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The Origins of Walpurgis Night

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

Why do so many celebrate a holy day named after a saint who persecuted Heathenry? Background: Richard the Pilgrim is also known as “St. Richard of Wessex." Richard married Winna, the sister of Saint Boniface. Saint Boniface is famous for cutting down Thor’s Oak, the holy place of the Chatti, which was about 30 miles south of the Saxon Irminsul, on the border of Saxony and Hesse. (Hatti or Chatti is the Latin name of this tribe. The German name is “Hessi”.) Richard the Pilgrim's first miracle was saving the life of his three-year-old son, Willibald, also a future saint (of Bavaria). Richard erected a great crucifix in public, laid his son Willibald at the base of the crucifix, and prayed, healing his son. His fame spread. Around 710 AD is when Winni and Richard fathered Wealdburg, (Old English name, the Latin name is Walpurga. Walpurga would destroy Saxon Sacred Groves, and preach the destruction of the Irminsul of the Saxons, which did come to pass.) Richard’s life mission was the same as St. Bonice’s life’s mission, to convert all the Heathen Germanic tribes, forcefully if need be. This became the life’s mission of Walpurga and Willibald as well, who followed Boniface’s example of destroying Germanic Heathen holy places and building churches in their place all too well.

Walpurga was entrusted with the Abbey of Wimbome, when her father and brother (Richard and Willibald) did a missionary trip to the Holy Land. She was only 11 years old at the time. Walpurga would be educated there was well for 26 years. At the age of 37, Walpurga went on her “permanent” mission trip, into Frankia and Saxony. She traveled with her brothers Willibald and Winibald to assist Saint Boniface, in his evangelization efforts, and of course, as monks and nuns with Saint Boniface, also stood for the same destruction of Heathen holy places Boniface is infamously remembered for.

Walpurga would become the first female author in England and Germany. She wrote the Vita of Saint Willibald and the Vita of Winibald, her brother who was not anointed with sainthood. (Apparently, the church did not think he did enough to destroy Paganism.) Winibald appointed Walpurga to be a nun at the double monastery of Heidenheim am Hahnenkamm, which was founded by her other brother Saint Willibald. At Winibald’s death in 751, Walpurga became the Abbess. (PS- The Wikipedia article on “Saint Walburga's Night” has an error, it claims that Walpurga founded this double monastery. The Wikipedia article on Saint Walpurga herself, gets it right, so these two articles contradict one another. Wikipedia's most valuable asset is its lists of historical sources and books by University scholars. Sadly it has too many errors.

Many Asatruar have argued with me that Walpurgis Night “has to be on a date of a prior Saxon or Germanic tribe’s Heathen holiday as it is so popular today.” This argument on their end is COMPLETELY false. I could give the simple argument that fixed solar dates where unknown to the Germanic tribes as their calendars were lunar based. The word "moon" and "month" are related in all Germanic Languages. A "month" to the Germanic Heathens was "a cycle of the moon waning and waxing." In addition, three historical Heathen Calendars survived and are recorded by Bede in De Temporum Ratione written in the exact year 725 AD, also in Einhard’s Vita Karoli Magni, written circa 830 AD, and the Iceland Althing's recording of the Norse Calendar circa 980 AD. I If you want to read one of my blog articles on the actual historical Heathen holidays, please check out the link below, however, I will give a BRIEF pre-christian Heathen holiday list below with sources.

Brief summary of historical pre-christian Heathen Holidays: There were three, all on full moons. The three holidays were Winter Nights (start of Winter), Yule (mid-Winter), and Sigrblot (start of summer.) There is no mention of a post start of summer, fixed solar date holiday for "witches". There are no mentions of "witch holidays" in the sagas/eddas, nor any historical source from the Heahten period. The common Germanic/Scandianvian terms would be volva, seiðkona, seiðmaðr, spámaðr, spákona, and spa. (Spa is Old Norse for “to see (the future)”. Our English word “to spy” comes from this word. The Poem "Voluspá" has this word as the last three letters of it's title. Voluspa means "Volva's spa") (Volva in Old Norse means "carrier of a weaving staff".) “Odin established the same law in his land that had been in force in Asaland… On winter day (first day of winter) there should be blot for a good year, and in the middle of winter for a good crop; and the third blot should be on summer day, a Victory-blot.” [Ynglinga Saga, ch 8]

