Walpurgis Night

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC – APRIL 30, 2013: Participants of the costumed parade at the Witches Night carry a straw witch over the Charles Bridges in Prague, Czech Republic.

Walpurgis Night is the English translation of Walpurgisnacht, one of the Dutch and German names for the night of 30 April, so called because it is the eve of the feast day of Saint Walpurga, an 8th-century English missionary to the Franks. In Germanic folklore, Walpurgisnacht, also called Hexennacht, literally “Witches’ Night”, is believed to be the night of a witches’ meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, a range of wooded hills in central Germany between the rivers Weser and Elbe. May 1, also known as May Day and Beltane, was long celebrated in pre-Christian Europe as a highpoint of the magical year and many of the traditions and practices associated with it carried over into the celebration of Walpurga’s festival.

In much of Central Europe today, Walpurgis Night has become a holiday similar to Hallowe’en in the United States. People dress up as witches and go out to party — as in the photo above. There is often lots of drinking! In many places, a witch is burnt in effigy. In Prague, Walpurgis Night — Čarodějnice in Czech — is a very popular holiday. There are two Central European holidays that I would love to arrange to attend sometime… one is the Krampus parades in Salzburg in early December and the other is Walpurgis Night in Prague! (I guess another holiday I’d like to see sometime are the Midsummer bonfires in late June. Anybody want to join me? Maybe we can arrange a group to go together to one of these holidays!)

(A chapter of Come Hell or High Water, Part One: Wellspring happens on Čarodějnice.)

You can also read my 2014 post about Walpurgis Night if you want.

What Do I Write?

Evil and black magic lurk in the shadows of Prague beneath The Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Square. (photo by Joseph O’Neill, 2016)

What Do I Write?

What do the COME HELL OR HIGH WATER trilogy and the STORM WOLF novel have in common? They are supernatural/fantasy thrillers that straddle timelines and cultures.

The Come Hell or High Water trilogy alternates between 1350s Prague and contemporary Prague. A witch curses the city in the 1350s and the curse is reawakened in the modern city; the curse works its way through the life of the town in both time periods as a handful of people in each period race to stop it before Prague is destroyed.

Storm Wolf follows the adventures of Alexei, the last werewolf in 1880s Estonia who is driven to become a killer and frantically searches throughout Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Bohemia for a sorcerer who can save him from the wolf-magic.

All the fantastic or magickal aspects of my novels are based on authentic medieval and Renaissance occult beliefs or practices; these are the real deal! (You can use them as recipe books, if you want. This is what people actually did if they wanted to use the supernatural to achieve their goals.) The books also incorporate local legends and history so that you get a taste of what it was really like in Central Europe or the Baltic States in the Middle Ages, the late 19th century, or now.

I’m currently working on Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes which is a novel about an Irish female vampire and the ghost of a witch who have kidnapped three high school boys from Waterford in August, 2002; their uncle, a professor of Irish folklore, and a graduate student try to rescue them from the vampire and the witch before they are lost forever in the Otherworld.

You can subscribe to my email list to get seasonal reading suggestions (who doesn’t need a good book for the beach? Or to curl up with in the winter as the snow falls outside?) as well as hear about my upcoming projects. See the spot over to the right? Where it says “Newsletter” and “Subscribe?” Just type your email in the box there and click “Subscribe.” Thank you for keeping in touch!

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St. Hyacinth = St. Valentine

Hyacinth and bluebells are traditionally associated with love and fidelity, telling the truth — and rabbits!

“Saint Hyacinth!” Who’d athunk it?!

Last week, a reader of Romanian background remarked that the post about St. Valentine and love magic made no reference to Eastern European legends or practice. She asked, “Who is the Orthodox version of St. Valentine?” I decided to look into that question and discovered that St. Hyacinth is the Orthodox answer to St. Valentine!

It seems that there are several men named Hyacinth in the Orthodox calendar of saints. The one most consistently associated with love, like Valentine, was a martyr who was put to death for his faith with his brother Protus during the reign of the emperor Trajan (AD 257-9). They were baptized as adults, spent time living with the hermits in Egypt, were beheaded for their faith, and buried together in one tomb. Their brotherly devotion to each other is one source of their association with matchmaking and love.

But that’s not the end of the story. Hyacinth and Protus are said to have been “brothers,” a frequent euphemism for male partners. Such male partnerships first developed among monks as a way to support their mutual prayer, Bible study, and ascetic effort. Among laymen, this “brotherhood” might or might not have included a sexual aspect. (I highly recommend Claudia Rapp’s excellent study of brother-making if you are interested in learning more about this.)

But that is still not all of the story. St. Hyacinth is also associated with love and devotion because the original Hyacinth, a male character from Greek mythology, was a beautiful young mortal man who was beloved by both Apollo (the sun god) and Zephyrus (the god of the west wind). According to the myth, Zephyrus became jealous of Apollo and angry at sharing the attentions of Hyacinth — Hyacinth was evidently more fond of Apollo. So one day as the three were throwing a discus (not unlike three friends tossing a Frisbee), Zephyrus caused the wind to blow the discus into Hyacinth’s head. Hyacinth died of the gash to his head and the first bluebells (also called “hyacinth”) bloomed where his blood spattered the ground. The small blossoms of the flowers are marked by dark spots that resemble the Greek letters AI, which spell the word “Alas!” in Greek.

Hyacinths and bluebells are said to prevent someone from telling a lie just as Hyacinth was honest about his feelings for Apollo. The flowers are also used to promote love and fidelity. They were used in folk medicine but the bulbs contain toxic drugs and are not usually used any more. They are sometimes called “harebells” because rabbits are frequently seen where the flowers bloom and are said by some to be used by witches as they transform into were-rabbits.

There is a wonderful series about bluebell and hyacinth folklore here.

And what about Eastern European love magic? I found a great article about contemporary folk magic in an area where Serbia and Romania meet.