Walpurgis Night and May Rituals (Beltane)


The night from April 30 to May 1 is known as Walpurgis night. It takes its name from Saint Walpurga, whose relics were transported on this date to the city of Eichstäd, in Bavaria, Germany. However, the origin of this celebration is a pagan ritual that took place on these dates, as the consecration of spring or the advent of summer, later associated with the Saint. He is currently known in Western witchcraft circles by his Celtic name Beltane, by which he is known in Ireland and Scotland, but with few exceptions, Walpurgis or the local name of the saint is the most common: among the Norse it is called Valborg, in Finland Vappu, in the Baltics Volbriöö. Meanwhile, in the Czech Republic it receives the characteristic name of Čarodějnice, "the witches", and in Spain, the following day is the Festival of the Mayos. On these dates, celebrations and agrarian rites related to the harvest and fertility took place, as well as the lighting of bonfires as symbols of the strength of the sun.

These dates were throughout pagan Europe a time of transition. In Rome, the Floraria, a fertility festival, and the Lemuria, a festival dedicated to the spirits of the dead, took place. In Roman Hispania, festivals were held in honor of Bona Dea, sometimes known as Maia, goddess of fertility. In Greece, the Targelias took place, festivals dedicated to the twin gods Apollo and Artemis, a mainly agrarian festival, where Apollo could be both a destroyer of the crops and their protector, and Artemis alleviated diseases and protected to the young There, at the beginning, expiatory human sacrifices took place, to purify the cities, which later became the pharmakoi, the one who was charged with the crimes of the city and expelled from it. Sacrifices were also made to Demeter, goddess of cereals, and to the Fates. Among the Celts, Apollo's place as sun was occupied by Beleno - where Beltane comes from - a horned god who later played an important role in associating paganism with traditional witchcraft. Bonfires were lit, sometimes idols were burned in their shape, and then a young woman (the Queen of May) or a couple of young people was chosen to symbolize the creative power of a goddess and a god of nature. -The association that Beltane is related to the Assyrian divinity Baal is more than doubtful, due to the difficult connection of this divinity with the Celts in the east or through the Phoenicians in the continental southwest.

The cult of trees, called "mayos" in different languages when they are decorated for this date, was common throughout continental Europe, as a natural and phallic symbol, but with the arrival of Christianity, this "totemic" rite was replaced by the "tree of the cross", that is, the cross where Jesus Christ died, decorated in the same way as trees were. This tradition, however, permeated almost exclusively in Catholic countries, and later, Spain took the custom to the American territories. However, the pagan rites that were preserved were relegated to rural but Christianized areas, its inhabitants continued with the agrarian rites, not only out of superstition, but also for survival, since the crops were their livelihood. On this particular night, she was associated with witches because Saint Walpurga was considered a protector against witchcraft, diseases -it was said that a miraculous oil flowed from her tomb for a time- and, of course, misfortunes in the fields , which could often be attributed to bad arts as well. The bonfires and pilgrimages that were made in his honor now had the mission of warding off evil spirits, of which the tradition told that they met on these dates at the highest peak in Germany, the Brocken. This is portrayed in Goethe's Faust (1808), where Walpurgis Night evokes Faust's passage from youth to maturity (his "spring" to his "summer"), with Mephistopheles guiding him to the choral coven. In addition, many domestic rituals took place, such as hanging crucifixes and protective herbs on and behind doorsteps, or sprinkling salt around houses, and rubbing herbs or strong-smelling foods on windows to ward off witches and witches. spirits. Groups of armed men were also around that night making noise to drive away any nocturnal being, or church bells were rung. As for the animals, there were those who guarded them jealously, others plowed the fields just that night, while others, like the Swedes, let the cattle run free, controlling it with troupes and bonfires. Around the bonfires, as in most celebrations of this type, dances were performed and people jumped over them to ensure protection. In areas like Switzerland, it was on this date that a puppet symbolizing bad weather or winter was burned.

The Saint also suffered from syncretism with pagan images. She was shown as an apparition, as a spiritual entity, as the White Lady of various traditions, who communicates a near death and accompanies the deceased, who carried, in the Nordic tradition, a spinning spindle -since spinning was prohibited on holidays . This same figure, seen at dawn, could be the very vision of spring, young and beautiful, by association with spring deities, such as the Slavic deity Mokoš or the Norse deity Frejya. This figure was also held as the leader of the processions of specters, common in folklore at this time when the doors of the mortal and immortal world are opened.

The next day, the first of May, the opposite happened. The houses were filled with flowers and a great party took place with dances, processions and banquets. It was then when the Queen of May was chosen through different steps depending on the region (beauty, ability, dance, raffle...) Games and competitions were also held among the youngest.

With the passage of time and the rise of neopaganism, the party took another turn of the screw. If the holiday had already lost some of its superstitious force, now the images of witches were symbolic and even carnivalesque. The main attraction of this festivity consisted of partying and dancing around the bonfires, sharing drinks and knowing that, in most territories, the next day was a holiday, the ideal way to rest after such an exhausting night. The bonfires recalled the burning of witches in some places, and in others they maintained their protective power, now linked to esotericism and traditional legends. As it is the opposite date to Halloween-Samhain (October 31th), many of their customs would be repeated, such as children going to houses and being offered sweets there, or recalling night walks by carving lanterns. At present, in general, the celebration has been summed up by lighting bonfires, with fireworks at midnight, and the gathering around them for food and alcoholic beverages, which on the other hand produces social concern and work for the cleaners. the next day. Each area has its peculiarities: in some German communities, cities "steal" from each other some May trees made of crepe paper, paying the ransom by treating themselves to beers, thus guaranteeing mutual prosperity for that year.

