Walpurgis Night

Tonight is Walpurgis Night. Saint Walpurga was, supposedly, an 8th century nun whose relics were transferred on April 30th and her name was given to the holiday. As frequently happened during Christianity‘s spread across Europe, this was merely an instance of co-opting and Christianizing a much older holiday.

Before Saint Walpurga was dreamed up, 30 April was known as the day that Odin died attempting to retrieve the knowledge of the runes and, ever since, the barrier between the world of the dead and the living is at its weakest on this night. For this reason, Odin’s faithful build bonfires, play drums and (nowadays) shoot off guns tonight to ward off evil. In some German-speaking areas, tonight is known as Hexxenacht because on this night witches are said to mount their broomsticks and fly from near and far to Brocken Mountain where they “hold revels with their Gods.”

In rural Bavaria, children sometimes play pranks– wreaking destruction on gardens, TP-ing homes, smearing toothpaste in places unintended by the manufacturer, and writing graffiti. In the Rhineland, boys bring trees hung with colored streamers to the houses of girls they like. A tree decorated only with white streamers indicates dislike for the recipient. In southern Sweden, children gather greenery at twilight and adorn their homes. In Finland, they drink sparkling wine and sima (a mead) and burn strawmen imbued with ill-will and bad luck. In Estonia and  Germany, girls dress as witches and make merry.


Walpurgis celebration in Benzingerode, Germany

Trailer for La Noche de Walpurgis (dir. León Klimovsky, 1970)

 

Gustaf Tenggren‘s “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence of Fantasia (1940)

Stormwitch’s “Walpurgis Night” (1984)


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in generating advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other varieties of spam. Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of Brightwell’s maps are available from 1650 GalleryHe is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiTwitter, and Weibo.
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