Walpurgis Night

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Bloks Berg's performance , Johannes Praetorius , 1668

The Walpurgis Night (also witches' burning ) is a traditional Northern and Central European festival , sometimes with a fire on April 30th . The name of the festival is derived from the holy Walburga , whose feast day was celebrated on May 1st, the day of her canonization, until the Middle Ages . The Walpurgis Night was the vigil celebration of the festival. As “Tanz in den Mai” it has found its way into private and commercial events as an urban, modern festival due to the opportunity to dance and socialize on the eve of the May Day holiday.


Walpurgis Night , Luis Ricardo Falero , 1878

The name Walpurgis Night is derived from St. Walburga (also Walpurga or Walpurgis) from, an abbess from England (≈ 710–779). The feast day of this saint was celebrated on May 1st in the Middle Ages (in the German regional calendar now on February 25th, the day of her death). The nine days before that were called Walpurgist Days , the ringing of bells to ward off the alleged witchcraft is also described locally as Walpern .

Traditionally, the night from April 30th to May 1st is the night when the witches held a big festival, especially on the Blocksberg (actually " Brocken "), but also in other elevated places. This idea is influenced by the descriptions of the Witches' Sabbath in the literature of the 15th and 16th centuries.

The name Walpurgis Night was popularized by Goethe's Faust (Part I, 1808); earlier evidence can be traced back to the 18th century.

Adelungs dictionary (1774–1786) noted under Walpurgis :

“The Walpurgis evening, the Walpurgis night, etc. in common life, the Walper evening, the Walper night. Since the year for the Germans, as well as for the other European peoples, began in the oldest times with the first of May, the superstition still prevailing in the great heap with regard to the Walpurgis Night is probably a remnant of it, and that of the latter The turn of the year formerly was customary. "

In the 17th century, Johannes Praetorius published ( Blockes-Berg's performance , Leipzig 1668):

"Detailed geographical report / of the high, wonderfully old and famous Blockes Mountains: the same from the witch's ride / and magic sabbaths / so on such a mountain the monsters from all over Germany / Every year on May 1st in Sanct-Walpurgis nights. "

The 1st of May used to be the feast day of the apostles Philip and Jacobus and was therefore called "Philippi Jacobi". Johannes Coler wrote in 1603 in his Calendarium Perpetuum (p. 89): “The next day before Philippi Jacobi, Zeuberers practice a lot of Teuffeley in the evening / so that they offend people a lot”, but in the same section also: “When it's on S. Walpurgis evening rains / or the same night / so the common man hopes for a good year. "

Tradition and Customs

Copper engraving by W. Jury based on Johann Heinrich Ramberg (1829) on Goethe's Faust I : “A little thieving, a little ramming. So the wonderful Walpurgis Night haunts me through all my limbs. "

Many Walpurgi rites live on in rural Mayan customs . In folk customs , people protected their courtyards by cracking whips at night, laying brooms and maybushes . The maypole , usually a birch, is both a symbol of fertility and a representative of the world tree . At Walpurgis, the maypoles are traditionally brought from the forest to the village to be placed in front of the house for loved ones. There is dancing around the tree in the center of the village. The tree symbolizes the fertility of nature, which is brought to people in this way. In pre-Christian times, ritual acts of love in the fields were supposed to transfer human fertility to the arable land. The monoliths called bridal stones in Wendland (for example in Woltersdorf and Trebel ), which were viewed as petrified bridal couples, play a special role here . It is said to have been the custom on Walpurgis Night for girls with bared genitals to slide over these stones to wish for their lover.

Many of the customs at spring festivals revolve around young couples who are symbolic of human community. The corridor between two Walpurgis fires is supposed to cleanse and keep epidemics away (Walpurgis is the patron saint of plague, coughs and rabies). The witch fires, which are still celebrated in large parts of Germany today, presumably go back to this tradition . With Christianization, which was handled very rigorously, not only in Germany, these old customs were condemned as pagan, the original meaning , which some researchers believe to be based on matriarchal social structures, was lost and incorporated into rural youthful customs .

May singing, May fire, dancing into May, pranks

May fire in Akalla (Sweden)
  • The Hexenfeuer (also called “Tanz in den Mai” or “May fire”) is celebrated in large parts of Germany. To this end, a fire will be kindled on April 30th, with which one wants to drive away “the evil spirits”. This is celebrated late into the night. If the fire has burned down a bit, the maize jump takes place in some areas , a tradition in which it is common for lovers to jump over the May fire together. Occasionally there are wooden "witches" on the witches' fire, mostly made by the youth. So-called Tanzbödeli have survived in the Swiss Alps . These are places where, during the Calvinization, despite 150 years of music and dance bans, young people met to secretly celebrate. Nowadays, however, this tradition has little to do with superstition or the burning of witches , but is more to be seen as a folk festival . In Marburg , the celebration of May is organized every year with a May singing by the magistrate and hundreds of people on the town hall square. They sing at midnight sharp.
  • In the Palatinate, in the Eifel, in the Hunsrück, in the Saarland and in southern Baden, on the Witches Night , sometimes also called Freinacht , when on the late evening of April 30th, young people walk in groups through the places to "whip" or to " witches ”, so to play jokes. Moving floor mats, garbage cans, gardening tools, etc., i.e. everything around a house that is not attached, is particularly popular.
  • The Dance into May is the modern form of the old custom, the beginning of May (May 1) in the Walpurgis Night (April 30) with dancing and singing to welcome while Maibowle to drink.
  • In addition to pure dance events, there is also the occasional custom of dressing up similar to Halloween or carnival and performing “witch dances”.
  • In Austria , the Czech Republic , Baden-Württemberg , Bavaria and Upper Lusatia , a maypole is usually set up on the evening before May 1st, which is usually a spruce or fir tree. In other regions, however, this is only done on the morning of May 1st.
  • Occasionally there is also the custom of the corn line : During the night, white lines with chalk , lime or the like are drawn from the house of the one to the house of the other in secretly in love and thus made public. Elsewhere, chaff is scattered instead of drawing white lines.
  • In the Rhineland (more precisely in Cologne and the surrounding area) the lover puts a birch tree adorned with colored crepe paper as a maypole at or in front of the house.
  • In Satanism , Walpurgis Night is one of the highest holidays.

