Walpurgisnacht is a German night of the witches. Here are 9 facts about the Second Halloween holiday and the English nun who helped transform the holiday:
- The pagans welcomed spring and fertility rights at the end of April. They held ceremonial festivities to celebrate the end of winter. In Germany, these locations were remote to avoid detection.
- Mount Brocken is the highest peak in the Harz Mountains where the Witches’ Sabbath took place. In medieval times, a wild party was held to celebrate the devil Wotan’s marriage to Freya.
- An English nun named Walpurgis (sometimes spelt Walburgis or Walpurga) moved to Germany to rid the people of pests, illnesses, and witchcraft. Born in Devon, England in 710 A.D., Abbess Walpurgis died on February 25, 777/779. She was buried beside her brother, Saint Willibald, at the church in Heidenheim where it fell into ruin. She was canonized on May 1, 870 A.D. When workers accidently desecrated her tomb, Walpurgis appeared to Bishop Otkar in ghostly form and threatened him. By September, her remains were removed and reinterred in Eichstatt.
- In 893, Otkar’s successor Bishop Erchanbold opened the tomb to collect some relics when he observed Walpurgis’ body immersed in an oily dew. The oil is bottled in small vials and sold as having healing attributes even though chemical testing shows it is composed of water.
- Saint Walpurgis is credited with ending paganism in Germany. This did not last. Many pagans celebrate Walpurgisnacht annually. Initially, people would dress up, make loud noises, hang sprigs, and leave out Ankenschnitt (bread with butter and honey) out for the phantom hounds.
- Today, the celebration is more inclusive and incorporates fireworks and bonfires. The holiday begins on the night of April 30 and runs through the next day, May 1.
- Walpurgisnacht is similar to Halloween as both evolved from pagan practices linked to the changes of the seasons. That is why Walpurgisnacht is considered the Second Halloween.
- These festivities are not isolated to Germany but are held through northern Europe.
- Walpurgisnacht is not May Day (May 1st) or Beltane. Those are separate holidays.
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