A Modern Reconstructionist Tradition
It is my efforts in this essay to accomplish two things. One, and this being the secondary purpose, is to lay a comprehensive foundation, concerning Germanic Magick, from which the primary purpose is to structure the Hexen or Germanic Witchcraft Tradition, into a working system, that can be adapted and utilized in a Neo-Pagan setting.
My first exposure to the ‘Hexen’ Tradition, began while I was stationed in Germany, from 1977-80, in the United States Army. There are several schools of thought, that assert that many of the Craft lineages, both British Traditionalist, i.e. Gardnerian and Alexandrian, and European traditions, primarily Italian or Stregherian Witchcraft, were brought to the United States, via the U.S. Military contacts, along with other ways. There is much documented proof to support this in many areas.
From an article and interview from a Pagan magazine ‘Shadowplay’, the following is concluded:
S: Ravenhawk, the military played a part in your involvement with Paganism?
R: My way into the path was through army groups and covens. The people I trained with were in the army. And then I met more Americans from Augsburg in an army coven with Germans. I'm not in the military myself but got in contact with them and worked with them. There were people in the army (advertising in Stars and Stripes), lots of people into the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) as well. There were a lot of Pagans in the military there.
[The full article and interview will be presented as appendix 1.]
I met two young ladies, with whom I spent a great deal of time. We discussed magickal pursuits, and they informed me that they were Hexen, or German Witches. I asked to do ritual or circle with them, but they refused. They told me that until I was hingebungsvoll [dedicated] or eingeführt [introduced] to the Goddess and her Consort the God, and to the Geister des Platzes or the Spirits of Place, that they could not work with me.
I persisted in asking them, until eventually, they told me, to make preparations for one night. I was involved at that time in a very private ritual, in which an older woman, introduced me, [in High German] to the Goddess, God, and Spirits of Place.
Afterwards, I was allowed to do minor rituals with the girls from time to time, but I never participated in a group ritual.
I was discharged honorably from the Service in the fall of 1980. It was many years, before, I began to seriously understand exactly how important, and how life changing this event would be to not only my Magickal Life, but to my physical life as well.
Later I married a woman, who is of German descent. [Her Grandfather was born in Germany, but brought to America as a very small child].
I began to seriously research Germanic or Hexen Witchcraft. It was, and as continues to be both extremely exciting and frustrating in turn.
The Hexen Tradition is has very little in common with the BTW or Gardnerian and Alexandrian systems of Magick. [Although it is of note to make, that the 1734 British Tradition of Robert Cochrane and the Clan of Tubal Cain, have striking similarities.]
In truth, it bears more similarities with the Italian Witchcraft or Stregheria. [But, this is not that unusual, as it is only slightly over 400 miles or a 7 hour drive, from where I lived in the village of Bruchmulbach Germany to Formazza Italy, by crossing the Austrian alps.]
I have since made several serious contacts, which has assisted me, and helped to confuse me both in association with historical Germanic Craft.
One is Professor Doctor Wolfgang Behringer, considered by many academics as ‘the’ expert on Germanic Witchcraft. Another is the German Shaman Jan Fries. I also have contact to this day, with a German Witch named Ragna, who lives in what was East Germany.
She states, that the ‘old ways’ or the traditional German Craft, or Hexen Traditions, are fast becoming lost, having been replaced by the more popular British Traditional Wicca, of the Gardnerian and Alexandrian influences.
Hexen Traditions, are a very private traditions, in which, the Witch practices as a solitary, the vast majority of the time, working with very Shamanistic principles, in association with the energies of the Spirit Realm, and very much in tuned with the Earth, working closely with herbs and nature.
There are times, when the Hexen gather, primarily for Rites of Passage, i.e. Births, Deaths, and Marriages. They also gather for Walpurgisnacht, or Witches Night [the equivalent to modern Wiccan celebration of Beltane]-this is also when they do their Initiations.
In Germany, Walpurgisnacht (or Hexennacht, meaning Witches' Night), the night from April 30 to May 1, is the night when allegedly the witches hold a large celebration on the Blocksberg and await the arrival of Spring.
Walpurgis Night (in German folklore) the night of April 30 (May Day's eve), when witches meet on the Brocken mountain and hold revels with their gods..."
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.
—Taken from Oxford Phrase & Fable.
A scene in Goethe's Faust Part One is called "Walpurgisnacht", and one in Faust Part Two is called "Classical Walpurgisnacht".
In some parts of northern coastal regions of Germany, the custom of lighting huge Beltane 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".
In rural parts of southern Germany it is part of popular youth culture to play pranks on Walburgisnacht, e.g. tampering with neighbors' gardens, hiding possessions, or spraying graffiti on private property. These pranks occasionally result in serious damage to property or bodily injury.
Curiously Adolf Hitler, with several members of his staff (including Joseph Goebbels), committed suicide on Walpurgisnacht, April 30/May 1, 1945. In the History Channel's documentary, Hitler and the Occult, author Dusty Sklar stated that "It's believed by some people that he chose April 30th deliberately because it coincided with Walpurgis Night, which is believed to be the most important date (along with Halloween) in Satanism. So according to one commentator he was giving himself up to the powers of darkness."
The tools of the Hexen are also, unique in some aspects.
Of course, they utilize the Besom [Witches Broom] as well as the Cauldron. They also utilize two forms of blades, the athame, which is as often as not, a special kitchen knife, as well as the Sword.
The Stang is also utilized. [The Streghera have the bastone] The Stang, in the Hexen or Germanic witch tradition represents not only the World Tree, Yggdrasil, but is also used as the connection to the energies of Above and Below.
It is a Staff, with either a fork at the top, or often, as with mine, antlers at the top. Some individuals even have the full skull with antlers at the top. Although, generally, the larger Stangs are 'coven' stags, instead of individual Stangs.
To many, it can physically represent the Altar itself, with the Staff being phallic representing the God, the fork representing the center of the essence of the Goddess, the 'womb'.
There are still other schools of thought, which feel that the fork is representative of the trinity, the right fork masculine, the left fork feminine and where they meet, the unity of the Divine Spirit, manifesting as the Child.
I personally, burn sigils, and symbols in my own staff to represent my own Magickal journey.
So in essence, it is in many ways my BOS.
In many of the cultures of Europe, A Witch could be recognized by carrying the Stang.
In some traditions, the Stang is to be made of Ash, [mine is made of Elm, for personally reasons.]
Often, there would be a Stang of Blackwood, that would be used for cursing, but this would ONLY be used, under certain circumstances!
In this way, the Stang was representative of the 2-faced God, one branch of the fork, representing the Good and one representing the Bad power of the Divine.
In the Hexen traditions, it is known that formal cursing, though rarely used, is still a part of the Old Faith and as such, we reserve the rights to do so.
Evan John Jones is quoted as describing the Stang thus:
"The ash Stang as a concept is representative of the God-King of the woodland glade; also of the reincarnated Spirit of the Old King in the Young Horned God-Child of the Mother, in her aspect of Diana of the Greenwoods."
Used in the coven, the Stang represents as well the Guardian of the Gateway of the Circle, and guards the entrance to the Otherworld. A link between the world of the Goddess and the sacred space 'between' of the Circle.
It can represent the Hunter, with the skull and atlers [the Horned Lord] as well as representative of fertility.
The wood ash, also represents the sacred wood of birth and rebirth. Positioned in the North just outside the circle, as Guardian, the antlers [and face, my own Stang has a face carved into it, just below where the antlers are] face outward, but after the ritual, the Stang can be turned to face inward, and bears witness to the feast.
It is the son, presiding over the feast in honor of the Goddess.
Some traditions dress the Stang with crossed arrows and seasonal garlands. [I do not practice this].
but, if they are done this way, the arrows represent the duality of the Horned God, and reminds us of the concept of the God in relation to the Hunt, and also reminds us, that one of the many faces of the Goddess is that of the Divine Huntress.
IF you use garlands, a general rule of thumb is the following:
Candlemas-garland of Yew for mourning
May Eve-garland of a mix of Birch, Hazel, willow, and hawthorn.
Lammas-a garland of stalks of grain.
Samhain-generally the arrows are bare, but Yew can be used.
Most often, the Stang is shod with iron after consecration.
It not only 'grounds' the Stang, [there are also other ways of doing this, IF you do not want to use iron], but it is connected with the energy of the Smith.
Many believe that when the Stang is consecrated and when it is used in ritual, that the energy that is relayed into it, cannot be released, due to the inability of the energy of passing through the iron, thus remaining and keeping the Stang charged magickally.
Because MY Stang is made from the wood of the Elm, and because I have a very close personal association with the Fey, and the Pale Ones, I chose NOT to shod my Stang with Iron.
Elm is considered a Border Tree that marks the boundaries between this world and the Otherworlds.
Bard's Woodcraft, is quoted as saying this about the Elm tree:
"One of the tallest ancient forest trees, graceful in its chalice shape, Elm is sacred to the Great Goddess in her form as Wise Grandmother. She is the Qabbalist's Briah, manifest in the planet Saturn. Elm is also called "Elven" for its connection to the Elves and Faerie mounds, and so to burial mounds, and to death as the doorway eternal life. In recent times, as many ancient Elms have been killed off by Dutch Elm disease, the tree has come to symbolize and embody the struggle of Nature against humanity's destruction of the old forests through short-sightedness or the transportation of diseases from other parts of the world. Elm's spirit is majestic and expansive, rooted and wise. Well-suited to magick of Earth and invocation of the Goddess, healing, fertility, gardening, rebirth, destiny, wisdom., passage from one life (or phase of life) to another, metamorphosis, endurance."
We also, as a working group, and individually, grasp the Stang at the conclusion of any ritual working, and 'ground' ourselves, to the Earth, through the Stang which is rooted, by being 'planted' in the ground.
Each tool, has specific duties and positions in ritual. These placements and duties are taught ONLY in ritual, by example and verbal histories, never on paper.
Another major difference between Hexen and BTW, is the Wiccen Rede.
In Hexen, like Stregheria, we retain the power the CURSE.
The wood of the Stang is associated with the purpose of the tool. Blackthorn Stangs or Blackthorn wands, or blasting wands are used for Cursing.
There are specific Hexen rituals for Cursing, but they are VERY closely guarded family or traditional secrets.
Another very important aspect of Hexen tradition that is also similar to Stregheria, is the close working relationship with the Angelick energies, or the Watchers.
In fact, the calling of the Quarters, the Lords of the Watchtowers, are none other than the cardinal Angelick hosts.
It is thought, by BOTH Hexen and Stregheria, that the Watchers were the ones, who taught the skills and mysteries of the Craft to mankind.
Streghan ritual includes evocation of these Watchers, or Grigori,. The Watchers were a specific race of divine beings known in Hebrew as 'nun resh ayin' or 'irin' meaning 'those who watch' or 'those who are awake', which is translated into Greek as Egregoroi egregoris or grigori, meaning 'watchers'.
In Stregha, they are thus the Watchers of the Four Quarters, or the Grigori. Before people walked upon the world, there dwelt these beings. Legends say that the Grigori once were physical beings, but that they are no longer. Now they dwell among the stars. They have set their towers at the four quarters of the world, and are the Watchers of the entrances and exits to the Worlds. The stars are the camp-fires of their armies, ever watching. They were called the powers of the air, and so came to be linked to the winds. Their names are given as : Tago, Alpena, Settrano, Meana.
Raven Grimassi describes them thus:
In Italian Witchcraft the beings known as the Grigori (Watchers) are an integral aspect of the belief system. Over the course of many centuries the initiates of Italian Witchcraft have developed various signs and gestures that are recognized by the Grigori and indicate the presence of a trained witch of the Old Religion. This intimate relationship between Grigori and initiate has been forged and nurtured by the Strega for countless generations. The ritual display of prescribed signs and gestures at the appropriate quarter grants passage by the Grigori and allows the initiate to gain access to the portals that lead directly into the Otherworld realms.
As guardians of the portals to such realms as the astral plane, the Grigori can negate magickal energy from manifesting there. This results in a failed magickal work or spell. The reasons why the guardians might intercede in such a manner are varied, but the Grigori bear the title "guardians" for good reason.
In the early Stellar Cults of Mesopotamia there were four "royal" stars called the Watchers. Each one of these stars "ruled" over one of the four cardinal points common to Astrology. This particular system would date from approximately 3000 BC. The Star Aldebaran, when it marked the Vernal Equinox, held the position of Watcher of the East. Regulus, marking the Summer Solstice, was Watcher of the South. Antares, marking the Autumn Equinox, was Watcher of the West. Fomalhaut, marking the Winter Solstice, was Watcher of the North.
The most common associations found in various texts on Medieval magic regarding the Watchers are as follows:
1. Araqiel: taught the signs of the earth.
2. Armaros: taught the resolving of enchantments.
3. Azazel: taught the art of cosmetics.
4. Barqel: taught astrology.
5. Ezequeel: taught the knowledge of the clouds.
6. Gadreel: taught the making of weapons of war.
7. Kokabeel: taught the mystery of the Stars.
8. Penemue: taught writing.
9. Sarie: taught the knowledge of the Moon.
10. Semjaza: taught Herbal enchantments.
11. Shamshiel: taught the signs of the Sun.
This is the meaning of the WitchBlood.
Another very important aspect of Hexen, is that generally, unless specifically required for a ritual, a large wooden kitchen spoon, usually one that has been in the family for many generations is used in stead of a Wand.
This is closely connected to the concepts of the Kitchen Witch traditions. The belief here is that the Magick and Love that is put into ALL the family meals, is a very powerful and unique energy, very specific to not only traditions, but to family as well.
Another very interesting aspect of Hexen Tradition is the inclusion and use of the BOS. In the BTW it is called ominously the ‘Book of Shadows’, while the Hexen consider it more a book of Secrets [Buch von Geheimnissen], which is more often than not, a book of family stories and recipes or Rezeptes.
It is important to note, that true Hexen, is far from Astru, the recreated Germanic, or Norse system of Magick. Although there are similarities, there are great differences as well.
There are Hexen who practice Galdr or singing the Runes:
Galdr (plural galdrar) is one Old Norse word for "spell, incantation", and which was usually performed in combination with certain rites. It was mastered by both women and men and they chanted it in falsetto (gala).
The incantations were composed in a special meter named galdralag. This meter was similar to the six-lined ljóðaháttr but adds a seventh line. Another characteristic is a performed parallelism, see the stanza from Skirnismál, below.
A practical galdr for women was one that made childbirth easier, but they were also notably used for bringing madness onto another person, whence modern Swedish galen meaning "mad". Moreover, a master of the craft was also said to be able to raise storms, make distant ships sink, make swords blunt, make armour soft and decide victory or defeat in battles. Examples of this can be found in Grógaldr and in Frithiof's Saga. In Grógaldr, Gróa chants nine (a significant number in Norse mythology) galdrs to aid her son, and in Buslubœn, the schemes of king Ring of Östergötland are averted.
It is also mentioned in several of the poems in the Poetic Edda, and for instance in Hávamál, where Odin claims to know 18 galdrs. Odin mastered galdrs against for instance fire, sword edges, arrows, fetters and storms, and he could conjure up the dead and speak to them
as well as Hexen who practice Seid.
Seid or seiðr is an Old Norse term for a type of sorcery or witchcraft which was practiced by the pre-Christian Norse.
Sometimes anglicized as "seidhr", "seidh", "seidr", "seithr" or "seith", the term is also used to refer to modern Neopagan reconstructions or emulations of the practice.
Seid involved the incantation of spells (galðrar; sing. galðr). Practitioners of seid were predominantly women (völva, or seiðkona, lit. "seid woman"), although there were male practitioners (seiðmaðr, lit. "seid man") as well.
Old English terms cognate with seiðr are siden and sidsa, both of which are attested only in contexts which suggest that they were used by elves (ælfe); these seem likely to have meant something similar to seiðr (Hall 2004, pp. 117-30). Among the Old English words for practitioners of magic are wicca (m.) or wicce (f.), the etymons of Modern English witch.
In the Viking Age, seid had connotations of ergi ("unmanliness" or "effeminacy") for men, as its manipulative aspects ran counter to the male ideal of forthright, open behaviour. Freyja and perhaps some of the other goddesses of Norse mythology were seid practitioners, as was Odin, a fact for which he is taunted by Loki in the Lokasenna.
As described by Snorri Sturluson in his Ynglinga saga (sec. 7), seid includes both divination and manipulative magic. It seems likely that the type of divination practiced by seid was generally distinct, by dint of an altogether more metaphysical nature, from the day-to-day auguries performed by the seers (menn framsýnir, menn forspáir).
In The Saga of Eric the Red, the seiðkona or völva in Greenland wore a blue cloak and a headpiece of black lamb trimmed with white cat skin; she carried the symbolic distaff (seiðstafr), which was often buried with her; and would sit on a high platform. In Örvar-Odd's Saga, however, the cloak is black, yet the seiðkona also carries the distaff (which allegedly has the power of causing forgetfulness in one who is tapped three times on the cheek by it]
The goddess Freyja is identified in Ynglinga saga as an adept of the mysteries of seid, and it is said that it was she who taught it to Odin: 'Dóttir Njarðar var Freyja. Hon var blótgyðja. Hon kenndi fyrst með Ásum seið, sem Vönum var títt' ('Njörðr’s daughter was Freyja. She presided over the sacrifice. It was she who first acquainted the Æsir with seiðr, which was customary among the Vanir').
In Lokasenna Loki accuses Odin of practicing seid, condemning it as an unmanly art. A justification for this may be found in the Ynglinga saga where Snorri opines that following the practice of seid, the practitioner was rendered weak and helpless.
One possible example of seid in Norse mythology is the prophetic vision given to Odin in the Völuspá by the völva, vala, or seeress after whom the poem is named. Her vision is not connected explicitly with seiðr, however: the word occurs in the poem in relation to a character called Heiðr (who is traditionally associated with Freyja but may be identical with the völva: see McKinnell 2001). The interrelationship between the völva in this account and the Norns, the fates of Norse lore, are strong and striking.
