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.

Holy Week Folklore

A detail showing Christ and the two theives on their crosses from “The Crucifixion” by Cranach the Elder (woodcut from approx. 1500-1504)

Holy Week, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter, is one of the most important and busiest times of the year in traditional European societies. Everyone is busy baking and cleaning and preparing for the great festival. There are many church services, especially at the end of the week on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

One of the more fascinating or frightening folktales of Holy Week tells us that in Prague and the Czech countryside, underground vaults, caves, and holes that contain hidden treasure will open up shine with a faint light as the Passion is chanted in church. A treasure-seeker can go outside church then and see these places and mark them to come back later. Or, if the treasure-seeker can’t wait to get rich, he can go inside the caves right then but he must get out before the last verse of the Passion reading is complete as the vault or cave will shut when the reading is complete and the treasure-seeker will be trapped inside until the next year.

In Russia, the tale is told that anyone who dies on Good Friday will be ushered directly into heaven just as the Good Thief was. (Many artists who painted depictions of the two thieves actually used the bodies of criminals who had been executed on the wheel as their models as no one was crucified any more; if you look closely, you can still see the thieves’ limbs twisted and bent in strange ways that don’t match descriptions of crucifixions because of their torture on the wheel.)

Much of the folklore associated with Holy Week involves protection of various sorts: To protect against the evil eye, wax from candles burned in church during the Holy Week services would be stuck to the heads of children or animals. Hanging a wreath on the door after sunset on Good Friday will protect the house against lightning. Hot cross buns baked on Good Friday and hung in the kitchen will protect against poverty and if they are hug over the bed, will protect against nightmares.

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.

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