Monday, April 30, 2012

The Night of the Witches

The wind is hushed, the starlight pales,
The dismal moon her features veils;
As magic-mad the hosts whiz by,
A myriad sparks spurt forth and fly.

So sets the tone for Walpurgis Night in Goethe's Faust by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.

Think of Night on Bald Mountain from Disney's Fantasia and you'll get the feel for what Jacob Grimm described when he wrote, "There is a mountain very high and bare...whereon it is given out that witches hold their dance on Walpurgis Night!"

Walpurgis Night, or Walpurgisnacht, falls on April 30, the night before May Day. In many of the Scandinavian countries, it is akin to Hallowe'en in that kids dress up, pranks are played, and in many places, bonfires lit.

In the older, pagan version it was believed that on this night, witches mounted their brooms and flew to The Brocken, part of the chain of mountains known as the Harz in Germany.  They celebrated the beginning of summer (have you ever wondered why June 21 is called 'mid'summer?) with dancing and any variety of merrymaking.

The Vision of Faust by Luis Ricardo Falero, 1878

The night takes its name from Saint Walpurga/Walburga who was canonized by Pope Adrian II on May 1 (in 870 AD? The year is uncertain.) She is the daughter and sister to saints, St. Richard, her father, and Sts. Willibald and Winibald, her brothers. Her uncle was St. Boniface. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, on her way to Germany, despite starting the journey with clear skies, a terrible storm arose. Walburga kneeled on the deck and prayed, and "at once the sea became calm." She is considered to be the patron saint of mariners and sailors and often invoked during storms.

So what are some ways to celebrate Walpurgis Night? A bonfire. Always with a bonfire. Lacking that ability (darn suburban living!), light a fire in the grill and cook something.

- let the kids dress up in their Hallowe'en costumes. Get another use out of them!

- be noisy! To ward off the witches gathering on this night, the citizenry made as much noise as possible. Let the kids bring out their musical instruments, or make your own, and give them permission to bang and clang and toot away. Of course, do this only for as long as you can stand it, and preferably before the headache starts.

- dance. It is what the witches are doing, so why not join them? Put on some good dance music and move that body!

- sing! Are you getting the whole making noise theme here? Break out the karaoke machine. Don't have one? Put some tunes in the cd player and belt out the song right along with the cd. Sing campfire songs around the grill.

I haven't actually seen it myself, but stumbled upon this book, Night of the Witches: Folklore, Traditions and Recipes for Celebrating Walpurgis Night by Linda Raedisch, that might have more suggestions and ideas in it. I'm curious about the recipes!

Just have fun!

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