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Walpurgis Night - The Other Halloween

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Halloween isn't the only night when the supernatural rules

There's a penetrating chill in the wind. The bright moon rises behind the shivering, nearly naked trees. A profound sense of foreboding permeates the darkness. This is the night, after all, when witches ride their broomsticks through the sky, and the natural world is forced to confront the powers of the supernatural.

No, it isn't October 31 and this is not Halloween. It's April 30 and it's Walpurgis Night.

Like Halloween, Walpurgis has its roots in ancient pagan customs, superstitions and festivals. At this time of year, the Vikings participated in a ritual that they hoped would hasten the arrival of Spring weather and ensure fertility for their crops and livestock. They would light huge bonfires in hopes of scaring away evil spirits.

But the name "Walpurgis" comes from a very different source. In the 8th Century, a woman named Valborg (other iterations of the name include Walpurgis, Wealdburg and Valderburger) founded the Catholic convent of Heidenheim in Wurtemburg, Germany. She herself later became a nun and was known for speaking out against witchcraft and sorcery. She was canonized a saint on May 1, 779. Since the celebration of her sainthood and the old Viking festival occurred around the same time, over the years the festivals and traditions intermingled until the hybrid pagan-Catholic celebration became known as Valborgsmässoafton or Walpurgisnacht - Walpurgis Night.

The Other Halloween

Although not widely known in the US, this May-Eve night shares many of the traditions of Halloween and is, in fact, directly opposite Halloween on the calendar.

According to the ancient legends, this night was the last chance for witches and their nefarious cohorts to stir up trouble before Spring reawakened the land. They were said to congregate on Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains - a tradition that comes from Goethe's Faust. In the story, the demon Mephistopheles brings Faust to Brocken to consort with the coven of witches:


When the stubble yellow, green the grain.
The rabble rushes - as 'tis meet -
To Sir Urian's lordly seat.
O'er stick and stone we come, by jinks!
The witches f..., the he-goat s...
...
The broomstick carries, so does the stock;
The pitchfork carries, so does the buck;
Who cannot rise on them tonight,
Remains for aye a luckless wight.

Next Page: A Time of Magic

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