Walpurgis Night: when witches meet the devil.

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On the night of 30 April, the fires burn. Witches’ fires! From the Arctic Circle to the southern tip of Italy, from Portugal to the far east of Europe, everywhere the witches meet to renew their pact with the devil. On brooms, pitchforks and bucks they come flying to hold their debauched and ungodly doings on the night before St. Walburga’s Day: Witches. Men and women, some half-naked, with shining eyes and hair tousled by the wind. At first there are only a few, but soon there are more and more. A large fire flares up in the clearing on the mountain peak, shadows dance in the flickering light of the flames to wild music.

It is the common perception of Walpurgis Night, from 30 April to 1 May, when witches gather together and hold wild festivities. But it is not only considered a time of magic and witchcraft, it symbolises a transition: people come together, say goodbye to the cold season, drive out winter with fires and usher in the warm, sunny months. 

Walburga was born around the year 710 as one of many children of a wealthy English family in Devon (Wessex). The royal lineage, according to which she was the daughter of King Richard the Anglo-Saxon and his wife Wuna, is not proven with certainty, but a wealthy or perhaps even privileged social position of her family, i.e. nobility, can certainly be assumed. Orphaned at an early age, she is said to have been admitted at the age of ten or eleven to the monastery of Wimborne in Dorset, known at that time for its scholarship and good education for young women from the West Saxon upper classes. Walburga spent around 26 years of her life there and was carefully prepared by Abbess Tetta for a missionary task in the German lands, which were still largely pagan at that time.

Her new home was initially in Tauberbischofsheim (Germany), where she lived in the monastery run by Lioba. After the death of her brother Wunibald of Heidenheim in 761, Walburga took over the men’s monastery of Heidenheim, which he had founded about ten years earlier, an important missionary base; a little later a women’s monastery was added. Through her leadership of this powerful double monastery, Walburga became one of the most important women in Christian Europe. 

Walburga is said to have been canonised on 1 May (around the year 870 by Pope Hadrian II) on the occasion of the reburial of her bones. This is also the reason why 1 May was introduced as a day of commemoration.

Goethe dealt with the Walpurgis Night in “Faust”. Some composers have also taken up this Walpurgis Night, but also the witch cult has been reflected in numerous works.

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