Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Walpurgis Night

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?"

(Jacob Grimm)

Today I am planning to wear my witch hat at work. My peers will think I have lost it, but tonight is Walpurgis Night, the other Beltane, the European Halloween, and I plan on celebrating tonight in honor of my German ancestry. Briefly, Walpurgis is a popular spring festival that falls on the eve of April 30th in some parts of Europe. There are some who say it is  'the dark side of May Day' because stories abound about  witches who fly about on their brooms and dance and sing around a bonfire as they await the arrival of Spring. The night is generally celebrated with bonfires, dancing, and feasting.  

It was originally celebrated as an ancient pagan festival held in honor of Odin, Freya, and the birth of Spring. Later, the Christians was turned the evening into a celebration to drive out the Pagan forces instead the spirit of Winter. Its Christian name was apparently derived from Saint Walburgis, a British nun who went to Germany in the 8th century to found Holy houses.  But, as the Christians soon discovered, the people were not ready to give up their beliefs in their Pagan gods. Hence, in order to  frighten them into converting, the Christians dressed up as devils and witches.It was then that the Church introduced them to Walburga as the protector from witchcraft and magic.

"Nine nights before the first of May is Walburga in flight, unceasingly chased by wild ghosts and seeking a hiding place from village to village. People leave their windows open so she can be safe behind the cross-shaped windowpane struts from her roaring enemies. For this, she lays a little gold piece on the windowsill, and flees further. A farmer who saw her on her flight through the woods described her as a white lady with long flowing hair, a crown upon her head; her shoes were fiery gold, and in her hands she carried a three-cornered mirror that showed all the future, and a spindle, as does Berchta. A troop of white riders exerted themselves to capture her. So also another farmer saw her, whom she begged to hide her in a shock of grain. No sooner was she hidden than the riders rushed by overhead. The next morning the farmer found grains of gold instead of rye in his grain stook. Therefore, the saint is portrayed with a bundle of grain."
(Rochholz,Drei Gaugtinen (Three Local Goddesses), 1870, p. 26-27)
Saint Walburgis is also credited with healing the sick and protecting women in childbirth. Today, Saint Walburga is considered to be the patroness against storms, diseases and plagues, rabies, famine and failed harvests as well as the patron saint of seamen, invalids and farmers.

As for my day, I plan to use some of my comp time and  leave work a little early so I can prepare a German feast for dinner--Sauerbraten, Hot German Potato Salad, and some red cabbage. I don't have the time nor the energy to make strudel, but if I can find some, I'll buy it. Later there will be lots of candles, and perhaps I might even try my hand again at tracing my German ancestry. I've managed to go as far back as my maternal 3rd great grandfather who migrated to the states from Saxony somewhere before 1840, but after that, the trail is lost. I've not been able to find anything about him before he left Germany.

I highly recommend 'Night of the Witches: Folklore, Traditions & Recipes for Celebrating Walpurgis Night' by Linda Raedisch for anyone wanting to learn more about this European Halloween.  It is a wonderful book filled with information about this holiday, including  folklore, recipes, crafts, and activities to fill the night.

I hope that you all have a splendid Walpurgis Night.

An excerpt from the book:

"Spring has come to the northern forest. The evening wind blows cold as the breath of the frost giants. Just overhead, there is a sound like the rushing of crows' wings. Can it be a coven of witches has flown over these woods? On any other night, you would probably swear that there was no such thing as a witch--at least, not the kind that streaks through the sky on a broomstick with guttering taper and billowing cloak. But this is no ordinary night; it is the thirtieth of April, the eve of May. Tonight is Walpurgis Night.'


  1. Walpurgis blessings to you, Mary! Enjoy your German feast tonight!

  2. Have a great celebration of Walpurgis Night. Never heard of it, and I am 1/4 German. :-)

    But I do remember Sauerbraten. My mother used to "brine it" in a old iron kettle, out on the side closed porch, for a spell. She wasn't German but my father was.


  3. This night and morrow are going to be great. I have been getting goosebumps all day just thinking about it! My second most favorite Sabbat!