This pagan celebration falls of the night of the eve of May 1st and is the night of the Witches Sabbath, rooted in the Harz Mountains. These were said to be wild and orgiastic gatherings at which witches would meet with Satan to plot trouble, mischief and evil for the coming year. 

Photo by Georgiana Avram on Unsplash

Locals would come together on April 30 to protect themselves from the witches. To keep away “evil spirits”, they would make loud noises, light huge bonfires and burn straw men and old belongings for good luck. What had originally been a celebration of spring morphed into a desperate attempt to protect oneself from evil. In the Harz mountains it is still celebrated with people dressing up as witches, bonfires, and outdoor events. This year, due to Corona the Harz tourism board has prepared an online Walpurgis Quiz with a lottery (in German).

Photo by Oxana Melis on Unsplash

The holiday also honors Saint Walpurga, a nun from the late 8th century. As well as battling “pest, rabies and whooping cough”, Walpurga was also celebrated for her success in putting an end to pagan sorcery. After her canonisation, therefore, Christians would pray via Walpurga to God, to protect themselves from witchcraft.  (Source: I am Expat.)

The tradition takes place in many European countries. including The Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Estonia,  and the Czech Republic. 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 neighbors’ gardens, hiding possessions, or spraying graffiti on private property.

How will you celebrate the Witches Sabbath?

Image: Marcus Winkler, Unsplash

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