As we approach the last day of April, we enter a mythical Northern European holiday known as Walpurgis Night. Spring is greeted with songs and bonfires at public gatherings all over the country. Local variants of Walpurgis Night are observed across Europe in the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland and Estonia.
This tradition originates from Germany, where they lit bonfires to scare off witches. Swedes used to let cows and goats out into the forest on May the 1st to begin their summer grazing. The Vikings picked up the habit of lighting bonfires to keep away evil spirits and wild animals so that the livestock would not get harmed. They also used the bonfires to celebrate and hurry up spring, and to purify nature.
Walpurgis night (‘Valborgsmässoafton’) is named after the saint Walpurga who lived in the 8th century. The celebration, which begins on the evening of 30 April and continues to 1 May, typically centres on copious consumption of alcoholic beverages. Student traditions are one of the main characteristics of Walpurgis.
Yet, until this day, you can see the pagan roots of this holiday in the bonfires supposed to scare away the witches. European holidays are charged with symbolism and myths, and each holiday has a unique atmosphere to it. Unfortunately, in Sweden, the younger generation have turned this archaic holiday into a mere festival for drinking. Entering Walpurgis eve without paying homage to your ancestors is a disgrace, regardless if you drink or not.
‘Walpurgisnacht’ was earlier tied to dark powers, with demons and witches – which I guess ties with modern-day alcoholism, drunken drivers, rapes and assaults (an always prevailing ingredient of Walpurgis in post-modern Sweden). One has to ask if this night is not worthy of something more than being celebrated by secularized and godless teenagers and young adults with floods of alcohol.
But an equally important question is that of the pagan roots of Walpurgis. By understanding how our ancestors thought, how they looked upon the year and its seasons, we can also stand stronger before the future. Not least to begin the strenuous work in forming holidays that are worthy our people and their traditions.
Although Walpurgis has gotten its name after an abbess who lived in the 8th century, it’s actually a very much pagan holiday which celebrates springs victory over the winter. The pagan origin is so clear that Saint Walpurga in many folk traditions appear more as a pagan goddess than a Christian nun.
The spring Goddess
The Teutons divided society, the world and the Gods within three functions: ruling, physical power and fertility. It’s clear that ‘Valborg’ was a holiday in which you celebrated the third function, and the springs victory over the winter. This was often celebrated through ritual battles between winter and spring.
It seems as if the Teutons celebrated spring with fires, where some women played an important role. Christianity came to view these women as witches, and the dualistic world view of Christendom (good vs. evil), also affected the view on the spring Goddess. One side of her lived on as the nun ‘Valborg’, but her other sides were suppressed and lived on in the form of superstition as witches and demons who were believed to harry during the night.
One interesting detail is that the ancient Teutons, as most nature people, believed in something that was referred to as transitions in time and space. The night between winter and spring neither belonged to spring nor winter and was therefore a magical night. This meant that the boundary to the supernatural world was weaker during such nights, and that fairies, witches and forgotten Gods could make themselves reminded.
This belief of specific points in time and places that were magic because they were transits, is also manifested in the way they viewed road junctions. Road junctions were a part of a magical geography, where witches and demons particularily prefered to hunt.
Such places and points in time are not just dangerous, but they also contain certain powers. These powers are dangerous when not controlled, but when our ancestors practiced ceremonies to control them, they could be used to the benefit of society.
This is our spring – the spring of Resurgence
The night between winter and spring therefore contains – both symbolically and substantially – what is necessary for a new spring (a resurgence). In the nature spring stands for the return of life, with plants and animals reproducing, for warmth and for light. In history it stands for the spring of the people, the resurrection of a nation. It’s therefore of the uttermost importance than pagans and nationalists begin celebrating the return of the spring. Because it’s nothing less than the resurrection of our people that we fight for. The alternative is an eternal winter and death for our people – where the boogeyman rules.