Another noted mythological practitioner of seiðr was the witch Groa, who attempted to assist Thor, and who is summoned from beyond the grave in the Svipdagsmál.
Shamanism is a tradition which has been maintained widely throughout the world and it is probably of prehistoric origin. Since the publication of Jakob Grimm's socio-linguistical Deutsches Wörterbuch (p. 638) in 1835, scholarship draws a Balto-Finnic link to seid, citing the depiction of its practitioners as such in the sagas and elsewhere, and link seid to the practices of the noajdde, the patrilineal shamans of the Sami people. However, Indo-European origins are also possible (for references see Hall 2004, 121-22). Note that the word seita (Finnish) or sieidde (Sami) is a human-shaped body formed by a tree, or a large and strangely shaped stone or rock and does not involve "magic" or "sorcery"; there is a good case, however, that these words do derive ultimately from seiðr (Parpola 2004).
Diana Paxson and her group, Hrafnar, have attempted reconstructions of seid from available historical material, particularly the oracular form. Jan Fries traces seid as an inspiration for his "seething" shamanic technique, though he is less concerned with precise historical reconstruction. See further Blain 2002, which discusses different ways in which seidr is being re-constituted today, in Scandinavia, the UK and the US.
Within British Heathenry, seidr according to Blain (2002) is becoming an intrinsic part of spiritual practice. This is not necessarily 'reconstruction', but may relate more to associations of people, land, and spirits.
It has been suggested that during seances the seiðkona would enter a state of trance in which her soul was supposed to "become discorporeal", "take the likeness of an animal", "travel through space", and so on. This state of trance may have been achieved through any of several methods: entheogens, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, for instanceTo galdra, that is, the chanting of galdrar was also involved in creating the state of trance.
There is also, the Germanic Witchcraft evolution of the Pennsylvania Dutch magick or Pow-wow magick, or ‘volk [folk] magic.
Pow-wow is a system of American folk religion and magic associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch. It comes from the book Pow-wows, or, The Long Lost Friend, written by John George Hohman and first published in German as Der Lange Verborgene Freund in 1820. Despite the Native name, taken from an Algonquian word for a shaman, the collection is actually a very traditional collection of European magic spells, recipes, and folk remedies, of a type familiar to students of folklore. They mix Roman Catholic prayers, magic words, and simple rituals to cure simple domestic ailments and rural troubles. Once these charms and spells were written down in English, they escaped the (originally German) Pennsylvania Dutch community and influenced hoodoo and other forms of folk magic and folk religion in the United States.
The tradition is also called hex or hex work, or Speilwerk in Pennsylvania Dutch; its adepts are hexenmeisters. The tradition of Hex signs painted on Pennsylvania barns in some areas originally relates to this tradition, as the symbols were pentagrams thought to have talismanic properties; though many current hex signs are made simply for decoration.
Also important to the pow-wow practitioner were the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, books brought to the United States from Germany, containing cabalistic magic, claiming to be the magical arts by which Moses obtained his powers and commanded spirits. Actually, the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses were apparently compiled by Johann Scheibel in eighteenth century Germany.
Another popular and rare source book, is Pow-Wows, or The Long Lost Friend
"The Long Lost Friend" is an English-language edition of "Der Lange Verborgene Freund," a magical receipt-book written in German by Johann Georg Hohman, and published first in Pennsylvania in 1820. Its original title would be better translated at "The Long Hidden Vade-Mecum," but since 1846, it has been known in English as "The Long Lost Friend" and the author is now "John George" Hohman to his English-language readers.
The title "Pow-Wows" -- added to the third English-language edition -- brings to mind the 19th century American spiritualist movement, a religious revival in which trance mediums consulted the ghosts of American Indians and deceased relatives for advice. Originally an Anglo-Saxon offshoot of Protestant Christianity, spiritualism found ready acceptance among African-American slaves because it accorded with African religious beliefs regarding the spirits of the dead -- called the Eggun in Yoruba -- who were honoured with food and drink at ritual ceremonies and called upon for aid. The use of "Indian Spirit Guide" imagery continues in hoodoo products to this day, and can be seen in such brand names as "Powerful Indian" products, "Old Indian Stop Evil Condition" liquid soap from Sonny Boy Products, "Indian Spirit Guide" 7-day candles from The Lama Temple, and the E. Davis Company's "Money House Blessing" room spray with "Indian Fruit Oil," "Nine Indian Fruit[s]" and "Indian Spirit." But the added title aside, there is nothing Native American about the contents of "Pow-Wows" -- every veterinary recipe and magical formula in the booklet derives from a German source, as the author himself makes clear in the text.
The subtitle of the booklet hints at the breadth of its contents. It is nothing less than
A Collection of Mysterious and Invaluable Arts and Remedies for Man as well as Animals with many proofs of their virtue and efficacy in healing diseases, etc., the greater part of which was never published until they appeared in print for the first time in the United States in the year 1820.
Some of the early German-language editions of "The Long Lost Friend" ascribe Hohman's receipts to Saint Albertus Magnus (1193-1280) and other editions claim that the remedies were collected from "the Arabic writings of the wise alchemist Omar Arey, Emir Chemir Tschasmir." Both of these attributions are missing from the English-language editions of the book. But Hohman was no stranger to occultism: If the contents of three anonymous books generally credited to him are in fact his, then in addition to compiling recipes for dye-stuffs, instructions on midwifery, and veterinary medicines, he also wrote about Christian legends and "the wonders of sympathy and animal magnetism," the latter a blend of occultism and quasi-scientific theory quite popular among mid-19th century sex-magicians, including the notorious Paschal Beverly Randolph.
Hohman's "Long Lost Friend" was what in music would be called a "cross-over hit." First published in German for Pennsylvania Dutch hex-meisters, after the translation of 1846 it had a tremendous influence on the Anglo-Saxon folk magicians of the Appalachians. (For an accurate description of its use by backwoods European-American herbalists -- albeit in a fictional context -- see the "Silver John" fantasy stories of Manley Wade Wellman, who was quite a folklorist in his own right.) The 1930s edition shown here -- containing the 1828 supplement by the author -- was printed on low-grade newsprint from very worn old printing plates. It is still in print, on white paper these days, and is as valuable a reference source as it ever has been.
Because it is so rich in magical lore, "Pow-Wows or The Long Lost Friend" is in itself a magical item. The very last page of the pamphlet presents the reader with this advisory:
Whoever carries this book with him, is safe from all his enemies, visible or invisible; and whoever has this book with him cannot die without the holy corpse of Jesus Christ, nor drowned in any water, nor burn up in any fire, nor can any unjust sentence be passed upon him. So help me. + + + [make the sign of the cross three times]"
Another characteristic practice of pow-wow magic is the Himmelsbrief or "heaven's letter" and Teufelsbrief, a "devil's letter," which presumably is meant to bestow a curse. Significantly, the Long Lost Friend assures its owner that:
Whoever carries this book with him, is safe from all his enemies, visible or invisible; and whoever has this book with him cannot die without the holy corpse of Jesus Christ, nor drowned in any water, nor burn up in any fire, nor can any unjust sentence be passed upon him. So help me.
CURE FOR THE HEADACHE
Tame thou flesh and bone, like Christ in Paradise; and you who will assist thee, this I tell thee (name) for your repentance sake. + + + This you must say three times, each time lasting for three minutes, and your headache will soon cease. But if your headache is caused by strong drink, or otherwise will not leave you soon, then you must repeat these words every minute. This, however, is not necessary in regard to headache.
TO REMOVE BRUISES AND PAINS
Bruise, thou shalt not heat;
Bruise, thou shalt not sweat;
Bruise, thou shalt not run,
No more than Virgin Mary shall bring forth another son. + + +
TO MAKE GOOD BEER
Take a handful of hops, five or six gallons of water, about three tablespoons full of ginger, half a gallon of molasses; filter the water, hops, and ginger into a tub containing the molasses.
So, as one can tell, Germanic Magick, is a very complex and multi-leveled system, that crosses many lines, and is often immune to boundaries.
The Hexen Tradition of Germanic Witchcraft is but one of these facets.
PAGANISM IN GERMANY
Part One -An Interview with Ravenhawk
This section is written in two parts - Part One being an interview with Ravenhawk, who was visiting Truthseeker here in Seattle. They both spent a very pleasant evening chatting to Rhea and Raven. This is his second trip to the U.S. - he attended Pagan festivals in the midwest area on his previous trip some years ago. We liked him a lot and hope that he comes back for another visit. Part Two is a rambling article by Truthseeker, acquainting us with her impressions, memories and experiences of Paganism in Germany, where she lived for a number of years before returning to the U.S. She now lives in Seattle (lucky us!) so we get to see her (and her pink reeboks) almost as often as we'd like.
S = Shadowplay T = Truthseeker R = Ravenhawk
S: Just how similar are the German and American Pagan Communities?
T: In Germany there are as many personalities and prejudices as we have here in America.
S: The same kind of prejudices? For instance, here there's a distinct gulf between most Wiccans and most Ceremonialists.
R: In Germany, it's more the Trad people and the eclectic people who make a gulf. But it's not that hard - they write each other letters and write to each other's newsletters.
S: But they don't mix socially as a community?
R: I don't think connections in Germany can be called a Community. There's groups you've heard of, like the Chaos coven, very free and eclectic, who use parts of Traditional ritual, but reject real Traditional stuff. They're very open; they do a newsletter called the Hexenzeit Shrift. The connection is through newsletters and networking, unless there is a Traditional link, say towards England and a group there. The Pan European Wiccan Conference is more Traditionally oriented, with people from England, Norway, Germany. The people I know who go to that are mostly Alexandrian.
T: One of the sad things I found was that very often as an American I would get unfavourable responses, because "American Craft isn't real".
R: But that's more because of England. People from there will develop an attitude towards American upstarts.
S: So, how do people usually, from your experience, get into Paganism?
R: There are no books. Only Starhawk and Z Budapest in the women's sections of bookshops and a lot of German books on Witchcraft which are like Hollywood and cheap Victorian material translated into German. So the only thing most people get inspired with are novels like Mists of Avalon and try to get in touch through New Age shops.
S: How about Esoteric Fairs?
R: A few years ago the New Age Fairs were full of everything, but lately it's getting really small. And it's mostly Tarot and pendulums and New Age Christians - universal life - dressing in white and drinking sacred water ... an old lady as trance medium for Jesus ...
S: Like Elizabeth K Prophet? Did you make much contact this way?
R: I left my address at a New Age store and wrote to magazines. It took some time but I finally got in touch with people who lived close by, some of whom were part of a German/American military contact group run by people who were originally from the U.S., and basically Gardnerian in orientation, with some eclectic leanings. I joined them during a period of retreat. The coven I contacted was Waxing Oak, and two of their people and I formed the nucleus of another coven with myself as a trainee. Over a period of time other people joined and we got together with others from Waxing Oak for festivals and celebrations.
The two people who trained me have now been initiated Alexandrian by Vivienne Crowley, and she seems to do most contact between German and English groups.
S: Do many people come into Paganism through feminism or alternative politics?
R: I wouldn't say you come to it from there; it's just that through living that way you meet other people and may find a Tradition. Lots of times people in the Craft are also in those kind of areas.
T: The only people who I know who are very activist are contacts for Pagans for Peace.
R: The Fellowship of Isis has a lot of members in Germany too.
S: Do you have contact with Ceremonial groups?
R: The only contacts I have are through Hexenzeit Schrift. I read their articles but it's not really my thing.
T: They have their own magazines - Baphomet for example.
S: The Ceremonial things you did read - what are they like?
R: I get goosebumps about them.
S: Is there an element of Nazi magic there?
R: Only by rumour. And it's just a rumour, no evidence. And I don't like gossip. It's a way of calling people names and giving them a bad reputation.
T: People use sites because of their power and sometimes neo-Nazi types show up, especially for public midsummer celebrations. But they're not part of the magical groups and are a nuisance.
S: I'm hearing that it would be hard to go back to Pre-Christian Paganism because of the Nazi appropriations of mythology. Is this a problem in German Craft?
R: I don't think people relate old German things to Nazi things. I got lots of films in school so as to make sure this generation didn't get taken in by that kind of thing. The people in the Nazi movement were just using magical runes, etc, as a way of trying to claim power. In general, people don't relate the Nazi thing to religion. So, people won't call you a Nazi because you are researching with runes. That would be different.
S: Ravenhawk, the military played a part in your involvement with Paganism?
R: My way into the path was through army groups and covens. The people I trained with were in the army. And then I met more Americans from Augsburg in an army coven with Germans. I'm not in the military myself but got in contact with them and worked with them. There were people in the army (advertising in Stars and Stripes), lots of people into the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) as well. There were a lot of Pagans in the military there.
S: Did they have any problems becuase of their religion?
R: They used to have problems, but once the army chaplains' manual came out with reference to Wiccans and Pagans, there weren't such a lot of problems.
S: What were some of the fun things you got up to over there - festivals and things?
R: Public rituals have mostly happened in Berlin; we're not that public. I think the P.E.W.C. people are planning to do a public Beltaine some time in the future.
S: So things are mainly by invitation?
R: Yes, you can bring a friend if you're responsible for them, and you know you are responsible. Only advertising in a magazine, with a contact number for people to call if they want to come. The only gathering where lots of people gather is at midsummer at the Externsteine. Not organised or advertised, like Stonehenge in Britain. Lots of groups, not all of them people I'd want to know.
S: Sounds very familiar somehow. Finally, you mentioned magazines before - what's the most popular equivalent to the U.S. and Oz magazines?
R: Hexenzeit Schrift - it's not as big as Circle, but is a place to swap information. It's changed over a period of time - started off handwritten and now is a professional style magazine.
Ravenhawk returned to Germany only a week after this interview where he continues to live, work and walk his own particular Way.
PartTwo - Pagan Ramblings by Truthseeker
Walpurgisnacht in the Hartz mountains. The May fires are burning in the villages, and people are dancing on mountain paths, in the meadows and on the streets.
Midsummer at the Externsteine in the Teutoburg Forest. A coven of German Witches go to greet the rising sun, walking up to the "gravestone" where one sits to be blessed by the sun@#146;s rays, a blessing that can only occur at Midsummer. They consider themselves the guardians of the stones.
Fasching, a German carnival. Men dressed as Witches, fools, and harlequins chase the demon winter spirits away. In the Black Forest and Schwabian hills, the Pagan element in town festivals is still very strong.
Worms, town of the original Niebelungen legend. A group of Witches meet on the shores of the Rhine. They create a spiral dance, chanting songs learned from a translated copy of The Spiral Dance. They raise energy to clean Father Rhine of pollutants.
In a Frankfurt suburb, people are meditating on runic sounds and syllables. Their workshop is being sponsored by Yggdrasil E.V., a Nordic/Celtic social club.
They are everywhere. You can find them as part of the feminist political movement, the Green movement, or at psychic fairs selling crystals and reading Tarot. They are at medieval festivals, hawking drinking horns and amulets, they walk down the street as Celtic warriors, or work at BASF as engineers. Young, old, radical, conservative, open or secretive, there is indeed a Pagan renaissance in Germany.
I had the unique opportunity of being an Army wife living in Germany who spoke the language like a native. The people I worked with were both American soldiers and German locals.
I grew up on Wagner and the Ring Cycle. Imagine how thrilling it was to be walking up the steps of the Bascilica, where Brunhilde and Krenhilde fought for Siegfried@#146;s heart, touching walls where Gothic stonemasons had carved runes to protect the structure of the church. It seems that every German town has its own Roman road, Celtic column or sacred well to one of the local deities.
It was here in Worms that I met Peter and his family. Peter is a high priest of the Light of Pentacle Coven, Thane of the Warriors of Caitilin ni Houlihan, a Celtic warrior band, and an initiate of Alex Sanders himself.
Peter is proud to be an anarchist. In the early 80s, Peter and some friends published Mephisto, a Pagan magazine. Tragically, it has since folded. The warriors put on live steel fighter demos, a good show where the evil cleric ends up being thrown into the fire. Lions 1, Christians 0. Peter@#146;s house was a safe haven (a large one at that @#151; four kids, two iguanas, a cat, a ferret, and a very active house spirit). Occasionally, we would do ritual outside at an old Roman quarry.
When Darkstar, a friend of mine, and student of my spouse, married a German and moved to Frankfurt, they started having an open house once a month, and these eventually turned into a loose-knit coven consisting mostly of young Germans. It was interesting to watch a rather generic traditionalist coven evolve into a living, breathing entity. The coven opened avenues of discussion and dialogue between the imported American traditionalism and the German passion for individualism. These people became my family and though at that time I was living two hours away in Schwabia, the connections remained close. We networked with other Heathens across the country, until my circle stretched from Augsberg to Berlin. These were the people I did most of my rituals with. Our friend@#146;s wife was a friend of the editor of the German Pagan magazine called The Hain.
One of our rituals was done in Augsburg by a Military coven, where some German and American military Pagans gathered together for Beltaine. Brother Bob, the high priest, talked to one of the local farmers who owned some forest land, and the farmer thought that fertilizing the fields was a great idea. We gathered together and romped and ran through the woods, evoking the God energy. We climbed trees, rolled in leaves, shouted, and yodelled until we were ready for the ritual. Ravenhawk and I went into our tents to prepare for our deity contact. I was attended by the women at the camp, as he was by the men. We were led into circle as deity. Ravenhawk was skyclad, with antlered mask and a brown silk cloak. Once in circle, we were Other. Language was transcended. I felt a very deep connection to the land.
It was cold in May so I did my Goddess work in pink Reeboks. I may have been skyclad, but I didn@#146;t want my feet to get cold. Doing a fivefold kiss in pink Reeboks is... a spiritual experience.
When the Darkstar Coven dissolved, Ravenhawk and I started looking for German Pagans. We found the Chaos Coven at a psychic fair. These people are responsible for another German language Pagan magazine, the Hexenzeit Schrift. This is a marvellous, irreverant Pagan magazine. They truly believe in spontaneous ritual, with no hierarchy. These are also the first German Pagans I met who spoke only German. Reinventing Pagan language, a la Mary Daly, started to get interesting. One of the odd things is that most German Pagans I met are more comfortable claiming to be a Witch than a Hexe.
