The origin of the name is not clear. One interpretation is from the story How Rübezahl Got his Name by Johann Karl August Musäus, which recounts how the character once abducted a princess who liked turnips (German: Rübe). When he planted them for her, she asked him to count (zählen) the seeds. While he counted, she escaped. Other etymologies are:
- Hriob Zagel from the Old High German and Czech-derived word for "fierce storm."
- Riebezagel from a combination of the personal name Riebe and the Middle High German zagel, meaning "tail", from his pictorial representation as a tailed demon.
Rübezahl is a name of ridicule, the use of which provokes his anger. The respectful name is "Lord of the Mountains" or "Lord John". The Czech name, Krakonoš, is simply derived from the name of the mountains. In Poland a lottery under the name "Liczyrzepka" existed. In one Silesian folktale, he is called "Prince of the Gnomes". 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica gives him the moniker “Number Nip."
"...Rübezahl, you should know, has the nature of a powerful genius: capricious, impetuous, peculiar, rascally, crude, immodest, haughty, vain, fickle, today your warmest friend, tomorrow alien and cold; ...roguish and respectable, stubborn and flexible...
In legends Rübezahl is a capricious giant, gnome or mountain spirit. With good people he is friendly, he teaches medicine and gives presents. If someone derides him, however, his revenge is severe. He sometimes plays the role of a trickster in folk tales.
The origin of the stories is from pagan times. Rübezahl is the fantastic Lord of Weather of the mountains and is similar to the Wild Hunt. Unexpectedly or playfully he sends lightning and thunder, fog, rain and snow from the mountain below, even while the sun is shining. He took the appearance of a monk in a gray frock (like Wotan in his mantel of clouds) and holds a string instrument in his hand (the storm harp), and walks so heavily that the earth trembles around him.
In the area is a botanical locality with an especially large number of plants with the name "Rübezahl's Garden." Some unusual stone buildings in the area are named after him as well, for example the Rübezahlkanzel an den Schneegruben.
In Czech local fairytales Rübezahl (Czech: Krakonoš) gave sourdough to people and invented traditional regional soup kyselo. There is also mountain named Kotel (Polish: Kocioł, German: Kesselkoppe) which means cauldron. When fog rises from valley at bottom of the Kotel, people tell that Rübezahl is cooking the kyselo.
From rûberzahl, the German translation of a Czech word Krakonos.
According to the people of Silesia and Bohemia, Ribesal is a lowly demon. He evolved into a guardian of the poor living in his mountains.
Ribesal is often depicted as a gentle troll, though his appendages often resemble those of other creatures, such as bears or wolves.
Ribesal is responsible for tempests as well as suddenly covering mountains with clouds or blanketing them with snow. Ribesal is the supreme governor of the highest Czech mountain, Krkonose (known as Risemberg in German), which are actually not in Silesia but in Bohemia).
It is said that Ribesal excites tempers and that he will test travelers' tempers. By meeting travelers as an elderly person and asking for help, he tests whether their hearts are pure - those who offer assistance are rewarded with hidden treasures. He punished anyone whose temper got the best of them, including the German landlords who owned the mountains in olden times and any invaders unlucky enough to cross him. He punished the German landlords mistreating Czech people as well as any invaders.
There exists a place in the mountains of Risemberg, Krakonos's garden "Ruberzahl's Garten", which is part of a wildlife reserve. It is said that the garden was planted by Ribesal as a gift for the kind people in his mountains. Whatever illness a visitor may have is said to sometimes be healed by plants from Ribesal's garden.
Today, "Ruberzahl's Garten" is protected and many rare plants grow there. The local authority has attempted to discourage pilgrimages.