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.
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.To ward off the witches' evil, the citizenry would burn bonfires, sprinkle holy water and adorn their homes with talismans of blessed palm leaf. One of the best ways to keep evil at bay, they thought, was through noise. This is an idea that probably dates back to early man. On Walpurgis Night, the citizens would ring bells, bang drums, crack whips and beat blanks of wood onto the ground. As technology advanced, they would shoot firearms into the air.
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.
Walpurgis Night even features its own version of Trick or Treat in some parts of Europe, especially Germany. In Bavaria, for example, where the celebration is known as a Freinacht or Drudennacht, the young might roam the neighborhoods pulling mischievous pranks, such as wrapping cars in toilet paper and smearing doorknobs with toothpaste.
In Thueringen, Germany, some of the little girls dress up as witches, wearing paper hats and carrying sticks.In Finland, where the holiday is called Vappu, the ordinarily reserved Finns run screaming through the streets wearing masks and carrying drinks.
Halloween-like scarecrows make an appearance, too. Life-size or smaller strawmen are created and ritually imbued with all the back luck and ill will of the past year. They are then tossed on the Walpurgis bonfires along with worn-out, burnable household items.
A Time of MagicSome believe that Walpurgis, like Halloween, is more than a time of ritual spellcasting -- that it is a time when the barrier between our world and the "supernatural" is more easily crossed. Winifred Hodge writes in Waelburga and the Rites of May,
"Since this is a turning-tide when the season is not quite one thing or another -- a 'between-time,' it is very suitable for occult divination and spellcraft: a time to take advantage of the thinner veils between the worlds and the fact that our minds are temporarily focused away from everyday affairs and onto the magical energies of Nature's spring tides. This is a time for looking into that which is coming into being and which should be, for seeking deep roots of life-knowledge and life-mysteries, for love-magic and spells of growth and change, conception and birth -- in fact, for almost all the elements of what is often called 'women's magic.'"In his book Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits and Haunted Places, Brad Steiger adds that "Walpurgis Night has traditionally been regarded as one of the most powerful nights for ghosts, demons, and long-legged beasties... [It] has an even greater potential for smashing the barriers between the seen and unseen worlds."
Walpurgis Night, an abbreviation of Saint Walpurgis Night (from the German Sankt Walpurgisnacht [saŋkt valˈpʊʁɡɪsˌnaχt]), also known as Saint Walpurga's Eve (alternatively spelled Saint Walburga's Eve), is the eve of Christian feast day of Saint Walpurga, an 8th-century abbess in Francia, and is celebrated on night of 30 April and the day of 1 May. This feast commemorates the canonization of Saint Walpurga and the movement of her relics to Eichstätt, both of which occurred on 1 May in the year 870.
Saint Walpurga was hailed by the Christians of Germany for battling "pest, rabies and whooping cough, as well as against witchcraft." In Germanic folklore, Hexennacht (Dutch: heksennacht), literally "Witches' Night", was believed to be the night of a witches' meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, a range of wooded hills in central Germany between the rivers Weser and Elbe. Christians prayed to God through the intercession of Saint Walpurga in order to protect themselves from witchcraft, as Saint Walpurga was successful in converting the local populace to Christianity. In parts of Christendom, people continue to light bonfires on Saint Walpurga's Eve in order to ward off evil spirits and witches. Others have historically made Christian pilgrimages to Saint Walburga's tomb in Eichstätt on the Feast of Saint Walburga, often obtaining vials of Saint Walburga's oil.
Local variants of Walpurgis Night are observed throughout Europe in the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, and Estonia. In Denmark, the tradition with bonfires to ward off the witches is observed as Saint John's Eve.