When I started using German to talk about ritual and magick, my personal magickal vocabulary changed. My emotions turned toward the local land and the German country and I began to relate to the German mindset. Ravenhawk and I found a place close to my house, where the wood spirits talked and the faeries danced. It was on a cliff, and we threw offerings into the brier patch.
Close to Stuttgart, I have friends who are members of the Green Party and the Fellowship of Isis, as well as being the German contacts for Pagans for Peace. Ulrich inherited some land and is building a sacred Grove and stone circle, something he is quite qualified for as he is a landscape technician. The ley lines are strong, and they also have a gate to faerie close by, into which one can walk and lose many, many hours. He is also a dancer in the Schaeferlauf (Shepherd@#146;s Run), a tradition that has Pagan fertility roots. One dances for the possession of a drunken rooster, symbol of the Sun God. When Ulli finally won, he dedicated the rooster to the God and it now lives very happily on a biofarm. No chicken soup for him.
The culmination of the Pagan renaissance is seen in the Pan-Pagan conference, a week long festival, only for Europeans created by PEWC (the Pan-European Wiccan Council). It started out with about 40 people in Berlin some three years ago, with folks sleeping on living room floors, and has blossomed into an event with approximately 200 attendants. People come from as far away as Norway. English elders dance with Norwegian drummers, there is chanting and firewalking, and a good time is had by all. Paganism is definitely blooming in Germany.
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A few modern Wiccans try to trace their magic practices back to Anglo-Saxon practices. The sad truth is however, Anglo-Saxon witchcraft and modern Wiccan practice have little to do with each other. With the exception of some kitchen witchery and other such practices, there is no evidence of an unbroken tradition of organized witchcraft from the Elder Heathen Period until now. For one thing, the ancient Anglo-Saxon witches certainly did not worship a God and Goddess, not in the sense that Wiccans do today (they worshipped gods and goddesses like Woden, Thunor, and Frige of the Germanic pantheon). Nor did they have anything like the Wiccan Rede. Modern Wiccan magic practice largely owes its orgins to Masonic ritual and the practices of High Ritual Magic groups formed in the early 20th century like the Golden Dawn with bits and pieces of kitchen witchcraft thrown in. The Old English words for witch, wicce "a female witch" or wicca "a male witch" in no way means "wise one," by the way. Neither word is even remotely related to our words wit, wise, wisdom, or their Old English equivalents. As near as scholars can tell the words either derive from an Indo-European *wik- meaning "to bend," or another Indo-European root, *weg- related to words for "lively, watchful." Old High German had a cognate to witch, wikkerie, as did the Saxon German dialects in the term wikker as does Dutch with wikken. The term does not appear however in the Scandanavian languages (Old Norse vitki is cognate to Old English witega "wise one"). Similarly, there are no cognates in the Scandanavian languages for High German Hexe or Old English hæg (which was once used interchangeably with witch). None of this invalidates Wicca as a religion, it is merely a statement of the facts at hand. That being said, we can move onto the topic at hand. What was Anglo-Saxon witchcraft?
"What was Anglo-Saxon witchcraft?" is a very difficult question to answer. Our sources are primarily laws against the practice of witchcraft. These laws unfortuantely lump a whole lot of Heathen practices together so that it is difficult to tell whether galderes "charm speakers," seers, and leechs "healers" were counted as witches, or if these were counted as seperate types of magic users much like the difference made in Germany between the modern Hexen and Hexmeister. However when faced with many of the law codes, as well as words commonly used in conjunction with wicce or wicca, we begin to see a pattern somewhat confirmed by folklore about the witches or Hexen on the continent. The following paragraphs from Aelfric's Homilies parallels many of the folktales about the witches in the Hartz Mountains:
"Nu cwyth sum wiglere thaet wiccan oft secgath swa swa hit agaeth mid sothum thincge. Nu secge we to sothan thaet se ungesewenlica deofol the flyhth geond thas woruld and fela thincg gesihth geswutelath thaera wiccan hwaet heo secge mannum thaet tha beon fordone the thaene drycraeft secath"
"Now some sooth sayers say that witchs often say the truth of how things go. Now we say in truth that the invisible devil that flies yonder around this world and many things sees and reveals to the witch what she may say to men, so that those that seek out this wizardry may be destroyed."
"Gyt farath wiccan to wega gelaeton and to haethenum byrgelsum mid heora gedwimore and clipiath to tham deofle, and he cymth him to on thaes mannes gelicnysse the thaer lith bebyrged swylce he of deathe arise, ac heo ne maeg thaet don thaet se deada arise thurh hire drycraeft."
"Yet fares witches to where roads meet, and to heathen burials with their phanton craft and call to them the devil, and he comes to them in the dead man's likeness, as if he from death arises, but she cannot cause that to happen, the dead to arise through her wizardry."
The first passage mentions activities we see connected with witches in later medieval folklore. That is the ability to use a fetch to travel far away, and see what is going on there. Very similar are folktales about the witches of the Hartz mountains and their abilities to fly through the air. In Old Norse, this practice is generally referred to as hamfara "soul skin faring." The second passage mentions a practice we see in the Eddas and Icelandic sagas, the ability to speak to the dead. In addition to the ability to travel long distance through flight and communication with the dead, we find indications that witches were shape shifters. Terms such as Old English scinnlæca (scinn "phantom" + læca "leech or healer") may well refer to this practice which is well documented in the Norse Eddas and sagas, not to mention Germanic folklore.
Looking at German folk tales, we see that the German Hexe (cognate to our word hag and Old English hæg) too was accused of flying through the air to places far away, as well as shape shifting. The following is from the German folktale, "The Trip to the Brocken" which demonstrates German beleif in the ability to travel through the air to a place far away:
"The day came when witches go the Brocken, and the two women climbed into the hayloft, took a small glass, drank from it, and suddenly disappeared. The bridegroom-to-be, who had sneaked after them and observed them, was tempted to take a swallow from the glass. He picked it up and sipped a little from it, and suddenly he was on the Brocken, where he saw how his fiancée and her mother were carrying on with the witches, who were dancing around the devil, who was standing in their midst."
The Canon Episcopi dating from the 10th century confirms this folktale:
"Some wicked women, perverted by the Devil, seduced by illusions and phantasms of demons [who] believed and profess themselves, in the hours of the night to ride upon certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of the pagans, and an innumerable multitude of women, and in the silence of the dead of night to traverse great spaces of earth and to obey her commands as of their mistress and to be summoned to her service on certain nights"
Another folktale, shows they were also thought able to shape shift:
"In Trent there formerly lived a girl who had inherited a witch's thong from her grandmother. Whenever she tied the thong around herself she would turn into a hare. In this form she often heckled a forester who lived in the vicinity. Whenever he would shoot at her, his bullets just glanced off her pelt. When he came to realize that there was something uncanny going on here, he loaded his flintlock with a coffin nail that he had somehow acquired."
While much of what was said of witchcraft in the Middle Ages may be suspect, the earliest records seem to indicate that the ability to fly, shape shift, and commune with the dead may have been central to Anglo-Saxon witchcraft. Whether or not these practices were in any way related in the minds of the Heathen Anglo-Saxons to the use of galdor, the runes, and other magic arts is subject to question. Considering that galdorcraft was allowed to continue, all though in a Christianized form, and that the runes continued to be used, at least for non-magical purposes, it is likely the two were seen as different from witchcraft even in the minds of the ancient Heathens. Also perhaps held to be seperate from witchcraft was the use of herbs or lybbcraeft.
Subject to question also is whether Anglo-Saxon witchcraft was related to, or a part of the Norse practice known to us as seiðr. There are tales of the "witch ride" in the Scandanavian countires of the sort seen in German folktales, and of course there are well documented tales of shape shifting. None of these seems to have been refered to as seiðr however. Communication with the dead on the other hand may well fall under the heading of seiðr. In Erik the Red's Saga, we are not told whether the spirits the seeress summoned were the dead, land wights, or secondary gods. The seeress ritual portrayed there is commonly thought to be seiðr by many Heathen scholars and academics. This however, has been hotly debated, and many feel it should not fall under the heading of seiðr, but spá (seercraft). Nonetheless, "seið hon kunni," or "seiðr she knows" was said of the völva that was summoned by Woden in the Prose Edda, and volvas were known for their ability to speak with the dead. It could be therefore that communication with wights was not seiðr while commnuication with the dead was. Eric Wodening has identified the primary components of seiðr in his work Chanting Around the High Seat as 1) Use of a seiðhiallr or "seiðr platform." 2) Chanting. 3) Use of a staff 4) Use of Talsimans.
The seiðhiallr or "seið platform" appears no where in Anglo-Saxon or Germanic witchcraft practices, and this may be an indication that seiðr and witchcraft are similar but seperate arts. In fact is interesting that what objects are emphasized in the practice of seiðr are not even mentioned as important in connection with witchcraft and those objects and practices of witchcraft are not mentioned as important in connection with seiðr, save perhaps for the talismans and staff. This would definitely seem to indicate that the two practices may be similar but are somehow different. To further this line of thought, Kveldulf Gundarsson in his article Spae-Craft, Seiðr, and Shamanism notes:
" In fact, the word seiðr is never used in conjunction with any sort of shape-shifting or travelling out of the body (the latter being usually the province of Saami, as with the 'Finnish' wizards Ingimundr sent after his Freyr-image in Vatnsdoela saga ch. XII), let alone for journeying to the Underworld or Overworld."
If seiðr and witchcraft are seperate arts, then where does seiðr appear in the southern Germanic sources? The answer to that is we do not know. Witchcraft in the form seen in the English and German materials is also seen in the Scandanavian countries, but other than a possible cognate to the term seiðr in Old English (sidsa "charm") one would be hard pressed to find evidence of seiðr in Germany and England.
Finally, there are some indications from Germanic folklore that witchcraft was linked to the worship of a specific goddess. Holda or Dame Holle is mentioned frequently in folklore of the Hartz Mountains in connection with the Hexen. There is unfortunately no corrensponding evidence in the Anglo-Saxon corpus. That is not to say ancient Anglo-Saxon Heathen witchcraft was not a part of a Goddess' cult, but merely to say there is no evidence either way. Part of the connection to the Goddess Holde in Germany appears to be linked to the Wild Hunt and the witches' ride on May Eve. The Hunt appears in Anglo-Saxon literature and we have tales of the witches' ride as well. The only factor missing in the Anglo-Saxon corpus appearing in the German is the Goddess Holde. Both the Wild Hunt and the witches' ride appear in English folklore.
Rebuilding a Modern Practice
Ancient witchcraft appears to have consisted of faring forth (to put it in modern Heathen magical terminology) or travelling out of body, shape shifting, the use of the fetch, and communication with the dead. General spell craft and divination (augries and omens are mentioned in Anglo-Saxon laws in close relation to witchcraft) probablly accompanied these arts to form the core of Anglo-Saxon witchcraft. In order to reconstruct these arts, we are reliant upon other magical traditions to a degree. Harner's book The Way of the Shaman can be of great help. While ancient Anglo-Saxon witchcraft was not shamanic in character, it has much in common with shamanism. Faring forth from the body is central to shamanism, as is the use of power animals (in our case, the fetch). Shape shifting in ancient witchcraft was probably done in out of body form, so here too we can be helped by modern Pop Shamanism. Divination or the taking of omens, can no doubt be reconstructed with ease (many omens survived in folklore), as well as the use of the spa rite based on the instance in Eirik the Red's Saga. It must be stressed that it is doubtful Anglo-Saxon witchcraft was a healing art, at least not in the sense shamanism is. Galdor and herbcraft seem to have been the means that were used in healing the body. No doubt, many ancient wiccan knew these arts as well though.
Glosecki, Stephen O. Shamanism and Old English Poetry, Garland Press, 1991
Griffiths, Bill. Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic, Norfolk: Anglo-Saxon Books, 1996.
Harner, Michael, The Way of the Shaman, Harper Collins, NY, 3rd Edition, 1990
Storms, G. Anglo-Saxon Magic, Martinus Nijhoff: The Hague, 1948
Heide: Witch-Goddess of the North
by Diana L. Paxson
Night has fallen. Shadow veils the fields we know and hides the familiar features of the town around us from view. In darkness, all is as it was a thousand years ago. The world is hushed, resting after the work of the day. Everywhere, folk seek their beds; in the distance a wolf howls and dogs bark their answer, closer, someone slams a door.
The village around you is seeking sleep, but you wait for the secret hour, the hour of silence. You have bolted your door and curtained your windows; folk have died for what you are about to do, for though you make yourself comfortable and close your eyes you are not sleeping, tonight you have a journey to go...
The scent of the sacred herbs is sharp and pungent; you breathe deeply, letting the stillness around you fill your soul– in ... and out ... in ... and out ... You relax, your limbs grow heavy, pressing you into the chair. You cannot move your legs, your arms are slack, your fingers curled; your breast and belly rise and fall as you breathe, and all your tensions gently ease away. You breathe deeply, drawing in peace, letting go of care– in ... and out ... in ... and out ...
Now you are floating ... A face appears in memory– the old woman who comes sometimes to the village, casting the runes in exchange for a place to sleep and a crust of bread. Once more you hear her message–
"The time has come. You are summoned to the hilltop. Tonight the Lady will be here. . . ."
Excitement tingles in your veins; fear flutters in your belly; you need to see Her, but what will happen if you go? Call now from the Otherworld your ally, your familiar, the beast-friend who will help you to make your journey. Silently repeat the words of the spell–
"Into my ally's shape I'll gowith care and labor, as I know,And I shall go in the Lady's name,all 'till I come home again."
The change takes you, and in beast-shape or riding, you are off into the windy darkness!
Ah, the freedom, the joy of this wild ride through the night sky! Everything you know is left behind. There are no landmarks here, only swift motion, and other riders around you, familiar and strangers, coming, like you, to answer the call ... But now you find yourself descending far from human habitation– only one point of light shows in this wilderness of heath and hill.
On the highest hilltop, a fire is burning, its flickering hidden by the tangled trees.. Dark shapes move around it; as you swoop downward you can hear the edged sweetness of a fiddle, the heart-beat of a drum. Hanging above the fire is a cauldron; the scent of the herbs boiling within it is already beginning to mingle with the tang of woodsmoke in the air.
"You are late," cry the others– you know them for your sisters, though you only meet here. "It is almost midnight!"
You dismiss your steed and reach out to take the hand that is offered you. Viol and drum take up the tune with redoubled vigor, and you begin to dance. Around and around the cauldron you go, singing, chanting. Sparks blaze up from the fire and dance dizzily with the stars.
And presently, you become aware that someone else is leading the dancing– an old woman, but more lively than all the rest of you, thin legs pounding the ground as her dark skirts fly. Grey hair streams out from beneath her kerchief; one moment she looks ancient, and the next she is laughing like a girl. The dance whirls until you can hardly stand, and at that moment the music ceases.
You sway, and see that old woman stand suddenly straighter, and now her draperies fall like a cloak around her, and her eyes have become wells of mystery. Your heart skips a beat, or perhaps it is leaping for joy. For you know now that She is here, and it is time for the magic to begin. . . .
In the lands where Germanic languages are spoken today, there were witches before ever the Inquisitors wrote down their Satanic fantasies, brewing spells and dancing on the mountaintops. Holy women and hags, they were the heirs to an ancient tradition, and the name for the goddess who embodied their lore was "Heide", Witch and Wisewoman of the North.
The goddess who survived in the popular imagination as the witch of Germanic fairy tales has a venerable history. The comments of Tacitus on the position of women among the Germanic tribes have been widely quoted–
They even suppose somewhat of sanctity and prescience to be inherent in the female sex; and therefore neither despise their counsels, nor disregard their responses. We have beheld, in the reign of Vespasian, Veleda, long reverenced by many as a deity.(Germania : 8).
Among the tribes, the holy women played a crucial religious role, and though even before the conversion to Christianity it was somewhat eroded, the belief in female access to chthonic wisdom was retained in the figure of the Völva from whom even the great god Odin sought knowledge of his destiny.
But there are few powers in this world which cannot be misused to do harm, and those who have the greatest power to heal or help are the most likely to be suspected of evil-doing. The degree to which women had been reverenced was the measure of the hostility which they might inspire, especially as their social power decreased, since a culture typically both fears that which it has suppressed and ascribes to it magic powers. As Grimm puts it:
The witches are of the retinue of former goddesses, who hurled from their thrones, transformed from precious adored beings into malign and dreaded ones, roam restlessly by night, and instead of their once stately progresses can only maintain stolen forbidden conferences with their adherents.(Teutonic Mythology, p. 1055)
Fortunately, in Scandinavia the pagan tradition degenerated more slowly, and has left us with sufficient material from which to form an image of the goddess who gave the witches of the North Her name.
Heide first appears in the "Voluspá" in the stanza following the description of Gullveig. Both have been seen as aspects of Freyja, since in this passage the goddess has apparently come to Odin's hall as either a spy or emissary of the Vanir.
I remember the first
great war in the world,
they pierced with spears,
and in the hall of Hár
they burned her;
thrice they burned her
three times reborn–
oft, not seldom–
yet still she lives.
Like Odin in King Geirrod's hall, the hostile fires could not consume her. If she came as a spy, perhaps the Aesir had reason to torment her. But if she came as an emissary, it is no wonder that their treatment of her provoked, or at least intensified the war. Nonetheless, her survival of the worst they could do undoubtedly contributed to their conclusion that a treaty with the Vanir would be more productive than continued warfare.
The witch-goddess in her aspect as Gullveig ("Gold-mad", or perhaps "the golden ecstatic one") is the first face we see. Some scholars have tried to give the name an economic implication, but I think that in this case "gold" is more likely to be related to brightness or else to the function of the Vanir as deities of prosperity. What is important here, however, is the fact that this goddess is perceived as being so powerful that she is threatening– indeed she is so powerful that even the great Aesir are not able to dstroy her.