"Now it is their old ways to hold a blot in haust (haustmanuthr, a moon) to welcome in the winter, a second in the middle of winter, and a third to welcome the summer." [Heimskringla Olaf's Saga Helga, The Slaying of Olvir of Egge] "As long as heathendom lasted he was wont to hold three blood offerings: one on Winter Nights, a second at mid-Winter, and the third at the start of summer. But when he became a Christian he kept up in the same way with the feasts: In the autumn he had a great feast of friends, then in winter a Yule Feast, when he bade many men come to him again, and the third he had at Paska, when he had also a great crowd of guests." [Saga of St. Olav, ch 117].

Dr. Andreas Nordberg, the world’s foremost scholar on Norse Holidays, makes clear in his book on the dating of Yule: “The pre-Christian Yule feast occurs at the first full moon after the first new moon following the winter solstice, while the disting took place at the third full moon according to the same method of calculation.” [Jul, disting och förkyrklig tideräkning Kalendrar och kalendariska riter i det förkristna Norden Uppsala 2006, P.4]

“Midsummer festivities had no connection with the Odin Cult." [Dr. Andreas E Zautner, “The Lunisolar Calendar of the Germanic Peoples”, P.90]

The Origin of Walpurgis Night: Where did Walpurgis Night begin, when did it begin, and why it began

Background: The origins of Saint Walpurgis Night begin with the fame of Walpurga. She (supposedly) accomplished miracles. The two earliest miracle narratives of Walpurga are the Miracula S. Walburgae Manheimensis by Wolfhard von Herrieden, datable to 895 or 896, and the late 10th-century Vita secunda. Her fame was CONSIDERABLE in her lifetime, and afterwards.

First event to bring about Walpurgis Night as a Holiday: On May 1, 870 AD, the relics of Walpurga were transferred to Eichstatt, Germany. There St. Walpurga’s Abbey was built to house these relics. Walpurga’s bones were placed in a rock tomb (behind the altar where Mass was done), which allegedly began to exude a miraculously therapeutic oil, which drew pilgrims to her shrine for centuries, and STILL DOES TODAY…

Second event to bring about Walpurgis Night as a Holiday: In the 11th century, Anno II, Archbishop of Cologne (died December 4, 1075), declared a Walpurgis Night to be celebrated on the eve of May Day (April 30th at sundown). (see both: Hergenrother, Hist. de L'église; Butler, Lives of the Saints, 4 Dec.; Michaud, Biog. Univ. AND Casanova, Gertrude. "St. Walburga". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 18 May 2013). Please note, Anno II himelf was canonized in 1183 by Pope Lucius III. He was a founder or co-founder of monasteries (Michaelsberg, Grafschaft, St. Maria ad Gradus, St. George, Saalfeld and Affligem) and a builder of churches, advocated clerical celibacy and introduced a strict discipline in a number of monasteries. He was a man of great energy and ability, whose action in recognizing Alexander II was of the utmost consequence for Henry IV and for Germany. He is the patron of gout sufferers. Anno was the subject of two important literary works, the Latin Vita Annonis, and the Middle High German Annolied.

FIRST event to bring about Walpurgis Night as a Holiday in ASATRU: In the 1960s, an American Witch and poet named Aiden Kelly went looking for sabbat names more interesting than Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, and Autumn Equinox. He ended up adopting Ostara for the Vernal Equinox, Yule for the Winter Solstice, and Mabon (a Celtic holiday) for the Autumnal Equinox. "Wicca" is a modern word based on the Old English word for "Witch." Please note: Kelly did not care that Yule was not historically on the Winter Solstice, nor did he care that Germanic Heathens did not hold holidays on the Equinoxes. Kelly DID CARE enough that Beltane was to be used INSTEAD OF Walpurgis Night. This is because Walpurgis is FAMOUS for spending her life fighting against Witchcraft and Heathen Magic. Here are scholars' takes: 1. “The Catholic Church chose May eve to honor St. Walpurga, protectress against magic arts. Walpurga was an English missionary to Germany in the eighth century.” (Chapru, Doleta (1977). A Festival of the English May. Folklore Village Farm. p. 3.) 2. “Walpurgis Night falls on the eve of the feast day of St. Walpurga, an English missionary who was celebrated in the Middle Ages as a protectress against magic.” (Canaday, John (2000). The Nuclear Muse: Literature, Physics, and the First Atomic Bombs. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 98. ISBN 9780299168544.

