|From the blog Logismoi. Full article there discusses Walpurgisnacht and Dracula mythos.|
Happy May Day! I've found something new this year...I've often heard the term Walpurgisnacht used to describe the night before May Day...it's traditionally a time in Northern and Central Europe (most often it would seem in Germany, Norway, Estonia and Latvia) when big bonfires are held, and parties thrown. Most of these traditions date back to the Europe's witch hunt era, and the feel is often similar to Halloween--a date six months later. In Bavaria it's know as Freinacht, and pranks are played as well.
Saint Walburga traveled from England to Germany to proselyte sometime around the year 748 A.D, and became a very powerful and influential Abbess. She was known for healing, and even after her death was said to have a healing "oil" rise from her grave(the reason for the flask she is often shown carrying).
|Oldest known image of Walpurga, from the Hitda Codex.|
In addition to the flask, she is sometimes shown with a book to represent her writings, as well as heads of grain. The story often goes that she fed a starving child using only three heads of grain, however this tale seems to be a later addition. There is some fascinating evidence that the Saint became a stand-in for an older Germanic grain goddess, taking on the role of "protectress of crops".
This is the point where it gets complicated, though, since the older goddess is often only referred to as Walpurga. She is often linked to the Wild Hunt in this form;
"Nine nights before the first of May is Walburga in flight, unceasingly chased by wild ghosts and seeking a hiding place from village to village. People leave their windows open so she can be safe behind the cross-shaped windowpane struts from her roaring enemies. For this, she lays a little gold piece on the windowsill, and flees further. A farmer who saw her on her flight through the woods described her as a white lady with long flowing hair, a crown upon her head; her shoes were fiery gold, and in her hands she carried a three-cornered mirror that showed all the future, and a spindle, as does Berchta. A troop of white riders exerted themselves to capture her. So also another farmer saw her, whom she begged to hide her in a shock of grain. No sooner was she hidden than the riders rushed by overhead. The next morning the farmer found grains of gold instead of rye in his grain stook. Therefore, the saint is portrayed with a bundle of grain." (Rochholz,Drei Gaugtinen (Three Local Goddesses), 1870, p. 26-27)
For more such quotes, linked to a pagan perspective, this article on Frigga's Web is excellent. Many Asatru and similar groups now honor Walpurga because of this mixed history. For more about May Day celebrations, and traditions such as maypoles, the may queen, and the U.K. tradition of Morris Dancers, go here.