This second feast of St Walpurgis, or Walburga (Beltaine Eve) is one of the main holidays during the year in both Sweden and Finland, along with Christmas and Midsummer. Walpurgisnacht (Walpurgis night) in Germany has been celebrated for centuries. Farmers used to place crosses and herbs above stable doors to protect their livestock from the witches that fly around tonight en route to their 'evil covens' on Germany's highest mountain, the Brocken, in the Harz Mountains. German cartographers of the 18th Century sometimes added to any map of the Harz Mountains a few witches flying on broomsticks towards the summit of the Brocken.
German villagers used to light fires in the fields. Any crop illuminated by the firelight or touched by the smoke was sure to be fertile. Or, so it is said.
Tonight's traditions stem from an ancient pagan spring festival. The deities Woden and Freya were the parents of Spring. German people used to drink 'the drink of love' (Trank der Mine), which supposedly had rejuvenatory powers and today's 'May punch' (Maibowle) containing woodruff herb probably derives from that custom.
Some believe that Walpurgisnacht customs began when the first central Europeans were converted to Christianity: pagans dressed up in frightening costumes to scare away the Christians who were trying to eradicate the old beliefs. The Church, it is said, pushed the Walpurgis cult because St Walpugis was the protector against magic.
In Germany tonight, Walpurgis night, witches flying to their rendezvous with the Devil take a bite out of every church bell they pass. Householders should hide their broomsticks or else, it's said, a witch will steal them. People traditionally make a commotion to scare off the witches, and children's socks are crossed on their beds for the same purpose.
The witches arrive at their sabbat on brooms, cats, flying horses, goats and even on pitchforks and shovels. Amidst thunder and lightning they build a fire of spruce trunks which they dance around after Satan, dressed in black velvet, makes his annual speech.
Walpurgis night was used by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as the dramatic setting for his Faust. It was also the night on which Adolf Hitler, no stranger to occult beliefs, took his own life ...
Categories: germany, pagan, wicca, calendar-customs