Saint WalpurgaThe daughter of Saint Richard the Pilgrim and sister of Saint Willibald, Saint Walpurga (also known as Saint Walpurgis) was born in Devonshire in 710 A.D. An English princess, Saint Walpurga studied medicine and became a Christian missionary to Germany, where she founded an double monastery in Heidenheim. As such, Christian artwork often depicts her holding bandages in her hand. As a result of Saint Walpurga's evangelism in Germany, the people there converted to Christianity from heathenism. In addition, "the monastery became an education center and 'soon became famous as a center of culture'." Saint Walpurga was also known to repel the effects of witchcraft. Saint Walpurga perished in 777 and her tomb, to this day, produces holy oil (known as Saint Walburga's oil), which is said to heal sickness; Benedictine nuns distribute this oil in vials to Christian pilgrims who visit Saint Walpurga's tomb.
FeastThe current festival is named after the English Christian missionary Saint Walpurga (c. 710–777/9). As Saint Walpurga's feast was held on 1 May (c. 870), she became associated with May Day, especially in the Finnish and Swedish calendars. The canonization of Sant Walpurga and the movement of her relics to Eichstätt occurred on 1 May in the year 870 thus leading to the Feast of Saint Walpurga and its eve, Walpurgis Night, being popularly observed on this date. When the bishop had Saint Walpurga's relics moved, "miraculous cures were reported as her remains traveled along the route." The eve of May Day, traditionally celebrated with dancing and bonfires to ward off witches, came to be known as Sankt Walpurgisnacht ("Saint Walpurga's night") in the German language. The shortened name of the holiday is Walpurgisnacht in German, Valborgsmässoafton ("Valborg's Mass Eve") in Swedish, Vappen in Finland Swedish, Vappu in Finnish, Volbriöö in Estonian, Valpurgijos naktis in Lithuanian, Valpurģu nakts or Valpurģi in Latvian, čarodějnice and Valpuržina noc in Czech. In English, it is known as Saint Walpurga's Night, Saint Walburga's Night, Walpurgis Night, Saint Walpurga's Eve, Saint Walburga's Eve, the Feast of Saint Walpurga or the Feast of Saint Walburga.
The Germanic term Walpurgisnacht is recorded in 1668 by Johannes Praetorius as S. Walpurgis Nacht or S. Walpurgis Abend. An earlier mention of Walpurgis and S. Walpurgis Abend is in the 1603 edition of the Calendarium perpetuum of Johann Coler, who also refers to the following day, 1 May, as Jacobi Philippi, feast day of the apostles James the Less and Philip in the Western Christian calendar of saints.
The 17th-century German tradition of a meeting of sorcerers and witches on May Day eve (German: Hexennacht, Dutch: Heksennacht "Witches' Night") is influenced by the descriptions of Witches' Sabbaths in 15th- and 16th-century literature. Given that witches gathered on this Hexennacht, the Western Christian Church established the Feast of Saint Walpurga on the same night in order counteract witchcraft, given that the intercession of Saint Walpurga was efficacious against evil magic. Across Christendom, people continue to light bonfires on Saint Walpurga's Eve, now dedicated to this Christian saint, in order to ward off evil spirits and witches. Many Christians also make religious pilgrimages to Saint Walburga's tomb in Eichstätt on Saint Walburga's Day; in the 19th century, the number of pilgrims travelling to the Church of St. Walpurgis was described as "many thousand".
Czech Republic30 April is pálení čarodějnic ("burning of the witches") or čarodějnice ("the witches") in the Czech Republic. Huge bonfires—up to 8 metres (26 ft) tall—are built and burnt in the evening, preferably on top of hills. Young people gather around. Sudden black and dense smoke formations are cheered as "a witch flying away". An effigy of a witch is held up and thrown into a bonfire to burn. As evening advances to midnight and fire is on the wane, it is time to go search for a cherry tree in blossom. Young women should be kissed past midnight (and during the following day) under a cherry tree. They "will not dry up" for an entire year. The First of May is celebrated then as "the day of those in love".
EstoniaIn Estonia, Volbriöö is celebrated throughout the night of 30 April and into the early hours of 1 May, where 1 May is a public holiday called "Spring Day" (Kevadpüha). Volbriöö is an important and widespread celebration of the arrival of spring in the country. Influenced by German culture, the night originally stood for the gathering and meeting of witches. Modern people still dress up as witches to wander the streets in a carnival-like mood.
The Volbriöö celebrations are especially vigorous in Tartu, the university town in southern Estonia. For Estonian students in student corporations (fraternities and sororities), the night starts with a traditional procession through the streets of Tartu, followed by visiting each other's corporation houses throughout the night.
In the capital, Helsinki, and its surrounding region, fixtures include the capping (on 30 April at 6 pm) of Havis Amanda, a nude female statue in Helsinki, and the biennially alternating publications of ribald matter called Äpy and Julkku, by engineering students of Aalto University. Both are sophomoric; but while Julkku is a standard magazine, Äpy is always a gimmick. Classic forms have included an Äpy printed on toilet paper and a bedsheet. Often, the magazine has been stuffed inside standard industrial packages, such as sardine cans and milk cartons. For most university students, Vappu starts a week before the day of celebration. The festivities also include a picnic on 1 May, which is sometimes prepared in a lavish manner, particularly in Ullanlinnanmäki in central Helsinki.
Vappu coincides with the socialist May Day parade. Expanding from the parties of the left, the whole of the Finnish political scene has adopted Vappu as the day to go out on stumps and agitate. This isn’t limited only to political activists; many institutions, such as the Lutheran Church of Finland, have followed suit, marching and making speeches. Left-wing activists of the 1970s still party on May Day. Carnivals are arranged, and many radio stations play leftist songs, such as The Internationale.
Traditionally, 1 May is celebrated by the way of a picnic in a park. For most, the picnic is enjoyed with friends on a blanket with food and sparkling wine. Some people arrange extremely lavish picnics with pavilions, white tablecloths, silver candelabras, classical music and extravagant food. The picnic usually starts early in the morning, where some of the previous night's party-goers continue their celebrations from the previous night.
Some student organisations reserve areas where they traditionally camp every year. Student caps, mead, streamers and balloons have their role in the picnic and the celebration as a whole.
In Germany, Hexennacht ("Witches' Night"), the night from 30 April to 1 May, is the night when witches are reputed to hold a large celebration on the Brocken and await the arrival of spring and is held on the same night as Saint Walpurgis Night (Sankt Walpurgisnacht).
Walpurgisnacht Night (in German folklore) the night of 30 April (May Day's eve), when witches meet on the Brocken mountain and hold revels with the Devil...A scene in Goethe's Faust Part One is called "Walpurgisnacht," and one in Faust Part Two is called "Classical Walpurgisnacht." The last chapter of book five in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain is also called "Walpurgisnacht." In Edward Albee's 1962 play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Act Two is entitled "Walpurgisnacht."
Brocken is the highest of the Harz Mountains of north central Germany. It is noted for the phenomenon of the Brocken spectre and for witches' revels which reputedly took place there on Walpurgis night.
The Brocken Spectre is a magnified shadow of an observer, typically surrounded by rainbow-like bands, thrown onto a bank of cloud in high mountain areas when the sun is low. The phenomenon was first reported on the Brocken.
From Bram Stoker's short story, Dracula's Guest, an Englishman (whose name is never mentioned) is on a visit to Munich before leaving for Transylvania. It is Walpurgis Night, and in spite of the hotelier's warning not to be late coming back, the young man later leaves his carriage and wanders toward the direction of an abandoned "unholy" village. As the carriage departs with the frightened and superstitious driver, a tall and thin stranger scares the horses at the crest of a hill.
In some parts of northern coastal regions of Germany, the custom of lighting huge fires is still kept alive to celebrate the coming of May, while most parts of Germany have a derived Christianized custom around Easter called "Easter fires" (Osterfeuer).
In rural parts of southern Germany, it is part of popular youth culture to play pranks such as tampering with neighbours' gardens, hiding possessions, or spraying graffiti on private property.