The image that remains with us is that of a radiant figure rising from the flames, laughing at the foolishness of men who think that her power and wisdom can ever be destroyed. As such, she is a powerful role-model and source of strength when we come out of the broom-closet and affirm our right to practice the ancient magic and worship as we please.
Both the wandering wise-woman and the magical woman who is seized and burned are part of the archetype of the witch. In the next stanza, her magical activities are summarized.
Heide she hight
when to men's houses she came
wise in gand [magic],
much seidh she knew,
seidh for mind-bending,
ever was the joy
of ill-doing women ["brides"]
Heide is the name that Gullveig (or Freyja, if they are the same) is called by when she wanders the world casting spells and prophesying. This name can also be used as a generic term for women who practice magic. For instance in the "Shorter Seeress' Prophecy" (5) we learn that– "Heidhr ok Hrossdhjófr Hrimnis kindar." (Heide and Horse-thief (are) Hrimnir's kin.). Here the name Heide is usually given as "witch" by translators. HrimniR is one of the Giants. The meaning of the passage is probably that witches and horse-thieves, both of whom act outside the law of the community, are the kin of the Giants, the powers that rule the wilderness.
Elsewhere Heide appears as the proper name of a number of female practitioners of magic. Whether they, and those women whom they work for, are truly "ill doing" presumably depends on the purpose of their magic, or perhaps on one's attitude towards female workers of magic in general. The völva who prophecies for King Frodi in Hrolf's Saga Kraka is called Heith. In Frithiof's Saga, one of the seidhkonas who raise a storm against Frithiof is named Heide. The name of her sister, Hamglam, is possibly related to hamhlypunni (skin leapers), since the two fare out of their bodies to work their magic.
The image of the vigorous older woman, or the crone who lives on the fringes of society, is best expressed by Heide. Goddesses (like gods) are polymorphic, and may appear in whatever form fits the occasion. This includes apparent age. A goddess, when assuming a role usually taken by a woman of a given age in the culture, will probably appear to be that age. No doubt the working of magic was associated with older women in Germanic tradition because it takes time to master the lore, and also because younger women are too busy with hometending and childbearing. In the sagas, women who work magic are almost invariably mature, if not advanced in years. They may still be sexually active, however, even if their children are grown. They take lovers for their own pleasure, not for procreation. In a culture without dependable contraception, only a post-menopausal woman can afford to be thus free.
Given the Norse tendency to incorporate proper names as kennings (viz. Asa-Tyr for Odin), and to use descriptive terms as proper names (FreyR = "lord"), trying to identify the "real" name of the witch- goddess is probably pointless. Perhaps it is more useful to consider what the name, or description, "Heide" tells us about the goddess.
In Old Norse the word Heidh has two principle meanings, or perhaps there are two words which have evolved into the same form. The first refers to the brightness of the sky, the radiance of the heavens. As a divine name, this would seem to derive from the Indo-European tendency to define the gods as beings of brightness. The second, like the German heide, means a heath, and it is this root from which we draw the term "heathen". The heath is the wilderness outside the garth to which the seidhman or seidhkona, and later anyone who wished to worship in the old way, retired to work their magic. A third meaning seems to relate to a fee, something of worth, or honor. The term was also used as a name element (dropping the "h" as a suffix), as in Heidhrun, the name of the she-goat who browses on Yggdrasil and whose milk is the mead that nourishes the heroes.
The stereotype of the witch with her cauldron, transmitted via Shakespeare's Three Witches, is still with us, and this is certainly one of the major images of Heide. The cauldron as a symbol was particularly significant for both the Celtic and Germanic peoples of Northern Europe, where sufficient fuel and water were available to cook food in really large cauldrons. In the heroic period, most meat was cut up and boiled rather than being roasted (meat could even be cooked in the raw hide suspended from poles if a cauldron was not available). One possible etymology for seidh relates it to the root for seethe– boiling things in a cauldron.
One of the sacred uses of the cauldron was certainly to boil the meat of animals offered to the gods at the great festivals. After the animal had been honored and dedicated with suitable prayers and swiftly killed, the head and hide would be hung on a tree for the god, and the meat shared among the people– a practice at least as humane, and considerably less wasteful than modern factory-style butchering. Smaller amounts of meat, in smaller cauldrons, could be prepared by individuals working magic.
However a more likely use of the cauldron in women's magic would be to simmer herbs gathered for their symbolic or medicinal qualities to be used in healing or spells. In many cultures, the process of preparing the potion is itself a ritual. Spells and affirmations are chanted as the brew is stirred. Among the Azande, for instance, consuming the herbs so prepared is what transforms the individual into a shaman. When the culture permits it, such magic can be worked in the woman's domain of hearth or kitchen. More powerful still are the spells that are chanted over the cauldron in the wilderness, for the lands beyond the fences of men are already half-way between the worlds. In principle, any pot in which herbs are steeped or food is cooked is a cauldron, and you can call upon the magic of Heide to empower it, whispering your intent into the steam as you stir. Like many women's magics, it does not require robes or special magical tools. Anyone with access to a stove can learn this aspect of Heide's wisdom.
A third face of this goddess is that of the Seeress. According to most scholars, in "Voluspá", it is this mysterious witch-goddess, Heide herself, whom Odin seeks in the Underworld and compels to prophesy. In the poem she is referred to only as "the Völva", a term which can be used interchangeably with seidhkona (a woman who performs seidh magic, about which we will have more to say), but seems to have the connotation of age and wisdom. It is interesting to compare the tone of her interchanges with Odin with the competitive riddling with which he confronts male figures such as Vafthruthnir. It is the wisewoman who provides him with cosmic doctrine, with knowledge of how the world began and how it will end–
Hear me, all ye
both high and low
of Heimdall's children,
thou wilt, Valfather,
that I well set forth
the fates of the world
which as first I recall.
In "Baldrsdraumar", Odin seeks out a similar figure to interpret his son's evil dreams. The Völva has inherited the skills and prestige of ancient Germanic seeresses such as Veleda and Alirun. It is this tradition upon which Wagner draws for his characterization of Erda, the "Vala". The final interchange between Wotan and Erda in Siegfried is based upon the Eddic dialogues between Odin and the Völva.
That the seeress was not simply a supernatural figure is seen in passages such as the description of the visit of the Völva Thorbjorg to the holding of Thorkell in Greenland (Saga of Eirik the Red: 3). She is said to be the survivor of a company of nine priestesses, clearly a woman of age and authority, even though her tradition is dying. In the tale of Arrow Odd, a Völva called Heith travels to feasts accompanied by fifteen youths and fifteen maidens who chant the spellsongs. In Landnamabók, another Völva, also called Heith, prophesies good fortune. It is not clear whether all of these women are old, but they are certainly experienced, mature, and respected in their communities.
In sagas set after the conversion to Christianity, the wandering spae-wife remains a character, but she has become more furtive and is more likely to be asked to perform destructive magic. In Viga-Glum's Saga (12), a wandering seeress called Oddbjorg visits the farm and tells fortunes. In Chapter 13 of the Ynglinga Saga, we are told how Huld the seidhkona is hired by Drifu to set the night-mare on the husband who has abandoned her.
Whether as an acknowledged or euhemerized goddess, the kinds of magic associated with Heide fall under the classification of seidh, distinguished from galdor in that it relies less on words, runes, and formal knowledge than on altering consciousness and raising power (although spells and runes were often used in seidh-magic, and of course energy was raised by magicians to empower spells). The word can be spelled seidh or seidh in English– the final sound is like the "th" in the.
Many of the activities referred to by the Old Norse as seidh are skills that we would call shamanism– shapechanging, spirit journeying, working with spirits and prophecy.
According to tradition, it was Freyja (of whom Heide is often considered to be the Crone form) who taught the arts of seidh to the Aesir, and chief among them, Odin, who was already the originator and master of galdor. The fullest description of seidh practices is given in reference to him.
Odin had the skill which gives great power and which he practiced himself. It is called seidh, and by means of it he could know the fate of men and predict events that had not yet come to pass; and by it he could also inflict bane on men, or soul loss or waning health, or also take wit or power from some men, and give them to others. But this sorcery is attended by such ergi that manly men considered it shameful to practice it, and so it was taught to priestesses. . . .
Odin could change himself. His body then lay as if sleeping or dead, but he became a bird or a wild beast, a fish or a dragon, and journeyed in the twinkling of an eye to far-off lands, on his own errands or those of other men. Also, with mere words he was able to extinguish fires, to calm the seas, and to turn the winds any way he pleased. (Ynglingasaga:: VII)
This term, ergi deserves some explanation. It is used in two situations, in passages dealing with magic, and (between men) as a sexual insult. Its meaning as such seems to imply sexual receptivity or desire. It is unclear whether it was originally a sexual metaphor used for spiritual receptivity, or a religious term which was degraded. In either case, it indicates that the person so described is willing to relinquish control, and allow him or herself to be used or filled by some greater force. This, of course, is a prerequisite for attaining the kind of ecstatic trance and altered consciousness required for the practice of seidh.
Many of the practices associated with seidh are those which in other cultures would be called shamanism. There are many references to shapechanging in Old Norse literature, both for women and men. In most cases the transformation seems to occur while the witch is in trance, and it is thus the spirit, or astral body, which changes shape and journeys. There are also references to totem animals which may be survivals of helping spirits in animal form. Many of the Norse gods are associated with specific animals. Freyja, for instance can take falcon form and rides in a chariot drawn by cats. No animal is given for Heide, but I have always associated her with a female raven, a bird famed for its wisdom. Perhaps Heide's raven is Hugin and Munin's mother.
Of the skills described above, the one which is most often associated with Heide as both a divine and mortal figure is prophecy. Perhaps the most complete description we have of any Norse ritual is a seidh seance held at a farmstead in Greenland during the time of Erik the Red (10th cen.). The gear worn by the Völva is reminiscent of shamanic trappings– a blue cloak ornamented with stones, hat, gloves, shoes, and charm bag of animal skins, and a carved and jeweled staff. In many shamanic cultures the outfit includes a fringe to hide the face or a veil, and the veiled prophetess on her High Seat is one of the images of Heide.
In the saga, the procedure for seidh involves sitting on a high platform while a spirit song is sung, and with that assistance, entering a trance state in which she is able to answer questions and prophesy. In the Eddas, Odin goes down to the Underworld to awaken the Völva from her sleep in the gravemound. He then asks her questions about the history and fate of the world. The assumption is that either the information the seeress reports comes from the dead, or that perhaps she must enter a state beynd mortal life to gain access to it.
It should be noted here that despite the fact that the English word used by Christians for their place of eternal punishment comes from the old Germanic, Hel, in Norse belief is neither hot nor particularly unpleasant (although according to late texts it does include some nasty neighborhoods for evil-doers). In general, it is more like the Celtic Summerland, or the Elysian fields, green even when it is winter and the world, with feasting halls. It is the realm of the ancestors, believed by many cultures to have access to great wisdom and willing to help their descendents, a place of rest.
In Hrafnar (the Norse circle I work with) we have reconstructed the procedure for performing seidh. Our procedure involves a journey to the underworld, and indeed, the trance state one enters is unusually deep and peaceful.
However as we have seen prophetic or divinatory seidh, however fascinating and useful, is not the only area in which the help of Heide may be sought. As the Veiled Völva, she teaches us the wisdom of the depths. As the archetypal witch, She is the key to recovering the traditional women's magic of Northern Europe. As Gullveig, she is the spirit of the Witch who can survive the Burning Times.
How can we learn to work with Heide today? The outline that follows is based on the Norse ritual tradition developed in Hrafnar and can be adjusted as necessary for solo or group work. Any (attractive) picture of a witch can be used as a goddess-image, or you can copy the illustration for this article. A piece of natural linen or black cloth is appropriate for an altar cloth. Use a votive light in a clear or amber colored glass. I myself place a tea–light in a miniature cauldron and position it where it will light the image.
A Ritual to Heide
Hallowed herbs all ill dispellAs fuel on the fire,As smoke on the wind.
(use an herbal or forest scented incense and fan it over participants, if possible with a raven feather!)
By this water from the sacred well,may your/my spirit be made brightas the bark of Yggdrasil...
(sprinkle self with water to which a pinch of salt has been added)
Sunwise I walk the way of wonder,With sacred staff the worlds I sunder,As I walk the circle roundBy wit and will may it be bound.
(cast the circle with a wand you have cut yourself, or with a broom)
Nordhri and Sudhri, Austri and Vestri
From the center here we summon,
Watchers of the world, now ward us
Konntu heill ok sæll
("kon-too haik ok sait")
(The Norse did not have an elemental/directional system as such, but did identify these dwarves upholding the four corneres of the world. Face in each direction in turn to honor them. The phrase in Old Norse at the end means "Hail and be welcome.")
Now to the primal powers we lift our praise,Spirits of earth and sea we summon,all ye whose names we know, and those we do not know;Landvaettir, nackar, vind-alfar, listen–Ward us as we walk between the worlds.Konntu heill ok sæll
(When we do trance work in particular, we move outside of human boundaries, and it is only polite to ask the aid of the elementals.)
(Light the candle in front of the image and bless it with the "H" rune, "hagalaz" or "hail" the rune of transformation)
Heide, heathen folk now hail thee–As Gullveig thou wert gashed by god-spears,Radiant One, thrice-burned and thrice reborn.From deepest night may thy knowledge awaken.Bless us and be with us now.Heide, Heide, shining in shadow,Word of Light sung by the darkness,Wisest of women, wielding witchcraft,Holy Hag, from the heath come hither,Völva, Veiled One, Visions granting,In the depths of our darkness Thou art waiting,Fill me and fulfill us now!
Between the worlds, the veils are thinning,Woman of wisdom this way winning,Night-wind riding, now draw near,Heide, hasten to us here.
Use the passage that begins this essay as a pathworking. If you are working alone, you may want to read it onto a tape which you turn on at this point. Allow a space of 5-10 minutes at the end for the vision to continue. Ask the goddess what you need to know. The conversation may suggest additional ritual work, or you may repeat this meditation later. Then retrace your steps– come down from the mountain and back to the village, your own bed, and into your body again. Afterward, if you wish, you may read the following.
Thus speaks the Goddess– Heide the Holy, the Wise–
I am the deep Wisdom that waits in the darkness. The secrets of the shadow, of all you have forgotten, all that men suppress and shroud from the light of the day. The secrets of the womb and the tomb are mine, I am the hidden place within your souls, where no man can see. As I was the Night before your beginnings, I am the Light that will shine for you at the end. I wait as a seed within the earth, as the egg in the womb, as the spirit in the body. I am the matrix of all your magic. To work your way upon the world, you must work with me. I am all that is, that has been, and that will be, and there is no man that hath lifted my Veil.
Sharing the Blessing
This drink I brew from thrice-blest herbs, with strength well-blended and brightest honor;'tis mixed with magic and mighty songs,with goodly spells, wish-speeding runes.
(Bless the drink– spring water, herb tea or dark beer– with the "Lake" rune (L). Use a pewter goblet or, still better, a drinking horn.)
Bread I bring you, blessed by the Holy Hag,Corn for the kindred of Ask and Embla;Grain that was ground, gift of the Goddess, By earth and fire its fate transforming.
(Bless the bread– preferably a good dark rye– with the "Seed" rune ( N ). Share the bread and the drink, and place/pour some into the offeing bowl.)
Heide, heathen folk here thank thee–
Wisest of women, wielding witchcraft,
Let thy wisdom sleep within.
Until once more we may invoke thee,
Holy Hag, we bid thee now fare-well.
Fridhr ok farsæll!
("frither ok farsait" = "hail and farewell")
Let us now thank the Powers which have protected us:Nackar and Landvaettir and vind-alfar,all ye whose names we know, and those we do not know;Nordhri and Sudhri, Austri and Vestri,Dwarf-kin, we dismiss you, with thanks for your kindness!Fridhr ok farsæll!
With sacred staff I circle round, Widdershins the ward's unbound;This place to all good use returned,Leave us with the lore we've learned.
James Chisholm, "Seidhr Excerpts: Part I" Idunna 3:4, Yule, 1991
The Elder Edda, translated by Lee Hollander (University of Texas, 1986) and other translations
Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, Dover Books, 1966
Kirsten Hastrup, Culture and History in Medieval Iceland, Oxford, 1985
Snorre Sturluson, Heimskringla, Dover, 1990
Tacitus, Germania (The Works of Tacitus, Oxford translation), Harper & Brothers, 1873.
Holda and the Cult of Witches
Holda appears no where in the Anglo-Saxon literature, on the continent however, there are many folktales linking the Goddess Holda or Holle1 with witches and witchcraft. Many of these occur in areas lived in by the Old or continental Saxons. According to Grimm, "Horselberg is at once the residence of Holda and her host, and a trysting-place of witches." This link beween Holda and witchcraft appears over and over in medieval literature. Holda is first mentioned in literature c.1015 by Burchard, Bishop of Worms:
Credidisti ut aliqua femina sit, quae hoc facere possit, quod quaedam a diabolo deceptae se affirmantnecessario et ex pracepto facere debere, id est cum daemonum turba in similitudinem mulierumtransformata, quam vulgaris stultitia Holdam (al. unholdam) vocat, certis noctibus equitare deberesuper quasdam bestias, et in eorum se consortio annumeratum esse.
"It was believed that somehow it was possible for some female to do this, who had been deceived by theDevil, and who confessed herself compelled to do it by a spell; that is, by a demon changed into the formof a woman whom vulgar stupidity calls Holda (or Unholda), being forced on certain nights to ride uponcertain beasts, and to be numbered among their company."(translation by Nick Ford)
It is interesting to note that the first passage about her is one pertaining to the witches' ride. This link between the witches' ride and Holda is echoed throughout the Middle Ages, to the point that one gets the feeling it is not just another false accusation by the Church. It appears in canons of the Church, witch trials, and folk tales as well. It appears in later folk tales as well, "The Trip to the Brocken" demonstrating a belief in the witches ride:
"The day came when witches go the Brocken, and the two women climbed into the hayloft, took a small glass, drank from it, and suddenly disappeared. The bridegroom-to-be, who had sneaked after them and observed them, was tempted to take a swallow from the glass. He picked it up and sipped a little from it, and suddenly he was on the Brocken, where he saw how his fiancée and her mother were carrying on with the witches, who were dancing around the devil, who was standing in their midst."
