Tonight in Germany, many will gather around to share their best ghost stories, tell tales about witchcraft and the supernatural, and play little tricks or pranks on unsuspecting victims. Germany hasn’t completely lost it, thinking it’s Halloween 6 months too early, they are celebrating Walpurgisnacht. It may sound a lot like Halloween, and indeed Walpurgisnacht has many similarities. This now Christian holiday was once an ancient pagan celebration, mainly taking place in Germany, Finland, Sweden, Latvia, and Estonia, where witches would gather together with the devil to celebrate their gods and welcome the arrival of spring. A popular belief is that they would meet at Germany’s Harz Mountains where the Brocken (the highest peak) is often shrouded in an eerie mist of clouds.
At this same time, the Vikings participated in rituals to welcome the arrival of the spring climate that would provide fertility for their crops and would light giant bonfires to scare away any luring evil spirits. These bonfires are still an important part of today’s celebration, many Christians have chosen to call them “Easter Fires”, and it is also believed that witches still gather on the last day of April to take part in the pagan festivities.
How this night got the name Walpurgisnacht, or Walpurgis Night, has no real connection with the ancient rituals but comes from Saint Walburga. Walburga, born in England in 710, moved to Germany to become a nun at Württemberg’s Heidenheim convent. After her death in the late 700’s, she was made a saint by Pope Adrian II and May 1st became her celebrated saint day. Because of the Christianization of the pagan holiday that took place on the Eve of May 1, her name quickly became associated with the event. The Christian version of the celebration revolves around banishing all evil spirits before the dawn of the saint’s day and is usually accomplished with the use of loud noises.
So for those of you that love Halloween, you now can celebrate 6 months early. Gather your friends and family around a campfire tonight and tell tales of witches and the paranormal. If you’re the pranking type, we just want to warn you that most Americans may not understand whats going on… but isn’t that the point?
Photo by Andreas Fink