following formula was intoned:
I baptize you, and may Roeschaard, the thrice-ugly one, turn away. Turn, turn, turn, your name is [here the requisite sea-name was given]
Thus if Roeschaard came to claim someone, they could simply tell him they were not the person he was looking for. Since then Roeschaard’s power has been in decline.
van Hageland, A. (1973) La Mer Magique. Marabout, Paris.
de Vries, A. (2007) Flanders: a cultural history. Oxford University Press, Oxford.