The Specter of Brocken and Harz Mountains' magic


The Brocken specter, as could be seen in the article The Night of Walpurgis and the rituals of May (Beltane), is an optical effect by which a "humanoid" shadow that moves at great speed is projected into the fog and clouds. speed. In reality, it is usually the shadow of the observer himself, who has the sun behind him at a complex angle, and whose shadow is amplified or deformed by the suspended water droplets that form clouds or fog. These, when moving with the wind, give the sensation that the figure moves and/or disappears at great speed -You can read the scientific description of the ghost made by Johann Silberschlag at the end of the article.

It is not a unique effect of Mount Brocken (also called Blocksberg), but occurs in many places in the world where the open space+clouds+sun requirement is met. However, the summit of Brocken has its own microclimate that causes strong winds and low temperatures, which causes it to have fog practically all year round, which in addition to many spectra adds charm and mystery at the same time. For the ancient inhabitants of Germany, this peak of Mount Harz had too many magical aspects to rule out that the specter of the mountain and its perennial fog were not one of them.

Nebra sky disc.

The Brocken Peak has been admired since ancient times, including prehistoric times. Recently, a disc was found with gold pieces that represented the sun, the moon, some stars that have been linked to the Pleiades and a curved symbol, reminiscent of a mythological solar boat. It originally had two arches on its margins that marked the entry and sunrise, and it is estimated that its age dates back to 1600 BC. Its relationship with the Brocken is the accuracy with which it was captured that, in fact, on the summer solstice the sun sets just behind the Brocken peak of the Harz. In this way, it would be confirmed at an archaeological level that the summer solstice was celebrated since the Neolithic, with the Brocken having a very relevant role. However, there are detractors who indicate that the constellation of the Pleiades is not correct, nor the position of the lunar horns, and that there is an apparent error of 1.8 degrees of deviation from the astronomical calculation, which would not, however, detract from the value by itself that the piece would have due to its careful workmanship.

The Harz was considered sacred and important, as attested to by the numerous burial sites that have been discovered there. Furthermore, in the place where it was found, a circular stone construction, from the Iron Age, was later found around the votive vessel where the disc was found, which further relates it to a religious offering or tool.

Gods, dwarves and other magical creatures

The wedding of Odin and Freya, goddess of fertility and love, was believed to have taken place in the Harz. Likewise, fertility rituals were performed on the summits to other minor deities, with impressive views. Currently in Thale there is a sculpture of Odin-Wotan, which serves more for tourism than for memory, however, his head is also the decoration of the Walpurgishalle.

The Kyffhaüser Mountains are the resting place of the 12th century emperor Frederick Barbarossa, drowned in the Third Crusade, in a secret chamber in which, it is said, he is only asleep, since he will awaken in Germany's moments of greatest need. .

It is also said that the king of the area betrothed his daughter Brunnhilde to a giant from the north called Bodo, against his will, since she loved a young prince of Brocken. With cunning, the princess got Bodo himself to teach her to ride his gigantic horses, and so, on the day of the wedding, Brunhilda escaped on one of them, leaving a huge footprint on a rock that can still be seen today. see, and from which the Rosstrappe (horse helmet) area takes its name. The valley and the river are named after the giant Bodo, who fell into the water in the chase, a river that is crossed, by the way, by the Teufeslbrücke or Devil's Bridge.

Known for their silver and precious stone mines, German mythology and popular folklore spread the idea that the Harz Mountains are crossed by tunnels dug by dwarves who guard their rewards and treasures. Today they can be visited and proudly display their stalactites. Some historians believe that this myth, which can be seen reflected in popular tales such as those of the Brothers Grimm, could have been enhanced by a time when rich Italian merchants flocked to the mountains of northern Germany to obtain precious gems, since that in many popular stories there is talk of "exotic and bizarre" characters, loaded with jewels, who live in the depths of the forests.

