Tonight, April 30th is Walpurgisnacht or Witches Night. We are at the exact halfway point to Halloween on the calendar, as it is exactly six months to the day. Walpurgisnacht takes place on the eve of May day (May 1st), just like Halloween takes place on the eve of All Saints Day (November 1).
Tonight is a witch’s holiday. Extra care and precautions are needed on this night, Walpurgisnacht or Hexennacht (Witches’ Night) is a night that belongs to the witch. Walpurgisnacht is believed to be the night of a witches’ meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, a range of wooded hills in central Germany between the rivers Weser and Elbe.
The Celts believe that on Halloween and Walpurgisnacht the veil between the worlds separating the living and the dead – the seen and the unseen, thins, allowing devils, demons, and witches to mingle openly among us as they travel to their meeting places. One of the largest meeting places is on the Brocken.
On this night, anyone encountering a witch on the way to their meeting or an unwitting traveller was likely to encounter ghosts and mischievous elementals, mysterious lights and music, witness the celebratory cavorting of witches and other beasties, and even be at risk of permanently losing their shadow.
A witch is defined as an individual who voluntarily entered into a pact with the devil and traveled by flying broomstick, or upon the backs of goats, or, rather unfortunate men. On Walpurgisnacht, a witch’s business would be exclusively conducted during the hours when darkness reigned. This “business” consisted of killing and feasting on children, but they also took time out to desecrate a few Christian symbols and take advantage of the careless or ill-prepared.
In parts of Eastern Europe pitchforks of hay were set ablaze and waved about to frighten unwelcome spirits. Meanwhile, in Scotland, great bonfires were set in each village. Here, people gathered to dance around the fire commanding the flames to rise high enough to burn the witches flying overhead.
Noisemaking was often employed to scare away evil spirits, demons, and witches. Such practices are incorporated into various traditions throughout the world – from China with its fireworks, or the North American tradition of tying cans to a newly-wedded couple’s car, to Western Europe with the reveling and banging of pots and pans to ring in the New Year. These traditions, along with pounding wooden boards on the ground, ringing the church bell, and the firing of guns are still widely practiced, although their purpose is largely forgotten.
Homes should also be protected against witchcraft and deviltry. All brooms must be hidden away on Walpurgisnacht, lest a witch come and take it from you. Of course, you are never to allow a strange woman who knocks on your door inside the house. Instead, keep her busy by commanding her to count every blade of grass beyond your doorstep before you grant entry.
So as you’re out and about tonight, beware the witches and keep that bonfire burning big and bright on this Walpurgisnacht!