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Waelburga and the Wild Hunt

May 8, 2023

The time between April 30-May 7 was one of the oldest solar holiday celebrations. It has been called variously, May Day, Beltane, Walpurgisnacht, Lá Bealtaine, Cétshamhain (the first of summer), Calan Mai or Calan Haf, among others. It’s clear that the time of year held special significance for many of our ancestors.

May Eve was called Walpurgisnacht in Germanic tradition. It was said to be a time that witches came together, and was also called Hexennacht, or Night of Witches.

Saint Walpurga (710-799) was a German abbess whose relics were displayed on May Eve. She was a healer and converted many to Christianity. People prayed to this saint for protection from witchcraft. In fact, in some parts of Europe people continue to light bonfires in honor of St. Walpurga to ward off evil spirits.

There is an earlier Waelburga, a fertility goddess whose attributes were beauty, warmth, the renewal of life, and grain. She is a beautiful crowned woman with long flowing hair and fiery feet. Her symbols are sheafs of grain, a spindle, a triangular mirror, and dogs.

Catholic nuns choose new names when they take their vows, so it is remarkable that this 8th century abbess chose the name of an earlier goddess, as it the fact that sheaves of grain and dogs were carved on her chapel, since both were associated with the earlier goddess.

Another indication that the goddess was afoot in the tales of Walpurga is this folktale. Nine nights before the first of May, people left their windows open to give refuge to Walburga, who was chased by ghosts from village to village. This folk story is similar to the story of moss-wives being chased in the Wild Hunt, which usually occurs in the autumn or winter. (Grimm’s Fairy Tales) In Walburga’s case, the hunt represents the winter months trying to stop the Spring from coming.

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