SECOND event to bring about Walpurgis Night as a Holiday in ASATRU: Asatru movements were founded in the USA in the early 1970s. Founders were either ex-wiccans, or influenced by Wicca. The Wiccan Wheel of the Year became “Asatru Orthodoxy” for most American Asaturars, Bede’s historical calendar rightfully became that of Theodish Belief, and there was a clear split between “neo-pagan” Asatru and English Heathenry, a movement which did some research. In fairness to these Asatru founders, in the 1970s, the world wide web was not yet born, and you could not get free PDFs or websites having the Eddas, Sagas, and thousands (yes thousands) of historical sources for free with quick access. (But in counter fairness to Garman Lord, founder of Theodish Belief, he still found Bede’s De Temporum Ratione in a New York Library, while Asatru founders did not spend the time in the libraries researching.) However, Asatru organizations STILL celebrate Beltane (Celtic holiday) and/or Walpurgis Night claiming Germanic Heathen origins today. I am not perfect either. One of my published books I have updated over 100 times, and I lost count around 80 or so. And that is the point, reconstructing the Old Ways for today is a process of researching two Eddas, over 700 Norse Sagas and Poems, over 300 Old English Poems, 21 Old Saxon Poems, and hundreds and hundreds of writings of monks and Arab Travelers and others. Archaeology keeps moving forward with new findings, like dozens of Runic Calendar staffs from the 9th through 13th centuries showing the dating and names of historical holidays. Why has Asatru not evolved here with any continued scholasticism? The THIRD event to bring about Walpurgis Night as a Holiday in ASATRU is the lack of interest in education by the vast majority of Asatruar, their trust in most websites which have not done their homework in the historical sources, and an established Asatru Orthodoxy of an 8 pronged solar wheel, begging for a “solar holiday” half way between an Equinox and Summer Solstice (which did not exist in historical Germanic Heathenry). And mostly, the farce in leadership in the various Heathen orgs that have yet to get off their ass and do any real research. (Obviously, “We do the Old Ways” is a cliché statement used way too often in Asatru circles today…)

Walpurgis Night around the world today:

In the Czech Republic, 30 April is called Pálení čarodějnic, meaning "Burning of the witches."

In Finland, Sweden, and Bavaria, her feast day commemorates the transfer of her relics on the first of May.

Here is a great source: “Between Easter and Pentecost were many other celebrations and feast days. In Germany, for example, was celebrated the Feast of St. Walburga, or Walpurgisnacht, on April 30, the eve of May Day. Walburga was an eighth-century Anglo-Saxon nun and missionary to Franconia, particularly to Bischofsheim on the Tauber, just south of Niklashausen. Her bones were "translated" (that is, moved) on May 1--which became her feast day--sometime during the 870s to Eichstätt, where her brother Willibald had been bishop. Ever since then an oily liquid has oozed out of the rock on which her tomb rests, and has been renowned among pilgrims for its great healing power.” Wunderli, Richard M. (1992). Peasant Fires. Indiana University Press. p. 46. ISBN 9780253207517. Here is a picture at Uppsala in Sweden circa 1920, of Walpurgis Night being celebrated there.

Here is a picture of a Walpurgis Night celebration in Heidelberg, Germany... with a nice witch burning bonfire, as Walpurga fought against soothsayers, seithkonas, spakonas, and any form of Heathen crafts. It was not Heathens who burned witches historically, only christians did.

Come visit us in the Facebook group called "Aldsidu: Saxon Heathenry" where we are reconstructing Historical Norse, Saxon, Frisian, and Anglish Heathenry through solid research. Please click "like" for the page Germanic Heathenry on Facebook, where we are telling the world there is a difference between Heathenry and Asatru, and we are better informing the world who we are.

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