Walpurgisnacht “The Night of The Witches” and The Lore of The Harz

Walpurgis or rather Walpurgisnacht (Walpurgis Night) the eve of May day.  A seasonal high or holy tide that has been present in the customs in traditions of many European cultures from ancient times to even today.

In the Celtic world April 30-May 1 this was known as Beltane. For the ancient Celts this was one of the most sacred tides of the year.  For their two main tides were: “The end summer and the coming of winter.” Samhain which is now more commonly known as “Halloween” or “Hallow’s Eve.”   Along with the high-tide at the opposite end of the year  “The end of winter and the coming of summer.” Which was Beltane.  So as we can see Walpurgis or May Day is at the opposite end of the yearly wheel from Samhain or Winternachten as Midwinter and Midsummer solstices are to each other, the equinoxes, etc…

In the Nordic and Deutsch world May eve is known as Walpurgisnacht.  It’s interesting to note that in  modern Deutschland the holiday known as Halloween is not as a popular or widely celebrated as it is in maybe Western Europe or North America.                                   However, Walpurgisnacht and May Day seem to be virtually unknown (or not really communally observed on a large scale) in places like North America. However, it is without a doubt celebrated in Deutschland and in nearby regions.    In-fact throughout much of Europe the day holds much significance.   For example:  in modern Finland the day is known as Vappu. Vappu is one of the largest annual festivities in the nation.  Modern day Vappu celebrations in Finland mostly stem from the 1800’s more in theme of a “Labor day”  a holiday for university students and workers. Being one of those where typically everyone gets the day off work to enjoy carnival like celebrations.

Vappu (May Day) picnic in FinlandKaivopuisto_Vappu_picnic_2008

Although aside from the aspects of the contemporary Finish holiday which as a “Labor day” it’s roots only seem to go back to the 1800’s. Keep in mind this is only regarding the more contemporary aspects of it.   One thing to note is that “Vappu” essentially means or rather is the Finish word for Walpurgisnacht!

Getting it’s name from a Saint Walburga we can see how this is one of those examples of holidays that originated in heathen times but persisted throughout history.  The role and titles of ancient heathen deities taking on “Saint” titles.  It becomes rather obvious that this is a re-branding of a very old Germanic rite as such lore around Walburga and Walpurgisnacht carries heavy pre-Christian symbolism and overtones. Such as: Walburga being “chased” by The Wild Hunt.

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The wild hunt: Asgårdsreien (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo       *The Wild Hunt is a belief from pre-Christian Germanic era. Said to be lead by Wotan himself. As well in other versions the Germanic Goddess Frau Hold.*

Another major traditional and historic custom of this time is that of the Maypole. A large decorated wooden pole, decorated according to the seasonal tide a theme akin to what we see such things like the Weihnachtenbaum or Osterbaum. The tradition going back to ancient heathen times.  One that is very much still upheld in the present day in places like Bayern (Bavaria.)  In the there annual holiday literally known as “Maypole Day”  As I have observed myself having Bayerische in-laws the “Maibaum” is an old Germanic custom that is very well perserved in Bavarian culture.   Maypole day is considered a very important annual occasion.  You will not find a Bavarian village without this spring festivity. The Maibaum is typically made from a large tall pine tree.

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More about the customs and traditions surrounding the Maibaum in Bavaria here: http://www.bavaria.by/maypole-day-in-bavaria-germany

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Common Walpurgis and Mayday rituals and superstitions: 

Walpurgis like many other such seasonal tides is steeped in superstition and rituals pertaining to this day.  Some examples of such are:

~Washing one’s face in the morning dew on the first of May assured beauty.

~It was believed that if one wished to make contact with any sort of mystical spirit or being (like elves, trolls, ghosts, or even witches.) Walpurgis was one of those times to do it.  One such very practical method involved putting one’s clothes on inside out, walking to a crossroads backwards on midnight of Walpurgisnacht.

~As this was a time that was believed that spirits and spectres would be most active it was common custom to light bonfires on hill tops and various prominent points on the land to protect the area.

~The German tradition of the  Ankenschnitt is an offering of bread covered in butter and honey left out on Walpurgisnacht as a offering to the “Wind Hounds” as an offering of appeasement to assure the “howling hounds” of the winds would not damage one’s homestead or place throughout the year.

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~An Ankenschnitt offering of my own from a couple of years past. Left out on the balcony of the third-floor apartment I was residing in at the time. (Which was often subject to very intense winds during summer storms and seasonal changes.) Along with the Ankenschnitt offering is a glass enclosed candle that I crafted used as a luminary. The candle featured a depiction of  Frau Holle riding a goose (an animal sacred to her) through the skies.~

*As shown here:

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Mount Brocken or “The Blocksberg” and the Hexentanzplatz

And of course what article about Walpurgisnacht would be complete without the mention of the famed legendary Mt Brocken!

The Brocken is the highest peak of the Harz mountain range, as well as the highest peak in all of Northern Germany.

The Harz mountain range most specfically The Blocksberg (Brocken) is a place of many great legends of heathen-time themes and superstitions  ecspecially those regarding witchcraft and ecspecially pertaining to the tide of Walpurgisnacht or as it is also known as:  “Hexennacht”

According to legend Mt Brocken was said to be the place that witches flew to and congregated at annually on Walpurgisnacht.  As those of you who recall my blogpost about Easter Witches probably notice the similarity between this and the Swedish legend of witches flying to a mystical place known as Blåkulla.

However, where as the Blåkulla (a place that according to Swedish legend witches congregated at on “Maundy Thursday” ) is said to be a “mystical valley that can only be reached be magical flight.” The Blocksberg where the German legend of the Walpurgis congregation is a very literal and tangible place.

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Among the lore  regarding the Harz mountain range and Walpurgisnacht is as well a plateau in the range which is called the “Hexentanzplatz.”

Hexentanzplatz literally means “Witches Dance Floor.” According to German legends and folktales the coming of the warm season was marked “Frau Holda and her witches dancing away the snow.”  As well on the night of Walpurgis this witches congregated, danced, and had all manner of festivities in the Harz mountain range to celebrate the changing of the seasonal tide.

When further studying the history of the Hexentanzplatz we learn that this plateau was said to be an Old Saxon cult site.  At which on or around the night of May 1 the Saxon heathens gathered to celebrate and as well honour  a forest and mountain goddess known as the Hagedisen.

So essentially the night and tide known as Walpurgis!  So know we see and begin to understand: When observing and noticing the festivities of Deutsch people today, the Sachsen people who dress up as “witches” celebrating the Hexennacht which is now  known as The Night of Walpurgis we see that this is really a modern remnant of something much deeper and ancient that has been a part of their folk culture since always.  The pagan/heathen rites of their people have certainly not gone anywhere! Maybe changed names through the ages as well as themes. But the roots remain.

Where does this idea of witches “dancing away the snow” on Walpurgisnacht come from? Or rather who were the witches?  This idea comes from the seasonal rites of the ancient Saxon ancestors honouring the mountain forest goddess (Hagedisen) at the changing of tides into the warm spring and summer season. The witches? One could say:  These are the “spirits” of or rather how their most ancient ancestors are remembered and continue to be honoured.

 

~~~”We know that our forefathers very generally kept the beginning of May as a great festival, and it is still regarded as the trysting time of witches, i.e. once of wise-women and fays; who can doubt that heathen sacrifices blazed that day?” (Grimm v. II, p. 614)~~~

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