Valborgsmässoafton – Walpurgis Night – Witches’ Night  April 30th

Apr 30th, 2017 | By | Category: Articles, Pagan People

By Imelda Almqvist

Valborgsmässoafton 2012 på Skansen

 

Uppsa Kulle Under Snow (2)

(Uppsa Kulle, Södermanland – Sweden, Easter 2017)

 

Valborgsmässoafton is more commonly known as Valborg or Walpurgis Night. That is the English translation for Walpurgisnacht (the Dutch and German name for the night of April 30th). In Germanic folklore this night is also known as the Hexennacht (or Heksennacht in Dutch, my native tongue) which literally means Witches’ Night.

It was believed that on this night witches met at the Hexentanzplatz (a particular location for a Witches’ Dance) and then flew as a collective to Mount Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains in Germany. Legend has it that evil spirits and ghosts, represented by cold weather, snow and darkness, met up with the witches there to cavort around a fire and commune with the Devil. The witches in Sweden would have been on their way to the (local) mythical mountain Blåkulla, not  Brocken!

(To read more about this and the role children played in witch trials in Sweden please see my online article published by Patheos Pagan last year:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/throughthegrapevine/2016/12/912/ )

It is all made to sound very sinister but of course this is Fear speaking!  The witch trials and centuries of Christianity as the dominant religion have left many Europeans with a deeply ingrained fear of pagan and magical practices. This fear lurks deeply in both the personal Unconscious and ancestral field of many Europeans.

The first mention in English translation of this festival occurred in the 19th century. Local variants are observed today in the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland and Estonia. Though I am Dutch (but married to a Swede) my own personal experiences of Valborg stem from Sweden, not Holland. Traditionally the bonfires are said to have been lit to “fence off the collective of witches” and to stop them from flying to Brocken (or in the case of Swedish witches Blåkulla  – Blue Hill or Mountain).

However, I strongly suspect that there is a more sinister aspect (than only “fencing off”) to this and that this festival may well commemorate and even re-enact the actual burning of witches at the stake! On both sides of the Baltic Sea, in Sweden and Finland (as well on the islands of the archipelagos between those countries) there is a local tradition of children dressing up as Easter Witches (Påsk Häxa in Finland Swedish and Påsk Kärring in mainland Swedish) and knocking on doors to collect sweets. People also make life-size witches (dolls or effigies) out of straw and clothing. Those “witches” sit in chairs on the porches or in the gardens of houses for a while and are then burned in the bonfires.

In Denmark this same tradition is observed by building bonfires on Saint John’s Eve (essentially the Christian festival imposed on the far more ancient pagan festival of Midsummer!) Midsummer Eve has become Saint John’s Eve and making bonfires has become a way of celebrating Midsummer. In the Scandinavian countries, where the summers are short and the winters severe, Midsummer is a feast of equal national importance to Christmas (Jul, the Winter Solstice).

In Sweden today there are many local variations of the Valborg festivities. The general idea is to welcome the spring weather and “drive off evil spirits”. Central to them all is the lighting of bonfires. People gather around the fire, sing songs and consume alarming amounts of alcohol (in good Scandinavian fashion!) People often dance around and enjoy barbecues in the great outdoors.

At this time of year the winter snows have generally melted and it is (hopefully!) warm enough to have barbecues! Sweden has many public sites set up for barbecues: in national parks, on deserted islands in the Stockholm archipelago etc.) However this year (2017) I have just returned (to London, UK) from celebrating a “White Easter” in Sweden and the weather forecast for Central Sweden this week is more snow!! (Most people there are not so sure if spring 2017 has actually arrived yet!)

As it happens I was asked to write this blog on a day where I am working on putting together a 2 year program in Norse Shamanism that will run in Sweden (and the US). I am surrounded by “grimoires” and ancient texts in Icelandic and Old Norse piled high on my desk!

http://www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk/info2.cfm?info_id=224450

I cannot help but feel that most people celebrating Valborg in Sweden do not spare the witches that burned at the stake any thought.  This does not feel right to me. Personally speaking I will be lighting a candle for those witches and honouring the way they preserved (and passed on) ancient wisdom and healing techniques at immense personal cost.

And if you feel so inclined – I invite you to do the same thing!

Imelda Almqvist

 

About the author:

Imelda Almqvist’s book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon Books in August 2016.  She is based in London,UK and teaches shamanism and sacred art internationally.  She is a presenter on Year of Ceremony for Sounds True.
www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk

https://imeldaalmqvist.wordpress.com/

 

Year of Ceremony

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