Wednesday, 30 April 2014

“Walpurgis-Eve—April 30 ... Horror is unleashed, but I must not weaken"

30 April: in Northern and Central Europe, Walpurgis Night is celebrated on the eve of May Day.

“Walpurgis-Eve—April 30 ... Horror is unleashed, but I must not weaken. The storm has broken with pandaemoniac fury, and lightning has struck the hill three times, yet the hybrid, malformed villagers are gathering within the cromlech. I can see them in the almost constant flashes. The great standing stones loom up shockingly, and have a dull green luminosity that reveals them even when the lightning is not there. The peals of thunder are deafening, and every one seems to be horribly answered from some indeterminate direction. As I write, the creatures on the hill have begun to chant and howl and scream in a degraded, half-simian version of the ancient ritual. Rain pours down like a flood, yet they leap and emit sounds in a kind of diabolic ecstasy. “Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!” (H.P. Lovecraft “The Diary of Alonzo Typer“)


Luis Ricardo Falero (1851 - 1896) "Witches on the Sabbath" (1878)*

Walpurgis or Saint Walburga or Vaouburg, probably the niece of St Boniface and daughter of an 8th century King of Wessex was called upon for protection against black magic and one of her feast days is May 1st, when her relics had been transferred. Festivals on the eve of her feast began in the High Middle Ages. Since she is a Holy Helper against the plague, purification rituals like walking between two fires survived in honour of Walpurgis, as well as some rather saucy stunts to ensure fertility of man and beast.

A facsimile from a series of postcards with imagery from Goethe’s “Faust” and the “Walpurgis Night” scene that shaped the style of popular imaginings of the Grand Witches‘ Sabbath on the Brocken (around 1900)


The old Beltane festivals shine through the fabric of the early modern celebrations of the Walpurgisnacht in the Netherlands and Germany, Valborgsmässoafton in Sweden, Valpuržina noc in Czechia or Vappu in Finland. April 30th was once the beginning of summer and Beltane one of the four Celtic seasonal festivals and a night when the otherworld and this world came close together and the spirits found it easier to cross over and play mischief with hapless mortals. Goethe’s “Faust” and his “Walpurgisnacht” established the idea for a contemporary imagination and illustrated the idea of witches from all over the world coming to the Blocksberg or Brocken in the Harz mountain range to celebrate the most important Witches Sabbath of the year, dancing and making merry among themselves and with the creatures of the netherworlds that made their appearance as well.


Fritz Roeber (1851 - 1924): "Walpurgisnacht" (1910) another scene inspired by Goethe's "Faust"


May Day usually dispels the horrors of Walpurgis Night and all over the northern hemisphere, mortals celebrate spring and the coming of summer, often with rituals that still hint at the more saucy aspects of the old religions.

* Depicted above is the Spanish painter Luis Ricardo Falero’s (1851 – 1896) imagination of Walpurgis Night. Falero was committed on a certain variety of Academic Art, and usually depicted the nude female form in different fantastical settings, always walking a thin line between high and pin-up art and responding to the late Victorian demand for sultry eroticism in the guise of highly detailed mythological, orientalistic or historical paintings, usually known as salon art.

And more on Walpurgis Night on: