Cross Quarter Day May 1 - May Day is closely connected to the evening before it - the "Walpurgisnacht" or May Eve. Its roots can be found in pre-Christian Frühjahrsfests. Walpurgisnacht is situated directly opposite Halloween and is the end marker in the seasonal cycle which begins with Candlemas/Groundhog Day. Children play pranks on unsuspecting victims around midnight on April 30, similar to Halloween, and some even dress up as witches and evil spirits. The Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, is known as the mythical meeting place of the witches. Witches' fires may burn in some places. Since noise was deemed the most effective way to drive off evil spirits many ways of making noise are known. On May Day earth spirits like fairies and elves (the ancient dead) would come out of the hills and barrows to dance on May Eve and well into the summer.


May 1 marks the final victory of Spring over Winter, but before departing, the witches and their cohorts have one last fling. The night from April 30 to May 1 is called "Walpurgisnacht", the night of Walpurgis or Walpurga. The festival is marked by numerous rituals to ward off evil. Legend has it that on Walpurgisnacht the witches would gather on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains. Because of the Walpurgisnacht scene in Goethe's Faust, in which Mephistopheles takes Faust to the Brocken and has him revel with the witches, the witches gathering became widely known.

Under Christian influence Walpurgisnacht became a fest to drive out evil spirits. Walpurgis derives its name from Walpurga or Walburga. Walburga, Abbess of Heidenheim near Eichstätt, a Catholic Saint, was known as the protectoress against witchcraft and sorcery. On the Eve of May 1, bells may toll in some areas and prayers may be said; there may be blessings with holy-water and blessed sprigs can be found in homes and barns. The most widespread remedy against evil spirits during Walpurgisnacht is noise. As soon as the sun sets, boys of all ages may make noise. Their equipment ranges from boards to beat onto the ground to pistols for firing shots.

In Bavaria the night from April 30 to May 1 is called a Freinacht or Drudennacht. For youth it is an opportunity to play tricks. They may stroll in groups through the streets and wind toilet-paper around cars, smear door-handles with tooth-paste, unhinge garden doors and carry them a few meters away, and they may displace shoe scrapers. It is said that at one time boys took a sparred-frame cart to pieces and reassembled it on the roof of the house of the owner.

Excerpts from Goethe's Faust, "Walpurgis-Night"

Witches in chorus
The witches t'ward the Brocken strain
When the stubble yellow, green the grain.
The rabble rushes - as 'tis meet -
To Sir Urian's lordly seat.
O'er stick and stone we come, by jinks!
The witches f..., the he-goat s...

Old Baubo comes alone, I see;
Astride on farrow sow is she!

So honor be where honor is due!
Dame Baubo first! to lead the crew,
A hag upon a sturdy sow!
All witches come and follow now!

Which way didst thou come here?

By Ilsenstein crest;
I peered into an owlet's nest.
Her wild eyes stared at me!

To hell, I say, with thee!
Why ride so furiously?

She almost flayed me!
See here, the wounds she made me!

Chorus of Witches
The road is wide, the way is long:
How madly swirls the raving throng
The pitchfork pricks, the broom us hurts;
the infant chokes, its mother bursts.

Wizards. Semi-chorus
We creep as slowly as a snail;
Far, far ahead the witches sail.
When to the Devil's home they speed,
Women by a thousand paces lead.

The Other Half
Not so precise are we! Perhaps
A woman takes a thousand steps.
Although she hastes as best she can,
One leap suffices for a man.

Voice (above)
Come with us from the rockbound lake!

Voices (below)
We fain would follow in your wake!
We've washed, are clean as clean can be;
Yet barren evermore are we.

Both Choruses
The wind is hushed, the starlight pales,
The dismal moon her features veils;
As magic-mad the hosts whiz by,
A myriad sparks spurt forth and fly.

Voice (from below)
Tarry! Tarry!

Voice (from above)
Who calls so loud from rocky quarry?

Voice (from below)
Take me too! Take me too!
Three hundred years I have been striving
To reach the peak - I'm not arriving;
I fain would join my equals too.

Both Choruses
The broomstick carries, so does the stock;
The pitchfork carries, so does the buck;
Who cannot rise on them tonight,
Remains for aye a luckless wight.

HEXEN (im Chor):
Die Hexen zu dem Brocken ziehn,
Die Stoppel ist gelb, die Saat ist grün.
Dort sammelt sich der große Hauf,
Herr Urian sitzt oben auf.
So geht es über Stein und Stock,
Es farzt die Hexe, es stinkt der Bock.

Die alte Baubo kommt allein,
Sie reitet auf einem Mutterschwein.

So Ehre denn, wem Ehre gebührt!
Frau Baubo vor! und angeführt!
Ein tüchtig Schwein und Mutter drauf,
Da folgt der ganze Hexenhauf.

Welchen Weg kommst du her?

Übern Ilsenstein! Da guckt ich der Eule ins Nest hinein,
Die macht ein Paar Augen!

O fahre zur Hölle!
Was reitst du so schnelle!

Mich hat sie geschunden,
Da sieh nur die Wunden!

Der Weg ist breit, der Weg ist lang,
Was ist das für ein toller Drang?
Die Gabel sticht, der Besen kratzt,
Das Kind erstickt, die Mutter platzt.

Wir schleichen wie die Schneck im Haus,
Die Weiber alle sind voraus.
Denn, geht es zu des Bösen Haus,
Das Weib hat tausend Schritt voraus.

Wir nehmen das nicht so genau,
Mit tausend Schritten macht's die Frau;
Doch wie sie sich auch eilen kann,
Mit einem Sprunge macht's der Mann.

STIMME (oben):
Kommt mit, kommt mit, vom Felsensee!

STIMMEN (von unten):
Wir möchten gerne mit in die Höh.
Wir waschen, und blank sind wir ganz und gar;
Aber auch ewig unfruchtbar.

Es schweigt der Wind, es flieht der Stern,
Der trübe Mond verbirgt sich gern.
Im Sausen sprüht das Zauberchor
Viel tausend Feuerfunken hervor.

STIMME (von unten):
Halte! Haltet

STIMME (oben):
Wer ruft da aus der Felsenspalte?

STIMME (von unten):
Nehmt mich mit! Nehmt mich mit!
Ich steige schon dreihundert Jahr,
Und kann den Gipfel nicht erreichen
Ich wäre gern bei meinesgleichen.

Es trägt der Besen, trägt der Stock
Die Gabel trägt, es trägt der Bock
Wer heute sich nicht heben kann
Ist ewig ein verlorner Mann.

Faust, Bilingual Edition, translated and edited by J.F.L. Raschen. Ithaca, NY: The Thrift Press (1949), pp 201-203


May 1st marks the victory of Spring over Winter, but before departing the Hexen have one last fling and make an attempt to assert their power on Walpurgisnacht. This Hexennacht is the best known in the seasonal cycle. The roots for this fest extend back to a pre-Christian Frühjahrsfest, which was perhaps celebrated in an even more rowdy fashion, as the Valborgs maessafton is still celebrated today in Sweden, Thueringen and elsewhere. Under Christian influence it was probably transformed into a fest to drive out the Hexen. The festival became widely known outside Germany due to Goethe's use of this theme in Faust.

The festival is marked by numerous rituals to ward off evil. On the eve of May 1st the bells toll in Luxembourg and many prayers are said, there are blessings with holy-water and blessed-palms in the homes and barns. In Schmalkalden in Thueringen the little girls, dressed as Hexen themselves, chase out the Walpermännchen. They wear paper hats and sometimes carry sticks in their hands. Similarly, in the south Harz region, the young boys ride stick-horses and chase the Hexen out of the fields. The most widespread remedy against evil spirits during Walpurgisnacht is noise. The boys begin making noise as soon as the sun sets. In Bohemia boards are beaten onto the ground in front of the houses, accompanied by this chant: "Hex geh raus, 's brennt dei Haus." Whoever hears a pistol shot on that evening is supposed to say, "Schiess mei Hex a mit!" In Lippe the noise is referred to as "Maiklappen." A lot of noise is especially made in front of the houses of married couples who are childless, because it is believed that it is necessary to "further the blessings." In the Berner Jura the shephard boys, on the eve of May 1, stand atop the manure-piles and crack whips in order to drive away wolves. The wolf is the incarnation of evil, and symbolizes the departure of winter. The manure-pile symbolizes fertility of the fields and gardens, and therefore is often the locale where prayers are said. Farmers who don't have as many cattle help each other out in the summer. They make a pledge-group, which takes this form in Donaueschingen: they go to a nearby chapel and pray, then they climb together onto a manure-pile, hold hands, and say "Mir (=wir) gmaren miteinand," which means "we are helping each other to bring home hay and grain with our cattle." [i.e. they are sharing each other's manure-piles, which is sprayed onto the fields as fertilizer].

So, folks, there is a parable here -- when we lapse into slinging mud at each other, we should look at it from a higher perspective -- we are really fertilizing each other's fields!

Reference: Eugen Fehrle's Feste und Volksbraeuche.

"Roland M. Wagner"


  • St. Walburga in the Catholic Encylopedia: niece of St. Boniface, apostle of Germany
  • Our Mayday site: Maypole / Maibaum, labor, pagan origins.
  • Woher kommt der Volksglaube an die alljährliche Hexen-Orgie?
  • Wein-Hexennacht in Oberwesel am Rhein Hexenfeuer und Feuerwerk in der Walpurgisnacht
  • Walpurgis auf dem Brocken.
  • Geschichte der Walpurgisnacht : several items in German - use the Schnellstart to find Walpurgisnacht
  • Harzlich Willkommen: tourist info, Brockencam, Nationalpark
  • Harztourist Site.

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