Regarding the most magical and pagan part of these dates, except for the processions to the Harz mountain that take place in Germany, more for tourists than for pagans, in the same way that, as a tourist attraction, the phenomenon is shown known as the Brocken spectrum, an optical effect produced by high clouds, fog and light, which produces the perception of a huge moving shadow, with a halo of light surrounding it. But the truth is that the pagan/magical part has been reduced to small local festivals and many private rituals, except for those communities that have somewhere to celebrate more complex rites.

Modern Walpurgis Rituals

On Walpurgis night, whether taken as a night of witches/spirits or against witches, protection rituals take place by practitioners all over Europe. Some have a lot to do with traditional rituals: Salt at the doors of houses or rooms; also near the entrance, fireplaces or windows, or under some furniture, a mixture of salt and vinegar in a glass or vessel. Bouquets of herbs considered protective are hung inside and outside the house. Among these are the laurel, the fern or the fennel; also herbs that can be collected on the eve, such as rosemary. In most cases, they are herbs and odorous compounds, as it is a popular tradition that strong odors drive away evil spirits. Some substitute the herbs or incenses or essences that are more pleasant to them. Herbs like vervain can be infused to clean the house.

Other symbolic elements are hung inside and outside the home: protective symbols (usually Celtic) or folkloric, such as garlic or upside-down brooms. There are many traditions associated with the broom: that if it is for the witches to take the broom and leave, that they keep unwanted visitors away, or that when it is upside down they reverse what enters, turning bad into good. There are those who wear dark and those who wear white. In any case, protective and absorbent colors.

That night, divination can be performed using crystals or mirrors (captromancy), through which the spirits can also be seen. This arises from a fusion of cultures that substitute water for glass and that associate mirrors with changes of existential planes, as well as a "feminine" attribute of the divinities.

When the bonfires cannot take place, instead for tonight the pagans or practitioners of magic light candles, usually for protection purposes. There are more widespread rituals than others. A fairly popular one is to light two white and two yellow candles to request protection, putting the requested photo or petition between them. Others light a black candle to ward off evil. Some practitioners circle around the candles, as if they were bonfires.

Likewise, there are those who prepare a special dinner, paying attention to certain ingredients or herbs used, taking the smoke as an offering to the gods or spirits that come out that night. A traditional food-offering is oatmeal, cheese or potato cakes. In some rural places, part of this food is left outside the home to treat them. The cauldron is of great importance here, especially for Wiccans, who see in it the womb of the goddess being fertilized.

Modern rituals for May 1

As already seen, the month of May is the opposite, it is youth, joy, love, good weather, prosperity. The Queen of May is the opposite of witches, understood as evil entities, it is spring itself. The current private rituals that take place in the homes of pagans or practitioners of magic are varied.

The most traditional is the decoration with flowers inside and outside the home, beginning this stage in a plethoric way, encouraging it to continue to be as prosperous and joyful as the decoration. For those given to botany and herbology, this day is the most auspicious to plant something new, considering that just as the new plant grows, good things will grow in the house. If two flowers related to the couple or the expected love are planted, the evolution in the growth of these will serve to determine the evolution of the same. The plants or trees are decorated with colored ribbons, recreating the "May trees", dressing them in spring. Those who can afford it get up early to collect the dew, which they say has great purifying power. As the night before, to clean the home, herbal or lemon infusions are also used.

Wiccans celebrate this date as the effective union of the Goddess and God. For this reason, some practitioners dedicate themselves to creating decorations or amulets by braiding, also symbolizing the creation of a third thing. Beads can be added to these braids, or flower bag "charms" can be closed with these strings, usually of different colors to symbolize said union. These braided ropes can be used in the creation of the magic circle for the rituals, prayers and prayers of that night, which can be done around a tree or, in the case of a domestic environment, around a tree or a spring plant, circling around it. to it, alone or making a circle with the companions while the desired songs are sung. The colors of the clothes on this day are strong and bright, with reds predominating.

On this day, conducive to meetings, food also plays an important role. Being again a meal-offering, wine is not usually lacking, nor are sweets and fruits, and they are usually copious and showy dishes, designed for an energizing banquet.

Both from midnight (from April 30th to May 1st) and on May 1st, practitioners light candles, now for purposes that are not exclusively for protection. This is something repeated throughout the month, but specific to this date are usually the red or pink candles for love and fertility, which are surrounded or burned together with the bay leaves that have been used as protection (or crushed dried bay leaves or other herbs). Those closest to the conception of nature also light green, red, orange and yellow candles, associating them with nature and the sun. Gold, white, green and yellow candles to attract money. Walking a lit candle throughout the house is also a way to purify it.

May 1st is a time for many to create new resolutions and projects. To guide them in this, many resort to the interpretation of the dreams that have been had that Walpurgis night, which is why the dinner that has been taken is important. These dreams can also be taken as predictive, marking an important event that will influence the future.

All in all, Walpurgis and Beltane are much less well-known dates than others such as their opposite Samhain, or San Juan, midsummer, with which many rituals bear similarities. Perhaps the lack of popularity is due, not only to the fact that they do not coincide with any equinox or solstice, so they do not receive the same attention, -however, it has always been regarded as a seasonal festival, and among magic practitioners, as a sabbatarian or day of power-, but rather because this type of party, when it enjoys attention, usually loses its traditional part and is reduced, as already mentioned, to a modern celebration excused by music and alcohol.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -pietrocarracedo@gmail.com


-Cabot, L. Mills, J. Celebrate the Earth: A Year of Holidays in the Pagan Tradition. Delta book, NY. 1987.

-Cunnigham, S. -Wicca: una guía para la práctica individual. Arkano Books, Madrid, 2008

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

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