Legend has it that on the night of April 30 to May 1, witches fly their broomsticks to meet the devil at the top of the highest peak in the region – known as the Brocken. Locals and tourists mark the occasion by dressing up and dancing their way into the new month of May.
‘Walpurgisnacht,’ or May Eve, is an occasion for revelry and excess in Germany’s blustery Harz mountains.
The Harz mountains were one of the last places in what later became Germany to convert to Christianity and the area is characterised by dark pine forests and eerie rock formations.
Amid this uncanny landscape, a legend arose of witches mounting their broomsticks on the eve of May 1 and flying up the Brocken to commune with the devil.
It is derived from local myths and folklore, which have it that witches used to whisk on their broomsticks to the highest peak of the Harz Mountains(Brocken) on this night, and to other locations of pagan sacrifices, to have a get-together with other witches and devils to celebrate the retreat of winter and the arrival of spring.
Mount Brocken – the highest peak of the Harz Mountains – was the scene of Witches’ Sabbaths. These were said to be wild and orgiastic gatherings at which witches would meet with Satan to plot trouble, mischief and evil for the coming year. This was commonly believed to take place on April 30 – the date upon which, in Pagan legend, the devil Wotan married his beloved Freya on the peak of the Brocken.
With their magic hats, pitchforks and cloaks, horrible devil grimaces, warts and hooked noses , they ride.
Due to being a fusion of countless different Witches, Walpurgisnacht is considered the most powerful time.
The Blocksberg area is quite high up, and often shrouded in cloud cover, the woods surrounding the mountain are denser than the Black Forest. All of this makes it a good place to be away from prying eyes.
“The Witches’ excursion takes place on the first night in May…they ride up Blocksberg on the first of May, and in 12 days must dance the snow away; then Spring begins… Here they appear as elflike, godlike maids.”
– Jacob Grimm.
In parts of Southern Germany, Walpurgisnacht is a night of pranks… a bit like the old Trick part of Halloween’s “Trick or Treat”.
What better way to see out April than on a mountain top in the company of witches and warlocks?
Deep in the forests of northern Germany lays the highest peak of the Harz Mountains, Brocken. It is here that in pre-Christian times the locals would eat magic mushrooms, give sacrifices, and dance around bonfires on the eve of May, all for the purpose of bringing in a fertile spring. This is the image of Walpurgisnacht, or Hexennacht (Witches Night).
Walpurgisnacht is in some ways seen as a “second Halloween”, when it was believed that the veil between the spirit world and ours was the thinnest.
Here lies the edge and nether world’s expanse
Upon Walpurgis Night we dare to dance.
“Walpurgis Night when the devil was abroad— when graves opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel.” — from Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker.