The Celebration of Spring: Walpurgis Night, Beltane is Here - Hail!

Tonight, and tomorrow heathens across Europe in the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, Estonia and Denmark will be celebrating. It's a time of fertility of all things on our planet. A time for honoring the gods Freyr and Freya. It's a time of celebration and festivities bringing in Spring. Here's a brief overview of this wonderful time of the year for us heathens.

From Nordic Wiccan: 


April's showers have given way to rich and fertile earth, and as the land greens, there are few celebrations as representative of fertility as Beltane. This holiday incorporates traditions from the Gaelic Bealtaine, such as the bonfire, but it bears some relation to the Germanic May Day festival, both in its significance (focusing on fertility) and its rituals (such as May pole dancing).  It is the celebration of the mystical union with the land, honoring Freyr and Freya.  Observed on May 1, festivities typically begin the evening before, on the last night of April.  It's a time to welcome the abundance of the fertile earth.


May Day on May 1 is an ancient Northern Hemisphere spring festival and usually a public holiday; it is also a traditional spring holiday in many cultures.  May Day is a festival that has been somewhat lost but is best known for its tradition of dancing the maypole dance.


Depending on your particular tradition, there are many different ways you can celebrate Beltane, but the focus is nearly always on fertility.  An early morning walk through a local park or forest could be fun for everyone. Gather up some plants or flowers to display in your home.  Mom and daughter could braid their hair and weave in a few tender blossoms.  It's the time when the earth mother opens up to the fertility god, and their union brings about healthy livestock, strong crops, and new life all around.


Beltane Fire
Bonfires are traditionally lit to keep away malevolent spirits or those who might do us mischief.  The ritual welcoming of the sun and the lighting of the fires was also believed to ensure fertility of the land and the people. Animals were transferred from winter pens to summer pastures, and were driven between the Beltane fires to cleanse them of evil spirits and to bring fertility and a good milk yield. The Celts leapt over Beltane fires - for fertility and purification.

Celebrations in Scotland - image source



For many contemporary Pagans, Beltane is a time for planting and sowing of seeds -- again, the fertility theme appears.  Urban Pagans can start a herb garden in their kitchen.  The buds and flowers of early May bring to mind the endless cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth that we see in the earth. Certain trees are associated with May Day, such as the Ash, Oak and Hawthorn.  Norse legend, the God Odin hung from an Ash tree for nine days, and it later became known as the World Tree, Yggdrasil.


The maypole (May Tree) - a phallic pole planted deep in the earth representing the potency and fecundity of the God, its unwinding ribbons symbolized the unwinding of the spiral of life and the union of male and female - the Goddess and God. Young maidens and lads each hold the end of a ribbon and dance revolving around the base of the pole, interweaving the ribbons.  It is usually topped by a ring of flowers to represent the fertile Goddess. 
This ancient Pagan and Celtic ceremony marked the taking of a partner - this involves a commitment to perform an annual review of relationship.  The couple's hands are ritually bound together to symbolize their union.  Some people choose to use a ribbon that they have both signed.  Between Beltane and the Summer Solstice is the most popular time for handfastings.


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Beltane is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and it is associated with important events in Irish mythology. It marked the beginning of summer and was when cattle were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth. Special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. The people and their cattle would walk around the bonfire or between two bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. All household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire. These gatherings would be accompanied by a feast, and some of the food and drink would be offered to the aos sí. Doors, windows, byres and the cattle themselves would be decorated with yellow May flowers, perhaps because they evoked fire. In parts of Ireland, people would make a May Bush: a thorn bush decorated with flowers, ribbons and bright shells. Holy wells were also visited, while Beltane dew was thought to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness. Many of these customs were part of May Day or Midsummer festivals in other parts of Great Britain and Europe.Beltane (/ˈbɛl.teɪn/) is the anglicised name for the Gaelic May Day festival. Most commonly it is held on 1 May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Historically, it was widely observed throughout IrelandScotland and the Isle of Man. In Irish the name for the festival day is Lá Bealtaine ([l̪ˠaː ˈbʲal̪ˠt̪ˠənʲə]), in Scottish Gaelic Là Bealltainn ([l̪ˠa: ˈpjaul̪ˠt̪ˠɪɲ]) and in Manx Gaelic Laa Boaltinn/Boaldyn. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with SamhainImbolc and Lughnasadh—and is similar to the Welsh Calan Mai.

Beltane celebrations had largely died out by the mid-20th century, although some of its customs continued and in some places it has been revived as a cultural event. Since the late 20th century, Celtic neopagans and Wiccans have observed Beltane, or something based on it, as a religious holiday. Neopagans in the Southern Hemisphere often celebrate Beltane at the other end of the year (around 1 November).


Walpurgis Night

From Swedish Freak:

The arrival of spring is celebrated on the night of April 30 in every town and village throughout Sweden. The celebrations always include a prominent person making a speech hailing the Spring, a male choir singing traditional hymns to the Spring, and a huge bonfire. The event is known as Valborgsmässoafton (Eve of Walpurgis Mass), since May 1 is the day of Valborg (Walpurgis).

Why do we celebrate Valborg? The answer is: we don’t. We celebrate spring. Ask any Swede “who was Valborg?” and you will most certainly get an answer like “eh… don’t know… wasn’t that dad’s old aunt or something?” Nobody seems to know why, but Valborgsmässoafton is a traditional night of big celebrations.

So who was Valborg, Wealdburg, Walburg, Walpurga or Walpurgis? Why doesn’t anybody in Sweden know who she was, and why do we burn the sticks and branches that we’ve cleaned out from the garden on Valborgsmässoafton, Walpurgis night? As can be expected by the many different spellings of her name, legends and chronicles about her life are marred by uncertainty, like most writings from this period.

Wealdburg was (probably) born in England in the beginning of the 8th century. She was (probably) the niece of Winfrid (Wynfrith) from Devon who later became archbishop in Mainz, Germany, under the name of (Saint) Bonifacius. She became a nun and worked as a missionary in Germany, performed miracles and wrote a chronicle on Saint Bonifacius. She was canonized on May 1, AD 780, one year after her death, why May 1 is her day in the Roman Catholic calendar.

So, Valborg has no connection to Sweden, and except from the Catholic mass on her day, she has never been commemorated in Sweden. Her name in the calendar is a reminiscence from the Roman Catholic era, which was ended in 1523 AD.

But the fires, and the party? In the 8th century, fierce efforts were made in Germany to eradicate paganism (e.g. by banning horse meat, since horses were often sacrificed – and eaten – on pagan holidays). The origin of the bonfires is that in those old times, Germans let their livestock out to graze in forests and meadows around the spring equinox (in March). When doing so, they used to dance around bonfires and make much noise to scare off wolves and other wild animals; certain quantities of beer were probably involved. The Christian bishops found this feast paganish and wanted it abolished; but instead of forbidding it, they propagated for moving the celebrations to Saint Walpurgis’ day, which eventually turned out to be the same great party, only one month later, in more agreeable weather.

But how did this become a Swedish tradition? Bonfires on Valborgsmässoafton started to appear in Sweden in the late 19th century (i.e. one millenium later), when the habit was introduced by German immigrants in the eastern province of Uppland. Before that, bonfires were common at Easter to scare off witches on the day before Good Friday; this is still a tradition in western Sweden (at least the bonfires – I don’t know about the witches), but making fires on Valborgsmässoafton is common all over the country today. If nothing else, it’s a convenient way to get rid of all the rubbish from the garden.

While people in most of the country refer to this day with the (ecclesiastical) name that’s written in the calendar, i.e. Valborgsmässoafton, people in the two old university cities Lund and Uppsala know this day as Siste april.

The reason for this is the 200 year old tradition among students to change from the dark winter cap to the white summer cap on May 1st. This occasion had of course to be celebrated for two full days with heavy drinking, starting on Siste april (the last of April) with the dark cap, continuing on Första maj (the first of May) with the white cap. Inclusion of a bonfire to start the celebrations was easy and quite natural.

In Lund, today’s celebrations include a bonfire, a Spring Ball, a sillfrukost med snaps (breakfast on pickled herring with shot(s) of akvavit), a Spring Concert by a male choir (all students used to be male!), and a speech made by the university’s principal, hailing the spring.

The speech and the concert, held on the stairs leading up to the university’s main building, is a great public event on May 1st, attracting thousands of visitors under the magnificent magnolia trees in front of the building.

You can listen to Lunds Studentsångare (Lund Choral Student Society) in two of the most cherised hymns

here: “Längtan till landet” aka “Vintern rasat ut” 

and here: “Vårvindar friska”

The Swedish Radio company started live broadcasts from the concert already 1922, and the event has also been covered in TV every year since the 60’s. This has of course contributed to the fact that these traditions have spread across the country during the 20th century.

Nowadays, every town and village have their own bonfire, a male choir concert, a prominent person making a speech greeting the spring, and a Spring Ball.

If you don’t plan to attend the ball, you can roast a few hot dogs at the bonfire and have a beer with your friends while the night is falling.

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Walpurgis Night

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the eve of the feast day of St Walpurga. For George Balanchine's 1975 ballet, see Walpurgisnacht Ballet.

Walpurgis Night is the English translation of Walpurgisnacht [valˈpʊʁɡɪsˌnaχt], 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 abbess in Francia. In Germanic folklore, Walpurgisnacht, also called Hexennacht (Dutchheksennacht), 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.The first known written occurrence of the English translation "Walpurgis Night" is from the 19th century.[2] Local variants of Walpurgis Night are observed throughout Europe in the NetherlandsGermany, the Czech RepublicSloveniaSwedenLithuaniaLatviaFinland, and Estonia. In Denmark the tradition with bonfires to fence off the witches going to the Brocken is observed as Saint John's Eve - essentially a midsummer celebration "with witches"