This Saturday 30th of April is a very special night. There are three celebrations happening. Two are annual events – Walpurgis Night and Beltane/Halloween. The other is Orthodox Easter Eve. As Easter is a Moveable Feast, it is not always celebrated on April 30th. The fact that it falls on this special night this year makes for a very powerful Saturday eve! As I will be celebrating Halloween, I thought I would explore Walpurgis Night as it has always had a Halloween feel for me.
Walpurgis Night is also known as Witches’ Night. It is the night when witches are thought to fly to the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz mountain range and the highest peak in Northern Germany. There they will light a great bonfire and celebrate the coming Spring with singing, dancing and feasting. Sounds good to me! What also sounds good to me is the name Walpurgis. It has such a witchy feel to it. And it would have to, seeing as it is the name of a witchy holiday, wouldn’t it? Well, not really. Walpurgis Night is not so much witchy as it is holy.
Walpurgis Night is named after Saint Walpurga, a female, English missionary. She was born in Devonshire in 710 and spent her early years in an abbey where she was educated by the nuns. She wrote a biography about her brother and also wrote in Latin about his travels through Palestine. She is often called Germany and England’s first female writer. She was an exceptionally educated women for the times. She died on February 25th, 777 or 779 and was canonised on the 1st of May, 870. So why is she connected to a witches holiday? I’m not really sure but I can make a couple of guesses.
What is interesting about Saint Walpurga is that her offical Catholic feast day is celebrated on the day of her death, February 25th but her more popular celebration is on the day of her canonisation, May 1st. Was celebrating Walpurgis Night on the eve of her canonisation a ploy by Christians to take over the pagan holiday of Beltane? It’s not like that wasn’t done before with Xmas and Easter. It seems to make sense, as Witches’ Night and Beltane have many things in common, not the least which are their welcoming of the coming Spring. But why not chose one of the many Saints who is actually celebrated on May 1st, rather than Saint Walpurga? Again, I’m not sure. Perhaps they wanted a female Saint to represent the Goddess of Spring. But it wouldn’t be the first time a powerful and educated woman was associated with witches!
Another reason I love Walpurgis Night is Dracula. Yes, Dracula has a connection to Witches’ Night 🙂 Dracula’s Guest, the prequel to the novel Dracula, is set on Walpurgis Night. It is on this night that Jonathan encounters a female vampire – the Countess Dolingen of Gratz. He survives the encounter, thanks to Dracula, who wants Jonathan all to himself! I could never forget this haunting description:
“Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad—when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel.”
This brilliant prequel is the inspiration for the High Priestess card in my Dracula Tarot deck.
The Countess Dolingen of Gratz
In honour of the pagan bonfires that will be burning in both the southern and northern hemispheres I would like to share a recipe for one of my favourites treats. It is known by many names such as honeycomb, hokey pokey, sea foam and puff candy but my favourite name for it is cinder toffee 🙂 Nothing conjures up the power and heat of a bonfire than the heady smell of almost burning sugar as it is slowly caramelises and darkens. And what could be more exciting than the alchemical change that happens when baking powder is added to that amber liquid!
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 + 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
Line a baking pan, approximately 25cmx30cm, with baking paper.
Place sugar, water, honey and golden syrup in a deep, heavy based saucepan.
Place the saucepan on low heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring to the boil then reduce heat to a gentle boil.
Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the mixture turns golden brown. Be careful not to burn the mixture as it can heat up very quickly.
To check if it is ready, drop a small amount of syrup into a cold glass of water. If the syrup becomes brittle it is ready.
Remove the pan from the heat. Add the bicarbonate of soda and whisk vigorously, being very careful as the mixture will bubble up.
Pour mixture quickly into the prepared pan.
Allow to cool before breaking into pieces.