Northern Europe

In Sweden and Finland, the biggest student festivals of the year take place on Walpurgis Night, Vappu in Finland and Valborg in Sweden, with a lot of singing, laughing and drinking around a May fire, as in Germany. The main places for the celebrations are the Swedish student cities of Uppsala and Lund . In Uppsala, the celebrations include a raft race with polystyrene rafts through the city center, the traditional greeting with “student hats” (captain's hat that you buy at the end of high school) in front of the Carolina Rediviva library and a concert by the Orphei Dränger choir .

Artistic implementation of the topic

As a folk tale an integral part of the fabric of the fist , the Walpurgis Night is experiencing time and again “a renaissance. Poets from Goethe to Heine to Eichendorff have sung about them, and now the Hamburg all-round artist Natias Neutert has staged them (...) on the Blocksberg, from the cawing of the crows to the howling of the owls, ”and in Árpád Schilling's staging of Jerofejewe's play The Walpurgis Night (from 1985) takes place in "a Russian psychiatric institution."

On the way to Walpurgis Night , 1760, Teniers d. J., German Historical Museum Berlin
Ernst Barlach Walpurgis Night , woodcut 1923

In the literature

In radio play and happening

In painting and manga

Hermann Hendrich : Witches Dance. (Wall painting from the Walpurgishalle )
Walpurgis night celebration in Heidelberg

In music


  • Thomas P. Becker, Myth Walpurgis Night . Notes from a historical perspective, in: Materialdienst . Zeitschrift für Religions- und Weltanschauung Issues 4/2007, 142 - 148; online (accessed June 7, 2018).
  • Albrecht Schöne : signs of gods, love spells, satanic cult. New insights into old Goethe texts. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 1982 (3rd edition 1993), ISBN 978-3-406-37331-2 .

Web links

Commons : Walpurgis Night  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Walpurgis Night  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. S. z. B. https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Walpurgisnacht (section “Origin”): “Too older Walpurgis = Day of St. Walpurga (= May 1st) "and Becker 2007 (see section" Literature "), 142:" This night [The Walpurgis Night] got its name from [...] Walburga [...] ".
  2. ^ Gertrude Casanova: St. Walburga. In: The Catholic Encyclopedia . Vol. 15. Robert Appleton, New York 1912; online: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/St._Walburga (accessed June 7, 2018): In the Roman Martyrology she is commemorated on May 1, [...]; sometimes she is represented in a group with St. Philip and St. James the Less, and St. Sigismund, King of Burgundy, because she is said to have been canonized by Pope Adrian II on 1 May, the festival of these saints. ( she is said = no secure information).
  3. Spec. But differently: “Walpern”, in: German Dictionary by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, first edition (1854–1960: Vol. XIII [1922] / Lfg. 8 [1909], Col. 1322), digitized version im Digital dictionary of the German language , < https://www.dwds.de/?q=Walpern >, accessed on June 7, 2018: “Dancing as a witch with the other witches on Walpurgis Night. Crecelius 889. ”(“ Crecelius 889 ”= https://archive.org/download/oberhessischesw01hessgoog/oberhessischesw01hessgoog.pdf accessed on June 7, 2018), p. 428 of the retro-digitized = p. 889 of the historical print
  4. ^ Dtv editors: dtv lexicon. A conversation lexicon in 20 volumes. Volume 20: Walp - Zz (= dtv 3070). Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1974, ISBN 3-423-03070-4 , p. 7.
  5. ^ Adelung: Grammatical-Critical Dictionary of High German Dialect , p. 1370
  6. title page
  7. kikisweb.de
  8. In: Anton Szandor LaVey : Die Satanische Bibel, Index Verlag, Zeltingen-Rachtig 2007 (1969), ISBN 978-393687805-9 , pp. 112-113.
  9. Alexandra zu Knyphausen: solstice, nightshade and hemlock. In: Hamburger Abendblatt. November 4th 1991.
  10. C. Bernd Sucher: Enlightenment with alcohol. Arpád Schilling directs Wenedikt Jerofewes' Walpurgis Night at the Berlin Schaubühne . In: Süddeutsche Zeitung. No. 296, p. 14.
  11. with drastic sexual innuendos that could not be brought on stage for a long time.
  12. see settings by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Charles Gounod
  13. See HP Lovecraft : Azathoth. Mixed fonts. (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch. Fantastic Library 230 = 1627 (of the complete works)). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1989, ISBN 3-518-38127-X , pp. 96, 116 and passim