Walpurgisnacht: Tracing Traditions Across Northern Europe

March 14, 2024

Walpurgisnacht: Tracing Traditions Across Northern Europe

Walpurgisnacht: Tracing Traditions Across Northern Europe

On April 30th, the convergence of pagan and Christian traditions unfolds in the celebration of Walpurgisnacht. This holiday, dedicated to the Christian Saint Walpurga, takes numerous forms across Northern Europe. From ancient pagan origins to modern interpretations, Walpurgisnacht marks the transition into May and the triumphant arrival of springtime.

What are the origins of Walpurgisnacht?

Translated from German, Walpurgisnacht means “Walpurgis Night”, and was named after the Christian Saint Walpurga. Born in Anglo-Saxon England, Walpurga traveled to Germany to evangelize to pagans, and she was celebrated as a figure who warded off plague, pestilence, and witchcraft. She was canonized as a Saint on May 1st although her feast day is traditionally celebrated on the evening of April 30th into the early morning of May 1st. 

Pagans in these areas already celebrated May Day or Beltane around this time, so Walpurga’s feast day naturally took on many of the aspects of these more ancient pagan rituals. Christians celebrated Walpurgisnacht by lighting bonfires, which were thought to keep the evil spirits away and usher in the warmth of Spring. In Bavaria, the night is called “Hexennacht” or literally “Witch’s Night”. It is believed that on this night, witches travel to the Brocken mountain and commune with the Devil at midnight. 

What happens on Walpurgisnacht?

Different regions have varying ways of celebrating Walpurgisnacht or Hexennacht. Taking place six months after Halloween, it is thought that this night is the Devil’s last chance for mischief before the light of Spring comes to clear away the darkness. In almost all regions, bonfires are lit as part of the celebrations. In parts of Northern Europe, the townspeople dress up as witches, dance, and sing into the early morning hours. It is thought that making such a raucous in the town will ward off any evil spirits that wish to cause harm. Practical jokes and general mischief are also a big part of the celebrations.

On the more spiritual side, individuals will hang blessed sprigs of foliage in their barns and homes for protection. They will also leave out pieces of bread and honey, called ankenschnitt, for phantom hounds that haunt gates and crossroads while the veil is thin. 

How can you celebrate Walpurgisnacht or Hexennacht? 

At the heart of this holiday is fire, fertility, and the welcoming of the light half of the year. 

If you are a Christian witch, you may choose to celebrate the feast day of Saint Walpurgis, who protects her patrons from evil spirits. Pagan witches may choose to celebrate “Hexennacht” as they do in Bavaria. For many modern witches, this night is about celebrating our power and the witchcraft tradition as a whole. This is an excellent time to gather with your fellow witches and embrace the changing seasons. Dress up in your finest garb and sing and dance into the early hours of May 1st. If bonfires are not possible where you live, light a hearth fire, or even consider practicing some candle magic. Walpurgisnacht or Hexennacht is the perfect holiday to kick off your Beltane celebrations, which we will discuss in our next blog post. In the meantime, you can gather all your Walpurgisnact supplies from our online store or visit us in person at our brick-and-mortar in Asheville.