In Berlin, traditional leftist May Day riots usually start at Walpurgis Night in the Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg. There is a similar tradition in the Schanzenviertel district of Hamburg, though in both cases, the situation has significantly calmed down in the past few years.
SwedenWhile the name Walpurgis is taken from the eighth-century English Christian missionary Saint Walburga, Valborg, as it is called in Swedish, also marks the arrival of spring. The forms of celebration vary in different parts of the country and between different cities. Walpurgis celebrations are not a family occasion but rather a public event, and local groups often take responsibility for organising them to encourage community spirit in the village or neighbourhood. Celebrations normally include lighting the bonfire, choral singing and a speech to honour the arrival of the spring season, often held by a local celebrity.
Walpurgis bonfires are part of a Swedish tradition dating back to the early 18th century. At Walpurgis (Valborg), farm animals were let out to graze and bonfires (majbrasor, kasar) lit to scare away predators. In Southern Sweden, an older tradition, no longer practiced, was for the younger people to collect greenery and branches from the woods at twilight. These were used to adorn the houses of the village. The expected reward for this task was to be paid in eggs.
More modern Valborg celebrations, particularly among Uppsala students, often consist of enjoying a breakfast including champagne and strawberries. During the day, people gather in parks, drink considerable amounts of alcoholic beverages, barbecue, and generally enjoy the weather, if it happens to be favorable.
In Uppsala, since 1975, students honor spring by rafting on Fyrisån through the center of town with rickety, homemade, in fact quite easily wreckable, and often humorously decorated rafts. Several nations also hold "Champagne Races" (Swedish: Champagnegalopp), where students go to drink and spray champagne or somewhat more modestly priced sparkling wine on each other. The walls and floors of the old nation buildings are covered in plastic for this occasion, as the champagne is poured around recklessly and sometimes spilled enough to wade in. Spraying champagne is, however, a fairly recent addition to the Champagne Race. The name derives from the students running down the downhill slope from the Carolina Rediviva library, toward the Student Nations, to drink champagne.
In Linköping many students and former students begin the day at the park Trädgårdföreningen, in the field below Belvederen where the city laws permits alcohol, to drink champagne breakfast in a similar way to Uppsala. Later at 15:00 o'clock the students and public gather at the courtyard of Linköping Castle. Spring songs are sung by the Linköping University Male Voice Choir, and speeches are made by representatives of the students and the university professors.
In Gothenburg, the carnival parade, The Cortège, which has been held since 1909 by the students at Chalmers University of Technology, is an important part of the celebration. It is seen by around 250,000 people each year. Another major event is the gathering of students in Trädgårdsföreningen to listen to student choirs, orchestras, and speeches. An important part of the gathering is the ceremonial donning of the student cap, which stems from the time when students wore their caps daily and switched from black winter cap to white summer cap.
In Umeå, there is a tradition of having local bonfires. During recent years, however, there has been a tradition of celebrating Walpurgis at the Umeå University campus. The university organizes student choir songs, there are different types of entertainment and a speech by the president of the university. Different stalls sell hot dogs, candies, soft drinks, etc.
Still, in recent years a renewed interest in pre-Christian religion and culture has led to renewed interest in Heksennacht (Witch's Night) as well. In 1999, suspicions were raised among local Reformed party members in Putten, Gelderland of a Heksennacht festival celebrated by Satanists. The party called for a ban. Whether such a festival even existed, however, and whether it was 'Satanic', was doubted by others. It is known that Satanic sects celebrate Heksennacht, and so the local Church in Dokkum, Friesland organized a Service in 2003 to pray for the Holy Spirit to counter Satanic action.
Early Christians in this region believed that, during Walpurgis Night, evil powers were at their strongest, and people had to protect themselves and their livestock by lighting fires on hillsides.