These tales are usually linked in some way to Holda or the Brocken or other mountain peaks. The Canon Episcopi states pretty much the same thing as Burchard, but uses the name of the Roman goddess Diana instead of Holda:
"Some wicked women are perverted by the Devil and led astray by illusions and fantasies induced by demons, so that they believe they ride out at night on beasts with Diana, the pagan goddess, and a horde of women. They believe that in the night they cross huge distances. They say that they obey Diana's commands and on certain nights are called out in her service..."
This confusion too continues throughout the Middle Ages with the names Holda, Diana, and sometimes Hecate being used interchangeably. The question then becomes whether Holda was goddess of the witches, or a Germanic Goddess of faeries and leader of the Wild Hunt, and therefore confused with the Roman and Greek Goddesses of witches. There are no easy answers to this. The folklorist Lotte Motz felt that Holda as goddess of the witches was a native tradition, and that her attributes arose independently of Diana and other southern goddess. Another explanation, since all of the areas these Goddesses appear were at one time or another settled and held by Germanic tribes, is that the Southern goddesses are merely the imported Holda guised under a native name. Confusion later came about when the Church, not knowing the name of the Goddess identified her with Diana or Hecate2. Regardless, in the Medieval mind there seems to be a connection between the Goddess Holda, and witches riding through the air at night, usually to some sacred mountain peak.
A rather late documentation of Holda, in connection with a mountain occurs in 1630 when a werman in Hesse, Diel Breull, confessed to have traveled in spirit form to the Venusberg (Blocksberg or the Brocken) in a witch trial. There he was shown by Frau Holt the sufferings of the dead refected in a pool of water. This testimony though is very suspect as it seems confused with perhaps more southern beliefs. No one is certain where the idea of a goddess in a mountain first origninated. It does not seem current in the folklore surrounding Holda (Germanic folktales always take place on top of the mountain, not in it), merely in Germanic literature. Marion Ingham traces the origin of this tale to thirteenth century German literature where the goddess appears as Venus, as well as Italian and French versions that date to the fifteenth century. Ingham goes on to say:
The motiff of the hollow mountain inhabited by malicious beings seems to occur first in German literature, in the thirteenth century, and by the fifteenth, when the Tannhauser legend was gaining gorund, the Church was condemning the belief. Most of the sources suggest people connected the Venusberg with Italy, so the beginnings of the motiff may lie in traditions of the Sibylline grotto and the Elysian fields derived ultimately from Virgil. Early German sources equate it with the fairy realm where Arthur lives on, and also portray it as the home of the Grail: in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the place wa apparently known as der Grale as well as der Venusberg.(Ingham, The Goddess Freya and Other Figures, p 194)
It would appear then that we are not faced with a genuine Germanic belief, but a literary motiff which either originated in the south in connection with tales about the Sibyl, or with Arthurian legend. This really does not matter much to us as there may be grains of truth to Breull's tale, as it appears he went to sleep and awoke in the Venusberg. It appears then he may have traveled to it in spirit form, just as the witches in the folktales are said to do, and such tales about witches travelling there may have influenced his tale as much as the literary tales about a goddess in a mountain.
Grimm connects several other figures with Holda, most notabally Perahta and Berchta (also called variously Perchta, Perchte, Bertha). Neither of these figures are as readily connected to witches as Holda. They are however spinners like Holda, disdain laziness, and are celebrated at Yule. Most notabally however is their link to to troops of children that follow them about. Grimm retells one of the tales of Percha invovling the children (quoted in part here):
"Below the Gleitsch, a curiously shaped rock near Tischdorf, the story varies in so far, that there Perchthu along with the heimchen was driving a waggon, and had just broken the axle when she fell in with a countryman, who helped her out with a makeshift axle, and was paid in chips, which however he disdained, and only carried a piece home in his shoe. A spinning-girl walked over from the Neidenberg during that night, she had done every bit of her spinning, and was in high spirits, when Perchtha came marching up the hill towards her, with a great troop of the heimchen-folk, all children of one sort and size, one set of them toiling to push a heavy plough, another party loaded with farming-tools; they loudly complained that they had no longer a home."(Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, Stallybrass translation)
This is very similar to the Norse and Danish tales about Hulla, whom Grimm links to Holda:
"Of still more weight perhaps are the Norwegian and Danish folk-tales about a wood or mountain wife Hulla, Huldra, Huldre, whom they set forth, now as young and lovely, then again as old and gloomy. In a blue garment and white veil she visits the pasture-grounds of herdsmen, and mingles in the dances of men; but her shape is disfigured by a tail, which she takes great pains to conceal. Some accounts make her beautiful in front and ugly behind. She loves music and song, her lay has a doleful melody and is called huldreslaat. In the forests you see Huldra as an old woman clothed in gray, marching at the head of her flock, milkpail in hand. She is said to carry off people's unchristened infants from them. "(Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, Stallybrass translation)
The fact that these children are unchristened is crucial. In the ancient Heathen religion, children that had not yet been named (which was done at nine days of age), were considered not to possess a complete soul. They could not be exposed by the father if he accepted them at birth, but neither the orlog and fetch were thought to have attached to the child until an ancestral name was given. It would seem then (in my opinion anyway), that without ancestral spirits to protect them, the Goddess Holda fulfilled that role. Thus it may be that if a child died before it was named, its soul stayed with Holda for protection. Thus we have evidence, though suspect, of Holda as protector of the dead souls of children. The witches ride and children's procession were not the only links to nightly travels however. Holda was also said to lead the Wild Hunt.
"Then we see both the name and the meaning [m. or f.] fluctuate between frô Wôdan and frôwa Gôda. A goddess commanding the host, in lieu of the god, is Holda, his wife in fact. I am more and more firmly convinced, that 'Holda' can be nothing but an epithet of the mild 'gracious' Fricka; conf. Sommer's Thür. sag. 165-6. And Berhta, the shining, is identical with her too; or, if the name applies more to Frouwa, she is still next-door to her, as the Norse Freyja was to Frigg. It is worth noting, that her Norweg. legend also names a 'Huldra,' not Frigg nor Freyja. The dogs that surround the god's airy chariot may have been Wuotan's wolves setting up their howl."(Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, Stallybrass translation)
The Wild Hunt appears throughout Northern and Central Europe amongst both the Celtic and Germanic peoples. Its leader is variously named as Harlequin, Herne the Hunter, Dietrich of Bern, but also Woden and Holda. The first mention of the Hunt is in the Ordericus Vitalis written by Wachlin, who claimes to have seen the Hunt in January of 1092. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1127, also mentions it:
"Let no one be surprised at what we are going to relate, for it was common gossip up and down the countryside that after February 6th many people both saw and heard a whole pack of huntsmen in full cry. They straddled black horses and black bucks, while their hounds were pitch black with staring hideous eyes. This was seen in the very deer park of Peterborough town, and in all the woods stretching from that same spot as far as Stamford. All through the night monks heard them sounding and winding their horns. Reliable witnesses who kept watch in the night declared that there might well have been twenty or even thirty of them in this tantivy as near as they could tell."(translation by Brian Branston)
Whether the Wild Hunt of Holda's was thought the same as the procession of children or seperate is not clear. Woden as leader of the Hunt was sometimes said to have children with the Hunt, not to mention take children. How a procession of dead children and the Wild Hunt relates to the nightly ride of witches is hard to explain. The link between Holda as leader of the Wild Hunt is ready enough to be seen if ancient Germans saw her as the wife of Woden, its usual leader. As a Goddess linked to children, it is logical she lead a children's furious host as well. As to how this links to the witche's ride, one explanation may be that witches also served as midwives, thus the link to babies, not to mention witches may have summoned the aid of the huldufolk. We are told repeatedly that Holda's witches rode the backs of beasts. May not these beasts have been the wights of field and stream, mountain and forest, in essense the huldufolk? There is a distinct possibility that the witches ride, the children's procession, and the Wild Hunt as far as it concerns Holda were all and one the same thing. That is the unnamed children joined the Wild Hunt to be under its protection, not a seperate one of its own, and the witches as priestesses of Holda also took part.
In conclusion, under the Heathen religion, witchcraft and the cult of Holda was probably out in the open. Its rites were probabally not secret. Witches may well have been merely the priests and priestesses of Holda. While no doubt, wermen (males), played a role in witchcraft, and are mentioned, the image of the witch has come down to us as female. It could be that women were held to be the more powerful, and formed the core of Holda's cult. Strabo described priestesses performing human sacrifices. Elsewhere we are told by Tacitus that Veleda was honoured as a goddess and gave oracular counsels to whomever wanted them. Jordannes also mentioned female witches in his history of the Goths. King Filimer, a convert to Chirstianity exciled female witches known as haliurunnae. It would not therefore be strange for women to be at the forefront of a Goddess' cult. The places where witches once gathered would suggest a cult that was once in the open. The Brocken and other places thought sacred to Holda where witches were said to gather may well have been places that all Heathens once gathered for the Spring rites. Grimm states in the passage cited above that Hulla was thought to join in the dances of men, and thus this may be where the idea of a special witches' dance came about. He also notes that the gathering places of witches were fomerly the places of Heathen justice.3 Originally, these dances may have been nothing more than the Maypole dancing of the ancient Heathens later restricted to the priests of Holda after the Conversion only to die out. The tales however lived on in folklore and were gradually demonized by the Christians with the addition of details even the Heathens would have been appalled at.
We can probably safely conclude that Holda was a Goddess of witches. Was she THE goddess of witches for the Germanic panthoen may be a different matter. Freya in the Old Norse texts appears as the Goddess of a different form of magic, seiðr, and may have had a similar "witch" cult. Indeed, Woden may have had a similar cult of users of galdor, beserkers, and runesters. Indeed, Woden may have been a god of witches in the sense Holda was. Some of the gathering places linked to witches are crossroads and gallowes, both connected to Woden. Finally, Grimm mentions several other figures linked to the witches, and commonly thought to be Holda such as Perchta. While these figures could well be Holda, they may, indeed be seperate Goddesses in their own right. Holda's cult, secluded by the Hartz mountains may well have survived due to its location. Deep in the Hartz Mountains, the cult may have been left alone. Many of its celebrants may have well been Christians wishing to continue the age old rites of their ancestors. Regardless, folklore has retained the image of Holda of Goddess of witches. Many modern Heathens link Holda to Frige on the basis of Grimm's conclusions. Others view her as Hel, although this is doubtful.
Finally, no indepth studies have been made by Heathen scholars of Holda and her links to witches with the intent of reviving their rites in modern times. Studies instead have centered on the runes, galdor, and seiðr with the spirit journeys of the Hartz Mountain witches falling by the wayside.
1. Note: Many have attmpeted to link Holda with Hel on the basis of the name Holle. What they fail to take into account is the word Hel or hell in High German is Hölle not Holle. While Holda or Holle is linked to the dead, the dead are the souls of children, and not the dead in general.
2. Burchard's is the earliest to name a goddess in connection with the witches of the Hartz Mountains, and he names Holda, not Diana.
3. "Still more plainly do the Localities coincide. The witches invariably resort to places where formerly justice was administered, or sacrifices were offered. " (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, Chapter 34)
Crawford, Jane. "Evidences for Witchcraft in Anglo-Saxon England." Medium Ævum. 32:2 (1963) pp. 99-116.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen, The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, Facts on File, New York, 1989
Grimm, Jacob (Stallybrass, James translator), Teutonic Mythology, Peter Smith, Gloucester, Mass. 1976
Ingham, Marion, The Goddess Freya and Other Female Figures in Germanic Mythology and Folklore, Cornell University, 1985
Kieckhefer, Richard. Magic in the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989.
Motz, Lotte. "The Winter Goddess: Percht, Holda, and Related Figures." Folklore 95:2 (1984) pp. 151-166.
Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Cornell Univ. Press, 1972.
Waschnitius, Viktor, Perht, Holda und verwandte Gestalten. Ein Beitrag zur deut-schen Religionsgeschichte, Vienna, 1914.
Waelburga and the Rites of May
By: Winifred Hodge
Witches and Walpurgisnacht
"The Witches' excursion takes place on the first night in May...they ride up Blocksberg on the first of May, and in 12 days must dance the snow away; then Spring begins... Here they appear as elflike, godlike maids." (Grimm v. IV, p. 1619)
"(There) is a mountain very high and bare, ..whereon it is given out that witches hold their dance on Walpurgis night, even as on Mt. Brocken in the Harz." (Grimm v. IV, p. 1620)
"We know that our forefathers very generally kept the beginning of May as a great festival, and it is still regarded as the trysting time of witches, i.e. once of wise-women and fays; who can doubt that heathen sacrifices blazed that day?" (Grimm v. II, p. 614)
"We know that all over Germany a grand annual excursion of witches is placed on the first night in May (Walpurgis), i.e. on the date of the sacrificial feast and the old May-gathering of the people. On the first of May, of all days, the periodical assizes (Things) continued for many centuries to be held; on that day came the merry May-ridings, and the kindling of the sacred fire: it was one of the highest days in all heathenism. ...The witches invariably resort to places where formerly justice was administered, or sacrifices were offered. ...Almost all the witch-mountains were once hills of sacrifice, boundary-hills, or salt-hills." (Grimm v. III, p. 1050-1)
Grimm mentions that some (perhaps all) of the witch mountains were once the residence of Holda and her host.
"Down into the tenth and into the 14th centuries, night-women in the service of Dame Holda rove through the air on appointed nights, mounted on beasts; her they obey, to her they sacrifice, and all the while not a word about any league with the Devil. Nay, these night-women, shining mothers, dominae nocturnae, bonnes dames...were originally daemonic elvish beings, who appeared in woman's shape and did men kindnesses; Holda, Abundia, to whom still a third part of the whole world is subject, leads the ring of dancers.... It is to such dancing at heathen worship, to the airy elf-dance and the hopping of will-o'-the-wisps, that trace primarily the idea of witches' dances; festive dances at heathen May-meetings can be reckoned in with the rest. To christian zealots all dancing appeared sinful and heathenish, and sure enough it often was derived from pagan rites, like other harmless pleasures and customs of the common people, who would not easily part with their diversion at the great festivals. Hence the old dancings at Shrovetide (beginning of Lent in February), at the Easter fire and May fire, at the solstices, at harvest and Christmas... ...to this day stories are afloat in Sweden of dances and reels performed by the heathen round holy places of their gods: so wanton were they, yet so enticing, that the spectators at last were seized with the rage (wod), and whirled along into the revelry."
Grimm notes that Heathen dancing and processions were demonized by frightening people into thinking that if they took part in them, they would be trapped into endless, exhausting dancing or into the "everlasting hunter's chase" btw. the Wild Hunt. (Grimm v. III, pp. 1056-7)
The Roots of Walpurgisnacht
These are a few of the accounts of the festival usually called Walpurgisnacht and May-Day. Clearly, it was a festival of major importance in Heathen times, and continued to keep strong hold of the minds and feelings of the germanic folk down to the present day or close to it. What are the Heathen roots of these customs and of the name of this night? What meanings might they hold for us today? I will attempt an answer to these questions here, using several older sources of information, including a book by E.L. Rochholz, published in 1870, which traces the Heathen roots of three German saints back to goddesses of ancient times, including Walburga.
Rochholz makes much of the contrast between the light-hearted springtime rites on the first of May, featuring flowers, dancing maidens and children on the one hand, with the frightening activities of the witches during Walpurgisnight, a night of bonfires, spells, witches and beasts, storm and hail. He asks, "What kind of a pairing is this, of the witches of the Brockenmount with a saint of the church, under one and the same name!" (p. 1) The purpose of his study is to seek out the connection between the two, stripped of its christian ornamentation, which he believes originally resided in one being, the "worthy wholeness of a germanic goddess." (p. 1)
There actually was a christian nun, later a saint, named Walburga who lived during the 8th century in Germany. The cloister which she ran as abbess was built in 760 and called "Heidenheimer Kloster," namely "Heathen-home Cloister!" It was named after the town where it was located in middle Frankenland, which in turn was named after a "holy spring," Heidenbrunnen, where Heathens had been baptised. (No doubt, the spring was holy long before it was put to such misuse!) Nothing noteworthy during her lifetime, nor her birth or death-dates, caused any association between St. Walburga and Walpurgisnacht. What supposedly brought about the association of her with that date was that after her death, a miracle-working liquid or oil began to flow from the tombstone placed over her remains, which caused healings and was the reason for her canonization as a saint, both occurring on the first of May. Later Walburga's body was broken into pieces and buried at different places--as far away as present-day France and all over Germany--so that other churches could get the benefit of the holy oil as well. The church later tried to downplay the association of the oil and the saint with the Heathen-contaminated Mayday, but the connection remained in people's minds. If one looks at the accounts from Grimm, one may guess that in the minds of people who have not completely forgotten age-old Heathen wisdom, the association of the woman saint's miracles of healing and renewal with the day on which "witches" (wise-women, elf-women, goddesses) cast out winter and called in the life-giving May, is not an unnatural one.
In Bavaria there is a very old Walburga's chapel that is said to be located on the site of an older Heathen temple. The chapel stands on its own hill, surrounded by linden trees. Hills--especially hills standing alone--are in Germany traditionally the dwelling places of Holda and other Heathen holy female beings later seen as witches. Linden trees have always been holy to Frigga. Place-names and chapels stemming from Walburga (many associated with linden trees, hills, and holy wells) litter the landscape in Bavaria, Austria, and other germanic homelands. "The greatest number of the oldest churches in lower Germany are dedicated to this same saint." (Rochholz, p.17). "Lower Germany" includes what are now the Netherlands, Belgium, Saxony, and other regions of northern Germany--all regions where formerly the goddess Nehalennia was widely worshipped.
Walburga's symbols, as shown in the oldest stonecarvings in her chapels, are a dog and a bundle of grain. There is nothing in the abbess Walburga's biographies to account for portraying her with a dog, but there is much to show that German goddesses were associated with the dog as their "Hilfstier" (helping animal). "Grey hounds accompany the three Norns. The fertility goddesses Frau Harke, Frau Gode, and Frau Frick (Frigga) have always a hound beside them, and...Frau Berchte in Steiermark is called the "poodle-mother" because of her dog" (Rochholz p. 20). The goddess Nehalennia is usually pictured with a dog on her altars and votive sites. Speaking Walburga's name is a charm to tame fierce or even mad dogs. In folklore, the dog has much to do with fertility, health and good luck. For example, Rochholz mentions superstitions about the need to feed a mysterious "Windhound," sometimes said to be left behind from the Wild Hunt, during springtide, to ensure good weather for the crops. The Windhound is connected to fertility, good luck and plenty in the house and the farm fields, and in some places is called the "Nourishment-Hound" (Nahrungshund) (p. 22). Rochholz details many other superstitions relating dogs with goddesses of fertility. The christian Mary and female saints are also frequently portrayed with dogs in German chapels, and there is a "Hundskapelle" (dog-chapel) in Innsbruck said to have originally been a Heathen temple. One must suppose that this attribute of a dog accompanying Heathen goddesses was carried over into the christian iconography of holy women, including particularly Walburga.
Walburga Chased by the Wild Hunt
"Nine nights before the first of May is Walburga in flight, unceasingly chased by wild ghosts and seeking a hiding place from village to village. People leave their windows open so she can be safe behind the cross-shaped windowpane struts from her roaring enemies. For this, she lays a little gold piece on the windowsill, and flees further. A farmer who saw her on her flight through the woods described her as a white lady with long flowing hair, a crown upon her head; her shoes were fiery gold, and in her hands she carried a three-cornered mirror that showed all the future, and a spindle, as does Berchta. A troop of white riders exerted themselves to capture her. So also another farmer saw her, whom she begged to hide her in a shock of grain. No sooner was she hidden than the riders rushed by overhead. The next morning the farmer found grains of gold instead of rye in his grain stook. Therefore, the saint is portrayed with a bundle of grain." (Rochholz, p. 26-27)
The description of Walburga's adventures bears strong similarity to the harrying of the moss-wives or wood-wives by the Wild Hunt which usually occurs in the autumn and winter. Woodcutters are supposed to mark three crosses in the shape of a triangle, on the stumps of trees they have felled. Inside the triangle (another "magic" triangle) is the only place the moss-wives and woodwives are safe from being torn to pieces by the Wild Hunt. (See Grimm v. III, p. 929) Of course in tales which mention this, the safety of the moss-wives is attributed to the crosses. Considering the Heathen nature of these spirits, however, it is tempting to envision the crosses, set in a triangular pattern, either as a triple Nauthiz rune protecting them in their need, or as a degraded form of a Valknut or a trefot, other Heathen signs of power. When not being chased by the Wild Hunt, woodwives are friendly and helpful beings who offer good advice and assistance in daily tasks, and repay favors done to them with bits of ordinary things (wood chips, splinters, grain usw.) turned into gold. (See Grimm v. II, p. 484.) One can see the strong similarity between the moss-wives' plight and that of Walburga in the tales mentioned above.
In Walburga's case, it seems that the Wild Hunt embodies the powers of Winter, trying to prevent the Spring from becoming established. Walburga apparently is able to take some sort of revenge for her bad treatment by the Wild Hunt, however. The Walburga-processions enacted around the villages and fields in Germany and France are supposed to protect the lands against strong winds and bad weather.
Walburga's Symbols and Domains of Action
Of Walburga's symbols or attributes, the bundle of grain is obviously a fertility symbol and is typical of the germanic matron goddesses or demi-goddesses once worshipped all over Europe, including Nehalennia, as well as a being a symbol of goddesses in other Indo-European pantheons, such as Demeter and Ceres. The three-cornered mirror seems clearly related to the Norns and the Well of Wyrd: we can see the three corners of the foreseeing mirror as the three Norns, the mirror as the well itself with the three Norns standing around it. The mirror is particularly a "give-away:" who ever heard of, or would want to make or use, a triangular mirror? It is not a convenient shape for viewing one's face, in the normal usage of mirrors!
Neither the dog nor the shock of grain, the magical mirror or the spindle, are likely attributes of the abbess of a christian nunnery, nor is an abbess likely to have been wandering around the countryside having adventures! On the other hand these symbols or attributes are highly typical of Heathen germanic matrons, goddesses, and holy women. The spindle is the attribute before all others of the norns, wise-women, idises, and other womanly wights associated with fate and fortune in the continental Germanic countries. The use of the spindle and hand-spun thread for May-even spells of women's magic is described by Rochholz and by Grimm. Love-oracles using the spindle and thread, and other means, were said to be sent by Walburga herself. Walpurgistide was also the time to shame lazy farmers into working harder, by making a straw doll named Walburga and presenting it to any farmer who had not yet ploughed his land by that day (Rochholz, p. 40). This is quite reminiscent of the well-known chidings women receive from Heathen goddesses such as Berchta and Holda during Yuletide, if their own work has been skimped.
None of these attributes, activities and symbols can be argued to have anything to do with a christian abbess and saint, but have everything to do with Heathen goddesses and holy women, who have always concerned themselves with fertility and food, love, life, death, and hidden knowledge. Thus it is in the highest degree likely that attributes associated with a goddess celebrated at May-even during Heathen times were later grafted onto Walburga, the christian saint whose holy day is celebrated on the first of May.
King and Queen of the May
Witches' spell-fires and white goddesses in flight are not the only stirring events occurring during this holy tide. Much ado takes place during May-Day itself, still celebrated with folk-festivals today in Germany, Holland, England and other European countries. During several years that I lived in Bavaria, I never saw a town without its May-tree set on top of the unique craft-poles that are erected by each town and village. On the craft-poles are hung metal figures representing all the crafts that are pursued in that town and available to the public. May-trees are affixed to the tops of these tall, slender poles--quite a challenge!--and stand there throughout the year until it is time for them to be taken down and burned and the next May-tree erected. England is also famous for its May festivals, including Maypole dancing and processions of the King and Queen of the May.
May-Day festivals traditionally included a fierce battle between the forces of Winter and those of Spring. Usually these battles were led by the May-King, a young man chosen for his strength, beauty and charisma, and garbed in his "armor" of greenery. He and his troops would skirmish against the horde of Winter, and then return in a festal procession, accompanied by the May-Queen and other ladies, to engage in dancing, feasting and singing the many folk-songs associated with this holy day. In some cases, it might be the beauteous May-Queen herself who ousts the Hag of Winter. Women's garb at this festival was usually more revealing and permissive than was customary (nothing is said about the men's garb, unfortunately). In many places, some arrangements were made to pair unmarried women and men together, for example auctions or contests for a mate. Apparently it was widely the custom to herd or drive young women to these pairing auctions, by chasing the whole lot of them while flourishing whips, shouting and--in more recent years--shooting pistols into the air! This may have been an activity a good deal more popular among the men than the women.... (See Rochholz's chapter on May-fests.)
Whatever of various forms it might take, however, the keynote of the May-Day festivals is energy: the energy of youth and new life, sexuality and mating, of fighting and the chase, dancing and leaping; of ridding oneself of the old and worn-out and eagerly grasping the new.
A Sampling of Walpurgistide Customs Here are a few of the very many customs, rites and charms associated with Walpurgisnight and May-Day:
- All worn-out household items such as brooms, cloths, and wooden implements, should be burned each spring in the Walpurgisnight fires.
- Washing your face with dew right at sunrise on May-Day will give you special powers of sight, in particular, the power to know who your future husband will be. (Folklore says nothing about knowing your wife, but it certainly doesn't hurt to try!) This rite may also enable you to see your fetch.
- Put out a slice of bread liberally spread with butter and honey (this offering is called the "Ankenschnitt") for the Windhound, to protect your land from bad weather and ill-fated crops. (An appealing rite for those of us who live along Tornado Alley!)
- It is customary to dance, jump, spring and leap around during these festivals, either at the Walpurgisnight fires or during the May-Day revels. Especially, the mistress of a household should leap over her broom at some point during this time. (The broom may be held crossways and leapt over--one does not need to leap the height of a standing broom! Elderly or childbearing housewives may wish instead to step over the broom laid on the ground.) Farmers believed that their grain would grow as high as they could leap at Walpurgistide. (Here in the Midwest, this would make for either disappointing corn-crops, or very impressive men!)
- Life-size (or smaller) strawmen are made and "loaded" with the ill-health and ill-luck of the old year, then burned in the fires on Walpurgisnacht.
- For those alert and with the eyes to see, this is an excellent time to catch glimpses of elves, swan-maidens, landwights and other nature-wights, as well as other beings one might prefer not to see, such as night-mares.
- It was for many centuries the custom to offer a plentiful meal and beer to all comers to Walburga's chapels at this time. Rochholz maintains this was carried over from Heathen customs of generously feasting the folk at this holy tide. The Walburga-feasts were apparently a pot-luck, where folk were expected to bring a food offering to share.
- Men might find it good to ensure that they are caught up with the work needed to maintain their homes and land, to avoid the embarrassing presentation of a Walburga-doll from some enterprising goddess or her earthly delegate!
What Does This All Mean?
As often when we go to the old folklore-based sources, what we end up with is a big jumble of fascinating bits and pieces. We are left wondering what to make of it all in a religious sense, and how it might have meaning and relevance to the practice of Heathenism today. I shall make an effort to address that question, with regard to what is called Walpurgisnacht and May Day, and offer some suggestions and personal viewpoints about the deeper meaning of this holy tide and the goddess who rules it.
First let us look at the major elements associated with Walpurgisnacht:
- processions and gatherings of "witches" upon famous witch-mountains, which may be assumed to be demonizations of former Heathen holy wights, wise-women, and hallowed sites;
- divination, spellcraft, oracular activities, and other sorts of witchcraft;
- bonfires, which are set upon sites of significance for both godly and human activites;
- forcible casting-out of Winter, illness and that which is worn out, by the May-King and/or Queen and their green-bedecked and licentious troops, bringing in their wake marriages and fertility of crops, beasts and mankind;
- dancing, merry-making, and loosening of the usual rules governing sexual behavior;
- blessing-processions, with sacred objects and offerings, around fields and villages, bringing fertility and protection from bad weather;
- a "white goddess" who brings fertility, occult knowledge, and protection, but who is herself besieged by the forces of tumult, death and chaos.
There is clearly a rich lode of material here which, when combined with the many folk-customs, can be mined for ideas about May-Day celebrations and rituals in our time. One can easily find a basis for anything from a solitary, mystical rite, to a women's magic-working, a lovers' tryst, a camping trip and bonfire on a mountain, a hospitable dinner for family and friends (with the hostess leaping her broom, for entertainment!), or a large, uproarious festival, depending on one's inclinations, circumstances and resources. What is clear from the lore, however, is that this was indeed a major and significant Heathen holy tide, and should be observed as such in one way or another.
Returning Life Though I think it is fairly clear from the lore I have outlined above, I will summarize here what seems to have been the underlying significance and meaning of Walpurgisnacht and May-Day. First, it is the time when the deathly cold, decay, ill-health and dreariness of Winter are driven out, to make room for newly-growing life and all that pertains to it: mating of man and woman, of beasts wild and tame, fertility of the fields, health and vitality, and the greening and blossoming of the land. Youth, beauty, sexuality, and strength are celebrated. Then, all must be protected from the return and reconquest by Winter's woeful forces (definitely a possibility in northern climes!), requiring magical and religious rites of warding and hallowing. The driving out of Winter and the warding and hallowing might be done secretly and mysteriously by gathered "witches" and their flickering flames on the mountain-tops, or by the May-King and Queen and their doughty horde, or most likely by both: the witches by night and the May battle-troops and processions by day.
A Between-Time of Magic 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 my personal opinion, a lot of this is very difficult to do, magic or no magic, without getting the men involved in there somewhere...)
A Springtime Goddess Finally, and most obscurely and mysteriously for us, this holy tide seems to have been associated with a goddess, probably one who bore different names in many different places. Very possibly, the holy powers and nature of "St. Walburga" were originally aspects of one of the germanic great-goddesses, such as Nehalennia, Nerthus, Holda, Berchta, who in themselves might well be different names for the same goddess, or for different aspects of her. I venture to suggest that Waelburga the goddess is not greatly different from the goddess Ostara/Eostre; in fact personally I like to see them as twin sisters or even one and the same, though I have no firm basis in the lore for doing so. Though Ostara's playmates are the shining elf-women while Walpurgis' Day is celebrated for its dark witches, I think originally there was little distinction between the two. Eostre-tide and Walpurgistide both celebrate the power of returning life, both its dark, mysterious, blood-deep side, and its bright, shining, blossoming side. They cannot be separated. Christian fears, mythology and superstition have separated the "white lady," the supposed St. Walburga, from the darkness of the Wild Hunt, and have set her as a charm against ills such as bad weather and mad dogs, often thought to be caused by "witches." Yet on her own holy night, it is the supposedly dark witches who have power, who gather in ancient places of sacrifice to do what is needful to be done, even when the folk no longer consciously remember that is the case. In reality, there is no separation here between the dark and the light, life growing out of death and decay, brightness arising from danger and fear, sacrifice given for fertility.
I see Ostara and "Walburga" as being closely similar or identical goddesses of spring and all that spring bears with it: the bright and the dark, the festal and the mysterious, youthful beauty and age-old wisdom. I see them accompanied by shining elves and old wise-women, and by the often-described companions and worshippers of Holda and the other germanic goddesses. They rule the whole of springtide, from the first Summer-findings of robin and violet and the spring Even-night, up to the gateway of Summer and the godly powers that there hold sway.
The Name of the Goddess
In the name "Walburga," we are dealing with a folk myth containing several apparent conflicts. Factually speaking, Walburga was an historical christian abbess. According to folklore, "St. Walburga" is a white lady with magical attributes, closely similar to the other germanic "white ladies" whom we know as Heathen goddesses. Walpurgisnacht has been seen for many centuries as a night of witches and occult powers. I hope I have shown here how all those pieces fit together and what they mean in a deeper sense. The one remaining "mystery," to me, is what to do about the name itself.
I really hesitate to call a Heathen goddess by the name of a christian saint! Yet the name itself and its "overtones" in the term "Walpurgisnacht" have been blessed by folk-tradition with a set of nuances and subtle meanings that can clearly be seen as genuinely Heathen. My personal solution to the dilemma here of what to call the goddess and her holy tide is simply to accept and use one of the variants on the name "Walburga." I do not want to use that exact name since it belonged to an historical christian, but neither do I want to abandon tradition and call the goddess something completely different, not even "Ostara" although I think they are closely related or the same. Ostara belongs to the beginning of spring and to its shining, airy, elf-like nature, while "Walburga" has become associated with the more witch-like, dark and earthy rites of Walpurgisnacht, of spring moving into the earthiness of summer, in spite of her "white lady" image in folklore.
So, I call the goddess Walpurga, or Waluburg, or Waelburga, with the latter being my preferred version of the name. "Waelburga" picks up on the dark nature of the bright/dark Eostre/Waelburga pairing, since this Anglo-Saxon spelling variant can also mean "burg of the slain." Considering the divination and spellcraft activities of Walpurgisnacht, and the great assistance that can be given in these by the souls of the dead, Waelburga seems especially appropriate. This variant of her name also gives me the satisfying image of Waelburga being herself a refuge of the dead: the dead resting in the care of a goddess who brings springtide and new life. The alternate spelling "Waelbyrga" would also emphasize this imagery, with its meaning "burial-mound of the slain." Mounds are an ideal place to conduct many kinds of witchcraft and occult activities, as well as serving as the refuge of the dead, and as something like a miniature "hollow hill" of Holda and her host. Seeing these aspects as being part of Waelburga's nature brings her even closer to the other germanic goddesses: Nehalennia, Holda, Berchta and the rest. They, too, rule fertility and new life, yet also guide and guard the dead in their care. All of them fit well with Rochholz's description: "the worthy wholeness of a germanic goddess."
Calling our springtime goddess by the name of the seeress Waluburg is also appropriate, as is simply calling her by the name that her holy night has come to be called: Walpurga. Waluburg is listed and identified as a seeress of the Semnoni on a Roman army payroll in Egypt dating from the second century C.E., but according to Simek, the names are unrelated. Walburga stems from Wald-burg, forest fortress or mighty fortress, while Waluburg stems from Walu=stave or wand (same as gand). (Simek p. 370) Even though the names are etymologically unrelated, however, I see no reason not to call the goddess Waluburg if we think that fits her well. After all, Walburga is also probably not related to the goddess's original name.
Though it is sad not knowing her "real" name, we must keep in mind the tendency of germanic goddesses to be called by quite different names in different localities, so that even if we did have a "real" name, it might only be from one place and time. In truth, I believe Waelburga is quite comfortable with the name that has grown up around her and her holy day during the last thousand years and more. The historical accidents, apparent contradictions and confusions surrounding her name are all simply the way things usually do come about, in a wyrdly natural, organically mythical and folkish sort of way! Her original name may have been forgotten, but she herself certainly has not suffered that fate. It simply remains for us to care enough, about her and the portion of Heathen godlore and holiness that she represents, to delve beneath the apparent confusion into the true heart of who she is: a deed of wisdom and troth that all our gods and goddesses expect us to achieve, for each one of them.
Bookhoard Grimm, Jacob. Teutonic Mythology. (J.S. Stalleybrass edition) George Bell & Sons, London, 1883. Hoffmann-Krayer, E., and Bächtöld-Stäubli, H., eds. Handwörterbuch des Deutschen Aberglaubens. Walter de Gruyter & Co., Berlin & Leipzig, 1929-1930. Rochholz, E.L. Drei Gaugöttinen: Walburg, Verena und Gertrud, als deutsche Kirchenheilige. Sittenbilder aus germanischen Frauenleben. Verlag von Friedrich Fischer, Leipzig, 1870.
What's a Stang and Why do I Have so Many?Author: Valire'brand Posted: December 13th. 2003 Times Viewed: 5,382 Now, it is vital to remember that this is not British Traditional Witchcraft I'm describing here. And it is certainly not Wicca as commonly understood. It is a modern syncretic practice rooted in my personal tradition and my understanding of the symbol set that is the Stang. And make no mistake; there is nothing simple about the Stang. Just what the heck is a Stang? Stang - "past of sting (obsolete)" Am. Heritage 3rd Edition. Hmm, well, that raises more questions than it answers! Hutton seemed to think it came from the Berbers (Triumph of the Moon), but this time he's off the mark. Kerr Cuhulain asserts it is from Anglo-Saxon "staenga or steng" meaning pole or rod. In Scandinavia, there is a word "stongen" and in Iceland "Stanga" as in MayStanga or May Pole. This seems a more likely source for the term; after all, a Stang is a pole, a special one but still a pole. Okay, it's back to a dictionary, this time the Shorter OED. Stang - "a pole or stake;" derived from the Old High German "Stanga." Interestingly, it comes from STING, v. "to pierce or goad." So, the Am. Heritage definition actually does apply, though it is woefully incomplete. Dictionary aside, what is a Stang in the sense of a tool within Witchcraft, which is what I'm talking about? It is a tool derived from witchcraft, the technology, as opposed to the religion. Physically, a Stang is a forked stick. It is usually made of ash or other sacred trees. ash is most common, perhaps, because it is the most common wood used as tool handles and Stangs are frequently made from pitchforks or other farming implements. However, ash is also the symbolic World Tree with branches in the Upper World and roots in the Underworld and the trunk running through our Middle Earth. Other trees share these associations, but ash seems to be predominantly cast as the World Tree. Maybe because ash trees are often struck by lightning (due to their height) making them more touched by the Gods. Why is this important? It means the Stang represents the channel between Sky and Earth. A shaft from the Sky to Earth. Moreover, it is a physical representation of the Goddess, the God and their Children, us. One fork, Goddess, one fork, God and the shaft, their Children. This means the Stang can serve as an altar without anything else commonly used on altars. This makes it highly desirable for outdoor workings. But wait! There's more! The fork (yoni) represents the Goddess, while the God is represented by the shaft (lingam). So, the Stang also represents Their Union, a.k.a. the Great Rite within Wicca. It means that symbolically the Stang can replace the Chalice AND the Athame! It is physically a Staff, which means it functions as a Wand and its base is often shod in iron to be thrust into the ground, which completes the list of Elemental Tools, the Paten/Shield/Pentacle. The fork is often made from sacred animal skulls, horns or antlers. Standing in or behind a cauldron, it is even richer symbolically: it reminds us that Life comes from Death and vice versa. Rebirth, Transformation, Union; the list goes on as long as you care to take it. The Stang may be of differing sizes. The Greater Stang (my terminology!) stands about shoulder to head high, most often with a skull and horns/antlers. A Small Stang is roughly a meter long. At this length, a skull is unwieldy, so it may have antlers/horns or may just be a plain forked stick. Then, there is the Mini Stang. At less than a foot, it is used for travel when space is an issue and/or as a centerpiece on an indoor altar. A Greater Stang may serve as a group or coven altar/tool, while the Small/Mini Stang serves the individual. The base of the Small Stang is often used as a focusing tool in ritual, the fork as a dispersing/concentrating tool. The Small Stang and the Mini Stang do not have preferential direction, so mine have a Goddess and a God side assigned. Each has a small disc with God or Goddess colors on each side of the base of the fork. The God colors are yellow and red; the Goddess colors are white and black. This allows them to mark the progression of the Aspects around the Circle of the Year. In invoking, it is a clear indicator of whether a God or Goddess Aspect is being invoked. It also serves as a reminder to the individual of which energies are currently in use. However, this is starting to verge on decoration, a highly individual option. Many British Traditionalist Witches "dress" the Stang with garlands for various holidays and have crossed arrows set on the shaft. To them, these have special meaning1; not being one of them I will not attempt to elaborate2. All of my Stangs are bound in the colors of my system with black bases symbolic of the Underworld3 that they pierce and little other overt symbolism. I feel piling more symbols on as rich a symbol set as a Stang is overkill. Obviously, other people feel otherwise, so there is a great deal of variation in Stang decoration. I can tell you that I spent over 100 hours thinking about these tools before I constructed them -- actual build time about 1 or 2 hours per Stang. Was it worth the effort? Oh, yes, for these tools are undoubtedly mine, and accurately reflect my particular tradition! How then did I make them? Well, the shafts were the easy part. My Great Stang shaft is a cut-down spare ash spear shaft I had on hand (how many people can say that!?); my Small Stang shaft is an old ash weed sticker with a ground-down digging tip. The Mini Stang, I went with an oak dowel, since I was unable to acquire a dowel in ash. Still a sacred tree, please note! The Great Stang and Mini required some work to clad the base in mild steel to properly earth them. The Mini has a ground-off screw-in hook in the base to support it outdoors. The Great Stang has a rubber tip, for use in processionals; however, it has a slip-on point to support it outdoors as well. The Small Stang was easiest; the design of the weed digger already had steel cladding as well as a ground piercing point. All the bases were painted black, partly to protect from rust, partly to link to earth. The fork on the Mini is deer antler, on the Small, elk antler, and on the Great a deer skull with antlers. The Great's skull is removable, the rest fixed. To affix the antler, first I matched the pieces to make a fork, grinding their bases flat. Second, I cut flat spots on either side of the shafts. Third, I hot-glued the antler in place and held it until it cooled. Fourth, I bound the joints with black linen thread. Fifth, I applied varnish over the thread. This serves to bind it firmly in place, much like fiberglass. I used colored cord to wrap the Aspect colors on all the Stangs. After wrapping, I coated the cord with white glue (dries transparent), again, to bond it in place, just like the linen/varnish combination. So you see, it really isn't that hard to make them! The only real difficulty was prepping the skull. And that only required boiling the icky bits off, a long but very effective process. Oh, yeah, and cutting open the brain pan (10 minutes with a Dremel) for inserting the shaft. Determining what you want is still the major consideration; construction is pretty simple. OOPS, nearly forgot! Why do I have so many? I find that I prefer doing most workings with the Small Stang as a tool. I also like the Great Stang with cauldron as the altar or altar centerpiece. The Mini Stang I use with a small cauldron, also on the altar. It can substitute for the Great Stang as centerpiece, when I'm not at home. It's also very portable for travel when the larger tools are hard to pack. Mostly, I use it as a checkpoint to whether Goddess or God energy is presiding over the rite. But I like having it on the altar, as it seems to increase the sacred charge on it. So, there you have my very personal take on the Stang -- an oft neglected, poorly understood, yet richly complex and quintessentially Witch tool. A tool for the Witch that symbolically combines the four elemental tools, representations of the Lady and Lord, the functions of an altar and the structure of the universe into a single object, etc. Truly, a "Witch Army Knife" if ever there was one!
pgs. 61-67 The Roebuck and the Thicket, Evan John Jones, Capall Bann, 2001 pgs. 87, 91-92 Call of the Horned Piper, Nigel A. Jackson, Capall Bann, 1994 pgs. 109-110 Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance, Evan John Jones, Llewellyn 1997 pg. 142 The Robert Cochrane Letters, Robert Cochrane, with Evan John Jones, Capall Bann, 2002
ibid. (On the other hand, these folks are them. Fascinating site, and informative as well.)
Thanks to Volkhvy of Rockhopper for pointing this out to me at the 11-17-03 lecture.
The World Tree In Your Backyard: Building a Stang
Raven Kaldera and Elizabeth Vongvisith
The image came to me in a dream, and I obsessed about it for months. It was a pole, crowned with a skull, and on it were rungs decorated with many fluttering strips and hanging objects. When I looked in my books on Eurasian shamanism, I did find pictures of poles like that in old woodcuts (and a few photos from Siberia with no useful captions), but there was no explanation of exactly what was supposed to be on them, or how they were used. I knew, very strongly, that this pole was supposed to be a representation of the World Tree, and I went from there. Thinking it through, I supposed that there would have to be nine rungs, one for each world.
My friend and fellow spirit-worker Elizabeth - Loki's wife - came to visit, and we discussed the idea. I decided that there was no point in waiting; with two Northern-tradition spirit-workers on the land, something ought to come out right. So we dowsed for a place at the edge of my ritual field on the back of my farm, dug a hole, and then dowsed for the right tree to cut down. My wife followed, chain saw in hand. The pendulum led me to a small oak that was dead on the top half but still alive at the bottom - caught between worlds, as Elizabeth pointed out. We made sacrifice to it, asked its spirit for permission, and got a firm assent - we got the feeling that the spirit in it knew that it was not going to make it. Cutting it down, we lashed nine rungs to it and then stood it up in the hole, figuring that we'd decorate it standing up, like a Yule tree.
Nothing happened. That nothing seemed somehow very significant. Something ought to happen, we felt very strongly. I sat and thought about it, but got nothing but static from my tense state, which sometimes happens. Finally I grabbed some books about the research and archaeology of northern religion, and did some bibliomancy, opening them at random. (See, I've discovered what the "lore books" are good for - bibliomancy! Yes, that's me chuckling.) My finger alighted on a passage about finding holes in the ground that had been filled with offerings as part of some unknown religious rite. "That's it!" Elizabeth said, lighting up. "We need to feed the hole!"
So we went back out, took it gently down from its standing position, and laid it on the ground. I tied a skull from one of our goats on the top, and tied on strips of red cloth - it seemed important that those strips be red somehow - and then we went to the empty hole. The book had listed many things that were found in these sacred shafts, and we had some of them, and added others that we felt were intuitively important. There was a handful of old coins, an egg from our chickens, some goat milk from our goats, a few polished stones, a cup of mead, a bottle of ale, some homemade bread, some bones from sheep we'd raised and slaughtered, some pieces of junk jewelry. I recaned the hole with a mugwort stick and then threw it into the hole. Finally, I pricked my finger and let some of my own blood fall into it.
Then we stood the pole up....and it was as if we'd plugged it into an electric socket. Our prior conviction that "something ought to happen" was entirely correct. It not only turned on, it seemed to come to life, as if there was a guardian spirit in it. The skull suddenly looked like a head, glaring down at us...and I knew what the point of this pole was. It was a quick door between worlds, and the spirit that I had called in with our offerings and my own blood was waiting for orders. "Keep everything out until further notice," I told it, "and let no one but me through and back again."
We proceeded to decorate the rungs for the rest of the day. I started with strips of colored cloth fluttering off the ends - sky-blue for Asgard at the top, pink and lavender for Alfheim, green and gold for Vanaheim, dark green for Jotunheim, blue and green for Midgard, red for Muspellheim, gray and purple for Svartalfheim, white and silver for Niflheim, and black for Helheim. I made up pouches of the appropriate herbs for each world, in matching colors, and tied them on. Then we added appropriate sorts of junk jewelry and strings of wooden beads, and small bags of appropriate items - bones for Helheim, flint and ashes for Muspellheim, colored marbles in light and dark shades for the two Alfar-worlds, coins for the duergar of Nidavellir, miniature weapons and a brass sun for Asgard. I filled a small jar with raw flax dyed sea-green, and laid a small coiled snakeskin on it, and hung that on the Midgard rung for the Serpent. For Vanaheim, I put one perfect wheat head and a handful of amber chips into a narrow glass bottle and hung that up.
As we crossed the field later that night to check on the stang (and add a few more things that we'd found) we could see it literally glowing at the edge of the field. It seemed like a tall, hunched presence, draped in its fluttering strips of cloth, standing guard. It stayed very much alive for the rest of the month, and then as autumn moved into winter it seemed to recede, seemingly knowing that there would be no travel in the snow-filled months.
I began to use it to travel and get back safely. When I'd first pathwalked, I was careful to set up runic markers and wards to get me where I wanted to go, and back. With the stang, I went into the labyrinth, came out, walked right over to it, grabbed a rung, and bing! I was there, facing my stang in the physical world, and someone else's pole in another world. Apparently these things are scattered all over the Nine Worlds. Some of them are off limits; these guardians can keep you out, so I found that they were best used for places where you were expected, where you had made an appointment, as it were. Also, there aren't so many of them that they can take you anywhere you want. However, getting home was a snap; I just touched the wood of the pole itself, and the guardian of my pole - bound by my own blood - brought me right back. I'd never been returned so safely and surely.
Since then, the stang has remained in my back field, as it always will until it rots and falls over and I have to replace it. The field is host to various people's gatherings, and folks either give the stang a wide berth, or they feel strangely drawn to make offerings to it. More than once I've seen someone pause, stand before it for a moment, and then dig in their pocket for spare change, which they toss at its feet, and then they shake their head and move on.
A week later, Elizabeth built her own pole. Since she lives in an urban apartment with no land around it, she had to do it differently. She described her own stang-making in a letter to me:
My stang ended up being a bit different from yours, since I live in a second-floor apartment and don't have a connection to any piece of land, nor anywhere I can erect a pole in the ground. I decided not to do the "pole in a pot" thing because it felt wrong to just use dirt from some random place, or buy potting soil. What I did was to construct a ladder that can lean against a wall indoors. I used sections of unfinished wooden stair railing and some dowel rods from Home Depot, since I didn't have any young trees to chop down or anywhere to find suitable wood.
There are ten rungs on the ladder -- one for each of the Nine Worlds, and the topmost for the totem symbol. I had no skull (and no time to ask someone to send me one, since Hela told me I had to make the stang before Halloween, and I'd just gotten home from your place) but using a skull from an animal I didn't kill or eat myself felt kind of weird. I sat here thinking of what I should do, then I had a flash of inspiration and used a carved wooden mask that had been hanging on the wall over my desk. It felt appropriate, somehow. The mask got tied to the topmost rung of the ladder, which I had constructed using jute twine to lash the rungs on, leaving a couple of feet empty at the base and narrowing the ladder somewhat with each successive rung. I guess the idea is that the skull or mask or whatever on top of the pole represents the spirit of the pole itself, so using a clan totem or personal totem animal's skull or other meaningful symbol carries a lot of weight -- especially if it's a skull from a creature you hunted or butchered yourself, which you already know.
I added some red strips of cloth to the top rung, too, like we did with your pole and the skull -- I think this is meant to symbolize the blood of the tribe or clan, or the blood of the sacrificial animal, or both. Blood seemed to be the idea, anyway.
I tied things onto the rungs for each of the Nine Worlds. The only stuff I didn't have lying around already turned out to be feathers, ribbon, strips of cloth, some of the Nine Worlds herbs, and beer for the Vanaheim rung. I was surprised at how much stuff I managed to find in my apartment for this, even though I don't usually keep a lot of crafts stuff around. I used the same colors we used for your stang for each rung of my ladder, though I didn't have any dead snakes or actual bones at the time (I put a rubber skeleton hand on the Helheim rung, for instance, though later I found some real bones to tie on). I put a lot of unused jewelry on as well, including a snowflake bracelet for Niflheim, and a bronze medallion with a petroglyph of a sailing ship on the Jotunheim rung.
Since I wasn't putting the ladder in a hole, I thought about how to "feed" it with the egg, etc. What I finally did was to beat up the egg you gave me in a bowl along with some milk and the rest of the beer. I smeared these on the bottoms of the ladder's two poles, along with some of my own blood. I put an earthenware bowl on the floor between the legs of the ladder for the coins and various other non-food items. Then I smudged the ladder with the mugwort, blew on it, lit a candle and set it at the bottom too...and it came alive! I vaguely remember you advising me to put it wherever I dream, and so it's propped against a bedroom wall near my altars, and almost immediately I began having vivid dreams. I haven't seen the ladder glow the way your stang did that night; my bedroom doesn't get very dark due to the lights outside my building, but I could definitely feel the spooky foo coming off it when I stood in front of the ladder.
When I used it at Hallowmas to get to Alfheim, I lay down at the floor of the ladder, and then when I was ready to go, stood up out of my body and grasped the Alfheim rung, and I wound up holding the matching rung of a stang on a road that leads into the elves' realm. I later used that one to move to Svartalfheim, and from there to the Helvegr not far from Mordgud's tower. Each of the stangs I saw was built like yours -- a pole, not a ladder -- but was otherwise very different in terms of appearance.
While I was making my ladder, I had the strange feeling that it was kind of an experiment for the spirits too, adapting it for people like me who, in this day and age, may not have a relationship with the land, or own/live on property where they can build a stang without getting in legal trouble or having it vandalized or stolen, but who for one reason or another need to have and use a stang. I left enough room at the bottom of my ladder for it to be set into the ground, if I ever get the chance to do so. Right now, if I have to I can take things off the ladder, transport it to a new residence, then replace them and smudge, etc. all over again. I've added a few items here and there since I made it, too, when I felt I ought to do so.
One thing that Elizabeth and I both noticed was that the poles in various worlds looked different. The first time that I used my stang, I went to visit Angrboda in the Iron Wood; she had a pole not far from her lodge, with a wolf's skull on it. Two in Vanaheim had, variously, a horse skull and a stag skull. There is apparently one in Svartalfheim with a large saurian head of some sort, and one in Alfheim with a dragon's skull. While finding one in the Nine Worlds can actually mean a way home, be sure to find out who is in charge of it, and ask their permission to use it. Once a World Tree pole is created, it's not something that you can just abandon. If it is rooted in land, you'd better make sure that you own that land and will never be moved from it, because it is bound there by your blood. If it is a portable sort like Elizabeth's one would assume that it ought to be moved with the greatest reverence, and placed carefully. It should never be dismantled; if you must get rid of it, burn it entirely to ashes in a fire and return them to the earth.