Of course the forests were already, in themselves, home to a whole fauna of magical creatures, highlighting the elves (from the Latin, "white, white") beings beneficial, and the spirits of certain trees. Although it is more commonly known as the Devil's Wall (as will be seen later), these rocks were said to be the ancient fortress of a soldier who protected three small fairies or elves who lived in trees with gnarled branches. However, when later generations cut down the tree, the wall crumbled.

Witches and demons

In the Middle Ages, superstition and ecclesiastical pressure caused innocent rituals for the fertility and well-being of crops and animals to be seen as demonic acts. The specters and ghosts that were visualized on Mount Harz soon found their meaning in the witches, who supposedly gathered there for their covens: after all, the Brocken peak was, in fact, the busiest place for solstice rites and equinoxes, for having a privileged place for astronomical observation and for the mysticism of the place itself. The quickest way to crush paganism and heresy on the part of the Church (in addition to persecutions) was to associate the pagan divinity with Saint Walburga, and to convince that the bonfires were not made to invoke anything, but to scare away evil spirits. witches and evil spirits. Likewise, by filling the peak of Brocken with even more dark creatures and dangers, they ensured the decline of those who dared to climb there. Coincidentally, the pagan night they were trying to eliminate, Walpurgis Night, from April 30 to May 1, would be Witches' Night, a special night in which all the German witches would gather in the largest coven, with the Devil himself among them. them, performing horrible rituals.

The saint herself had legends of her as a protector of witchcraft and a healer. One of her legends says that she was dragged to the Brocken by the Devil himself, and that he let her go because after a whole night of talk, the saint almost made him repent of her confrontation with God.


Specific places in the German mountains are called Hexenplatz, and the Harz was no different. These are "witch zones/clues", places high in the mountains but flat enough to congregate there. And indeed ancient Saxon rites to their celestial and agricultural divinities took place there, until the Christians eliminated them. In those places there are still huge stones that were renamed as Devil's thrones or witch altars, and the latter is not so far away, since it is likely that some of those stones were considered sacred and even used as altars of sacrifice and offering. Although there are several, we can highlight Thale, also called Hexentanzplatz: it is commonly translated as "The witches' dance floor." There is in fact a gigantic ritual esplanade, as if the mountain had been flattened, and currently, due to tourism, sculptures of witches, devils, grimoires, cauldrons, and magical creatures have been distributed along the entire path. and infernals, an inverted witch's house, etc. Of course, the greatest wonder is stopping to contemplate the natural immensity of the mountains.

To access it you can reach it on foot but also by car, or popularly by "gondola" or cable car, admiring the views. On Walpurgis Night, 30,000 people can gather in the designated areas (stands, areas for performances...)

Teufelsmauer, the Devil's wall.

In the same mountain range, as part of the Hexenplatz, there is a rock formation whose appearance earned it the name of the Devil's Wall. Although there are various legends, most agree that the Devil and God divided the territory, and the Evil One chose the mountains. Not being able to complete the construction of the wall that delimited his domain (the most common legends speak of the rooster crowing as a sign), the Devil became enraged and fought the walls with his fists, hence its form as a fallen wall.

In reality, it is a formation of sandstone sediments from the Upper Cretaceous, which have been eroded until leaving this shape reminiscent of a wall. Remains of civilizations from the Bronze and Iron Age have also been found here. It is currently part of a nature reserve with controlled tourism, but in the past it was believed that witches on their brooms stopped here to meet the Devil, before going to the coven on the Brocken peak, which can be seen from there, as confirmed different works, such as, for example, the engravings of Walpurgisnacht by Robert Müller (19th century).

The grimoire of Saint Cyprian

Although we will dedicate an article talking in depth about this grimoire, we are going to give some very interesting notes that relate it to Mount Brocken.

The grimoire must have medieval origins, since the first reference to it is from the Renaissance artist Cornelius Agrippa. Legends say that in the 11th century the German monk Jonas Sulfurino received the grimoire of Saint Cyprian on Mount Brocken, some say that from the hands of some monks who were custodians of a monastery that was on the hill, and others say that the The monk himself climbed the peak and found the Devil, who revealed it to him.