In the Church of St. Walpurgis are preserved the remains of that Saint. They are interred beneath the high altar, and a stream of oil, which obtains the highest repute for its medicinal qualities, flows from them, between the months of October and May. On St. Walpurgis' Day, May 1, many thousand pilgrims repair to her shrine.
During the Walpurgisnacht Walpurgisnacht, or Walpurgis Night, is one of the names given to the night of April 30, the eve of Saint Walpurga's feast day that falls on May 1. Since Saint Walpurga's feast occurs on May 1 the saint is associated with May Day, especially in Finland and Sweden.
Her feast day commemorates both the movement of her relics to Eichstatt and her canonization, both of which occurred on May 1.
The term Walpurgis Night derives from the eighth-century Saint Walpurga. She came from England to Germany as a Christian missionary, and was hailed for her powers against epidemics such as pest, rabies and whooping cough, as well as against witchcraft.
The Catholic Church chose May eve to honor St. Walpurga, protectress against magic arts. Walpurga was an English missionary to Germany in the eighth century.
Walpurgis Night falls on the eve of the feast day of St. Walpurga, an English missionary who was celebrated in the Middle Ages as a protectress against magic. It was a night when witches were believed to ride freely through the land.
In his separate poem Goethe seeks to go back to the origin of the first Walpurgis Night. May-day eve was consecrated to Saint Walpurgis, who converted the Saxons from Druidism to Christianity, and on that night the evil spirits were said to be abroad.
Walpurgis Night, named for St. Walpurga (d. A.D. 777), an English saint whose feast day falls on May Day, is the evening of 30 April (May Day eve) when, as was widely held--particularly during medieval and Renaissance times--witches celebrate a sabbath. Still today there are places where bonfires are kept burning all night to repel the evil spirits.
Between Easter and Pentecost were many other celebrations and feast days. In Germany, for example, was celebrated the Feast of St. Walburga, or Walpurgisnacht, on April 30, the eve of May Day. Walburga was an eighth-century Anglo-Saxon nun and missionary to Franconia, particularly to Bischofsheim on the Tauber, just south of Niklashausen. Her bones were "translated" (that is, moved) on April 30--which became her feast day--sometime during the 870s to Eichstätt, where her brother Willibald had been bishop. Ever since then an oily liquid has oozed out of the rock on which her tomb rests, and has been renowned among pilgrims for its great healing power.
Walpurga, who at the special request of Boniface had accompanied her brother Winibald and kinsman Willibald from Dorsetshire to help the much-toiling missionary in Thuringia, represents a band of devoted women who founded sisterhoods in many parts of Germany, and tamed the people by their Christ-like tenderness and self-sacrifice.
English and Hiberno‐Scottish monks also provided the Carolingian continent with an abundance of missionaries like St. Columbanus, St. Fridolin, St. Boniface, St. Willibrord, and the often overlooked abbess St. Walpurga. These missionaries led a clerical reform movement within the Carolingian dominions as well as a missionary expansion of Christianity into the regions hitherto untouched by Gallo‐Roman Christianity (Frisia, Saxony, Thuringia, Bavaria, Carinthia).
St. Walburga ( Walpurga, Walpurgia, Vaubourg, Falbourg) (710-777) was an Anglo-Saxon woman trained in medicine; she became a nun under St. Tatta at Wimbourne in Dorset, England. St. Boniface was her uncle, and her father was an under-king of the West Saxons. In 748 she followed St. Lioba to Germany at the invitation of Boniface, and there she founded, with her brother, St. Winnibald (d. 761), a double monastery (one for both me and women) at Heidenheim. Walburga was much beloved. She was believed to be able to protect crops and communicate with animals, and her powers were sought as a healer. Images sometimes present her as an earth mother with three ears of corn. When she died on 25 Feb. 777 (some sources say 778 or 779), cults quickly developed in her name, and she became one of the most popular saints in England, Germany, and France. Miracle cures were reported from ailing people who anointed themselves with a fluid known as Walburga's oil that drained from the rock at her sbrine at Eichstatt.
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