Raven Kaldera email@example.com
[Pathwalker's Guide to the Nine Worlds
Season of the Witch
Walpurgisnacht in Germany's Harz Mountains
Steenie Harvey Wandering through Germany's Harz Mountains, it's impossible not to realize that you have entered a domain of enchantment, a place where landscape
conspires with legend to create a sense of lurking mystery. A terrain of craggy peaks, gloomy forests, and river valleys banked by towering cliffs, the mountains remember folk beliefs dating from pre-Christian times. Straddling the former border between East and West Germany, they are steeped in tales of witchcraft, magic, and apparitions. Stories collected in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries show that the region's mythic reputation reached beyond Germany. From France to Scandinavia, countryfolk traded fireside yarns of strange happenings on the Brockenberg (Brocken Mountain), the Harz's highest peak at 3,747 feet. Rumor had it that Europe's witches gathered there on Walpurgisnacht, May Eve. Still legendary throughout the Harz region, Walpurgisnacht is rooted in the pagan Frƒhjahrsfest, or Spring Festival. Directly opposite Allhallows Eve in the seasonal cycle, it was once widely celebrated among all Germanic peoples. Whereas North America associates witches and sorcery with Halloween, April 30 is when things get spooky in Germany. Legends tell of blue flames igniting above buried treasure, ladies flying on broomsticks, and the ghostly Wild Hunt pursuing the goddess Walpurga through snowstorms and hail. "There is a mountain very high and bare, whereon it is given out that witches hold their dance on Walpurgis Night," writes folklorist Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology about the Brocken, sometimes shown on old maps as the Blocksberg. "Our forefathers kept the beginning of May as a great festival, and it is still regarded as the trysting time of witches." Chillingly, he notes that witches invariably resort to places where justice was formerly administered, or blood was spilled: "Almost all witch mountains were once hills of sacrifice."
hen travelers don't act as if the Harz Mountains are imbued with ancient magic, local tourist authorities are dismayed. They do their utmost to evoke a sense of otherworldliness. Even hotel brochures display a logo depicting a crone riding a broomstick. In the days leading up to Walpurgisnacht, shops do a brisk trade in Harzhexen, miniature felt witch puppets that ride straw broomsticks (hexen is the German word for witches). Postcards, beer steins, and wooden carvings glorify the season of the witch. Little old ladies cheerfully pressure shoppers into pointy black hats, tarot cards, and devilish horns that glow in the dark. Huddled below the Brocken's granite bulk, the village of Schierke attracts around six thousand Walpurgisnacht revelers. The day begins with a parade of kindergarteners dressed as witches and pitchfork-wielding devils. Festooned with witch puppets, even the railway station joins in the fun. The local steam train becomes a Hexenexpress, chugging down from the Brockenberg's summit to Wernigerode--the quintessential "fairytale" town of half-timbered houses and gothic turrets. In the village, an old apothecary's shop called Zum Roten Fingerhut (the Red Thimble) is stocked with supplies of Schierke Feuerstein, a potent spirit concocted from a secret recipe of herbs and bitters. A local druggist, Willi Druber, first brewed it in 1908. The inscription on Herr Druber's grave warns travelers to flee, before the amateur brewer rises from his tomb and joins them for a drink. Come nightfall, things start to resemble a casting session for a horror movie, though the atmosphere is tongue in cheek. Valkyries (virginal shield maidens), kobolds (goblins), vampires, and witches come "dressed to kill." The grassy expanse of Schierke's Kurpark becomes a medieval fairground. Food, drink, and craft booths are set around a giant bonfire, a pantomime is enacted on a woodland stage, and a fireworks display explodes in the midnight sky. In Schierke's rival for May Eve celebrations, the village of Thale, a huge Walpurgisnacht bonfire blazes on a plateau above the Bode River chasm. This plateau is known as the Hexentanzplatz, the witches' dancing place.
Although the Harz hilltops are buried in all seasons beneath snowy eiderdowns, witching hour on May Eve is the transitional time when winter becomes spring. Winter's forces have made their final assault, and Dame Holda must summon her witches or wisewomen to dance the snow away. In m?chen (nursery tales), Dame Holda generally appears as a benign figure, a combination of motherly hausfrau, white lady or moon goddess, and sky goddess. Also known as Frau Holle, she busies herself checking that people aren't neglecting their household tasks. In the preindustrial age, her main concerns were flax cultivation and spinning. It's said that falling snowflakes are a sign that Holda/Holle is shaking her featherbed. It is interesting to recall that the Greek chronicler Herodotus noted a link between snow and feathers and that the Scythians, a nomadic people of what are now the countries of Romania and Ukraine,
believed the northern lands were inaccessible because they lay under feathers. According to legend, Holda often rides throughout the countryside in a wagon, leaving gifts for those who help her. Grimm's Teutonic Mythology relates how a peasant carved a new linchpin for her wagon. Sweeping away the wooden shavings, he found they had been transformed into gold. Holda, however, can also ride the clouds. From this arose a belief that witches travel in her company. Yet it wasn't Holda who lent her name to Walpurgisnacht. That honor is shared by a pagan deity and a Christian abbess. As a spring festival, May Eve was originally dedicated to Walpurga, a fertility goddess of woods and springs, originally known as Walburga or Waldborg. Interestingly, she shares many of Holda's attributes, including a propensity for rewarding human helpers with gifts of gold. And, just like Holda, Walpurga
is also associated with spindles and thread. These commonplace items took on a magical significance on May Eve, when they were used for divination and love spells. E.L. Rochholz's 1870 folklore study, Drei Gaug?tinen (Three Local Goddesses), describes Walpurga as a white lady with flowing hair, wearing a crown and fiery shoes. She carries a spindle and a three-cornered mirror that foretells the future. In the layer cake of northern European mythology, the symbols strongly suggest connection to the Three Norns, or Fates. These demigoddesses spun and wove the web of life, casting prophecies into their triangular Well of Wyrd, which watered the tree of life.
For the nine nights before May Day, Walpurga is chased by the Wild Hunt, a ghostly troop of riders representing winter. Hounded from place to place, she seeks refuge among mortal villagers. People leave their windows open so the white lady of May, harbinger of summer, can find safety behind the cross-shaped panes. Encountering a farmer she implores him to hide her in a shock of grain. This he does. The next morning his rye crop is sprinkled with grains of gold. Under Christian influence, Walpurga's rite of spring was transformed into a day to drive out the forces of pagan darkness, rather than the darkness of winter. A Saint Walburga, now remembered on May 1, emerged in the eighth century to battle with the old goddess. As it did with the Celtic fire goddess Brigid, the medieval church often elevated the elder deities to sainthood in its attempts to suppress paganism and stifle older rituals. Despite many similarities, Walpurga and Saint Walburga are entirely separate characters. Believed to have been born around a.d. 710 in what was then the English kingdom of Wessex, Saint Walburga was a missionary-abbess in St. Boniface's Frankish church. She presided over a community of monks and nuns in the German town of Heidenheim and was canonized after her death in 779. After Walburga's relics were interred at Eichstadt, historical writings claim a miracle-working oil flowed from her tomb. The saint thus gained a cult status, and her relics were eventually sent to various churches across Europe. In medieval times, Saint Walburga was called upon to defend the faithful against witchcraft and could offer protection against plague, famine, crop failure, and the bites of rabid dogs. She is also the patron saint of Antwerp in Belgium and was often invoked to help sailors during storms. Walburga's "protectress of crops" aspect suggests an entanglement with the goddess Walpurga. Iconography often depicts the saint carrying a sheaf of grain, the usual symbol of fertility goddesses, not Christian abbesses. Rochholz muses, "What kind of pairing is this, the witches of the Brockenberg with a saint of the church, under one and the same name!"
The scenes of Harz folklore have been enthusiastically mined over the years. Brocken Mountain was where Goethe set the witches' Sabbath scene in the story of Faust, who sells his soul to Mephistopheles, the devil. The peak also inspired the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky to write his nerve-jangling Night on Bald Mountain. If tales of goddesses, witches, and diabolism weren't enough, the Brockenberg also engenders a meteorological phenomenon: the Brockengespenst, or specter of the Brocken. Given the right atmospheric conditions,
the mountain can produce an eerie optical illusion. As the sun sinks, the shadow of a walker cast from a ridge becomes magnified and an enormous silhouette appears on low-lying clouds or mist banks below the mountain. Although it's only a shadow, the distant "specter" appears to be walking at the same pace, doggedly tracking the observer's path. On some occasions, rainbow-like bands or rings may surround the shadow. Science explains the Brockengespenst as the result of the diffraction of sunlight by water droplets in the clouds. The phenomenon has been seen in mountains all over the world and is also known as an anticorona or glory. The name Brocken specter came into use among mountaineers after a climber fell to his death on the Brocken. Not realizing that he was observing his own shadow, the climber apparently lost his footing after being startled by a rainbow-haloed figure emerging from the mists. Of course, scientific theories weren't available to the Harz miners and peasants from whom folklorists such as Grimm, Rochholz, and Ey collected their tales. Sightings of a giant spectral being with a ring of light around its head would have helped confirm that the Brocken belonged in the realms of the supernatural. In his Antiquary of 1816, Sir Walter Scott recounts the tale of a charcoal burner called Martin Waldeck who encountered the "tutelar demon" of the Harz. A wild man "of huge stature," this demonic guardian seems to be another manifestation of the Brockengespenst, albeit with overtones of a Green Man--type vegetation spirit. His head and waist wreathed with oak leaves, the giant haunts the lonely crags and recesses of the mountains, carrying a pine tree torn up by the roots. Above Schierke, forest pathways snake through Brocken National Park. Shrouded in mist, their gnarled limbs dripping with moss and lichens, the trees seem to close in behind the hiker. With names such as the Witch's Altar and Devil's Pulpit, bizarre rock formations rise from the forest floor. In the brooding green half-light, the rocks take on a malevolent appearance, conjuring up the story of the Rƒbezahl who leads travelers astray. A male dwarflike figure who inhabits caves, the Rƒbezahl wraps himself in a large cloak to hide his face. He has the ability to control the weather, usually by summoning gales and rain.
From the Rubeland Caves, where stalactites glitter as wickedly as elfin swords, to the Teufelsmauer (Devil's Wall) near Blankenburg, the Harz landscape could easily have provided the blueprint for Tolkien's Middle Earth fantasies. Its storybook towns are also likely to send the imagination into overdrive. An architectural feast of Rapunzel-style turrets, secret courtyards, and half-timbered houses leaning at crazy angles, places like Wernigerode and Quedlinburg seem to have slipped through a crack in time. With its twelve hundred houses spanning six centuries, Quedlinburg is particularly lovely, but some disturbing history lies behind its fairytale facade. In 1589, the ecclesiastical authorities of Quedlinburg's St. Servatius Abbey sentenced 133 so-called witches to death. Herbalism, folk healing, and anything that smacked of heathen dabbling were crimes punishable by execution, usually burning. Between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, when witchcraft persecutions were at their height, European "practitioners of magic" paid the ultimate penalty. Drought, crop failure, and sickness in animals were invariably seen as evidence of spellcraft. Doctors diagnosed
witchcraft as the cause of convulsions and fits. The church hierarchy also regarded such ailments as the work of the devil's henchwomen. From Scotland to Italy, witchcraft hysteria raged like wildfire across Europe. Germany's bishops were particularly zealous in their crusade to obliterate all traces of pagan practices--and those who leaned toward them. The Reformation rejected many Catholic teachings but not those pertaining to witchcraft and demonology. Between 1623 and 1633, the prince-bishops of two Bavarian towns, Wƒrzburg and Bamburg, ordered the burning of at least fifteen hundred "witches" between them. The victims of Wƒrzburg's bishop included his own nephew, nineteen priests, and a child aged seven. One reason why medieval Germany developed an obsession with stamping out "witchcraft" may lie in the food that was being eaten. If the weather is warm and damp, rye (then a staple crop) can produce a poisonous fungus called ergot. Hallucinations, fits, pinpricking sensations, muscle spasms: the symptoms of ergotism are similar to the effects of LSD, which itself is derived from ergot. The nerve toxins in ergot of rye affect animals as well as humans. Europe's last major outbreak of ergot poisoning happened in 1951, at Pont-Saint-Esprit in France. Contaminated bread from the village bakery resulted in over two hundred cases of illness and thirty-two of insanity, including that of an 11-year-old boy who attempted to strangle his mother. Four people died. Victims, whose delusions included being attacked by tigers and snakes, often had to be restrained with straitjackets. A few villagers even believed that they were turning into wild beasts, a fact that may explain the old werewolf legends. Despite advances in medicine and a better knowledge of pharmacology, some people still turned to the supernatural for explanations. Walpurga, golden goddess of the grain, bequeathed her followers a deadly legacy. It makes one wonder how her namesake, Saint Walburga, gained a reputation for being a protectress of crops. From past events, her protection seems to have been woefully ineffective. I don't know about rabid dogs, but the saint isn't much help when it comes to seeing off Harz witches, devils,and werewolves either. Well, certainly not the ones who turn out for Walpurgisnacht celebrations below the dreadful Brockenberg.
Steenie Harvey is a freelance writer based in Ireland and a frequent contributor to The World & I. For more of her work, see "Celtic Creatures," June 2000, p. 210; "Twilight Places," March 1998, p. 187; and "Mystic Water," June 1997, p. 202.
The Old Goddess went by a variety of regional names in German-speaking countries, always retaining the character of a long-nosed spinner venerated on the Ember Nights. In northern Germany she was Hölle or Fraw Holt; in the southern reaches she was Perhta or Percht or Berthe. Bertha is mentioned interchangeably with "Fraue Holt" in the Landskranna Himelstrasz (1484). Folklore cast both goddesses as queen of the elves and holden. [Grimm, 1367]
Writers from 1300 to 1500 report that people still left out food and drink offerings to the Old Goddess. It was customary on the winter holiday to bake a braided loaf, the Hollenzopf, "Hölle's braid," as an offering to the Mother of the Dead. [Gimbutas, Lang, 320] This bread was probably preserved for use in blessing and curative rituals during the coming year, as was the French custom with faery loaves. The same observances were recorded of Perchta in southern Germany. In the mid-1300s, Martin of Amberg wrote that people left meat and drink standing for Percht with the iron nose. Medieval documents refer to the Winter Holiday as perchtentag or perhtennaht ("bright-day," or "-night"). A manuscript of 1302 uses the expression "till the eighth day after the Perht's day." [Grimm, 279-81]
The divine spinning crones Hölle and Bertha or Perchta would travel "in the Twelves," during the last days of the year. [Rey-Flaud, 187] The south German "wild women" would also come into power during these "Twölven." [Grimm, 929] Legend often presents these goddesses as old witches with shaggy hair. They would appear suddenly, accompanied by infants, elves, dwarves, night-hags and enchantresses. [Grimm, 282] In Hesse and Thuringia, Holle would lead the Wild Hunt, riding a black horse with her wild hair streaming in the wind, as she blew a horn and cracked a whip.
The Old Goddess gave spindles to industrious spinners and filled their spindles with thread overnight, but tangled and dirtied those of lazy, careless spinners, especially the ones who failed to finish off their flax before the Ember season. At that time Austrian women used to spin some flax especially for the shaggy "wood-woman" and throw it on the fire as an offering to her. Women in Vicentina spun off the flax on their distaffs and threw it into the fire for the holzweibel. [Grimm, 432]
Witches have returned to the German forests, dancing naked in groups under the full moon and calling to their gods.The covens vary in size and in how seriously they take their calling, but the numbers are rising, particularly amongst the young.Their religious ideas are described as "pagan" rather than Satanist, and many of the older practitioners have a history in the environmental movement, where they learnt a passionate love of nature.In some cases this has led on to a belief in the natural powers of the forests. The women are convinced they can work magic."The witches' scene is experiencing a powerful revival," says Lutheran theologian Hansjoerg Hemminger. He says the covens range from "girlie witches" to the so-called "Wicca" covens. Wicca is an old Anglo-Saxon term for a group of witches.Christian theologians are inclined to see the latter as a manifestation of a new heathen movement. The women tend to be members of associations like the Pagan Federation or the Stone Circle.Maddalina, a 44-year-old witch, is high priestess of a witches' coven in Berlin, who became interested in Wicca about 15 years ago.The former doctor's assistant, who declines to provide her real name, says she began looking around for women with similar interests."Today you are just a mouse-click away from making contact," she says, and she estimates that the number of witches has quadrupled in her time as a witch. Conceding she is uncertain, she guesses there are several hundred Wiccans in Germany.Maddalina is scornful of the teenagers interested in the witch cults. She gets e-mails daily from 13- and 14-year-olds, almost all of which she rebuffs.Her own coven numbers just eight and the youngest trainee witch is 25 years old.Most of the teenagers interested in witchcraft gain their information from the media, the internet or from books. Television series on witchcraft are currently popular in Germany.These sources offer love potions aimed at curing shyness, or magical formulas spoken in the light of the moon to help with schoolwork.Hemminger insists that these methods are never solutions to real problems.But Maddalina is true to her beliefs. "We are heathens and believe in the power of magic," she says.She and her coven go into the woods around Berlin several times a year to stand naked in a circle and call to Baldur, the god of light.Their requests are of a banal sort; wishes for a better job, a new flat with a balcony, for good health.By contrast with the teenage witches, the Wicca covens tend to be older women with a background in the women's movement.Most commentators do not believe the groups have any links to Satanism and black magic. But Hemminger sounds a note of warning."Some of these circles operate in complete secrecy. We really don't know what they are up to," he says.In general he regards the Wicca covens as a means to overcome personal crises that only cause concern once the cult begins to take over a person's life.Maddalina insists her coven's activities are harmless. "We are not hurting anyone," she says.And the Berlin forest authorities are taking a similar view, allowing the witches to dance under the moon. - Sapa-DPA
[Of interest to note here, between the ‘Old Ways’ of the Hexen of Germanic Craft Traditions, and the new BTW influences, Hexen DO NOT work skyclad, as generally Germany is BOTH, too cold, and too wet, to work skyclad out of doors.]