There are many different variants and names of this grimoire, but it is worth noting that one of the versions includes a section on "magic for religious" (cures, blessings, exorcisms, removing evil eyes...), as well as a section on pacts with the demons.

Goethe's Faust

Some historians and writers have wanted to see in the legend of Sufurino the inspiration of J.W. with Goethe for his Faust, or rather, for his meeting with the coven on the peak of Brocken. However, taking into account that the figure of Faust is a frequent occult archetype of the time and that German folklore already had plenty of stories about the Brocken, it seems a bit exaggerated to take only that work as a possible reference.

In Faust, Mephisto takes the protagonist to the peak of Brocken on Walpurgis night, whose path, with the terrible winds that characterize it, begins as a natural walk and little by little becomes filled with darkness. The paths narrow, beautiful animals are no longer seen and there are only vermin, night falls... They are guided by a will-o'-the-wisp, and at the top they find the coven to honor Urian (name of the Devil), "with more than a hundred fires around which one dances, eats and loves". There are witches there but also men from different social strata. Faust sees demons and mythological beings there, a witch tries to sell them her sinister merchandise; He also sees Lilith herself and dances with a young witch, they watch a play (A Walpurgis Night's Dream, which the author turns into a satirical version of society). Throughout this night, Mephistopheles brags about not having to hide his true appearance. When Faust "wakes up" from the Walpurgis Night, he discovers that he has condemned Margaret and decides to return. On the way back, they still see an active coven, but this time they don't stop.


On a Hexenplatz in the Brocken, a 'scientific' experiment with a witchcraft ritual (Hexeexperiment) took place. On June 18, 1932, the British parapsychologist Harry Price went up the mountain and drew a magic circle, which he said he had extracted from an old grimoire (it seems that the grimoire thing was invented to have more credibility). There was a full moon, a fire lit with pine wood and incense. Urta Bohn, daughter of his lawyer, was the virgin who would carry out the experiment with him.

They led a goat soaked in bat blood, honey, soot, and church bell scrapes to the center of the circle with a silver chain. The objective was that by covering it with a sheet and counting to 10, the goat would transform into a young boy. Obviously it didn't work. The experiment had different receptions. On the one hand, practitioners of witchcraft and magic alleged that Price had not at all understood that magic was not that, but had greater psychological value; On the other hand, scientists were divided between those who considered that the chosen method was absurd, and those who thought that Price had made a defense of free science, by questioning and experimenting with something that he had not done before.

To close the article as it began, something like this also happened to Johann Silberschlag, although with lesser repercussions. And in 1780, this Lutheran theologian who was also an avid scientist, was the first to record and analyze the Brocken spectrum as a natural phenomenon:

"If the observer's shadow falls on a layer of fog or clouds, the shadow is not represented by a solid surface, but by each water droplet in the fog individually. As a result, the brain cannot see the shadow stereoscopically and significantly overestimates the size. The movement of the air causes the shadow to move even when the observer is still. This apparently self can also float without having visible contact with the ground. The other physical conditions of the mountain, the cool, humid air, the "Silence, as well as the lack of orientation due to the lack of vision and the lack of neighboring mountains, reinforce the subjective impression of the apparent existence of a ghost."

However, this explanation would be relegated to scientific circles, and even today many people climb the mountains with the mystical intention of, even knowing that it is an optical effect, to find that spectrum and themselves, facing the mountain. , to its winds, its legends, and feeling small before the magnitude of the mythical landscape that the Harz offers.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -


-Raedisch, L. Night of the witches: folklore, traditions & recipes for celebrating Walpurgis Night. Llewellyn Publications, 2011

-Sollee, K. J. Witch Hunt. A Traveler's Guide to the Power and Persecution of the Witch.

Related Posts:

> Walpurgis Night and May rituals (Beltane)

> Halloween: Halloween vs Walpurgis

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