The May Eve festival is one held by all the Germanic peoples. It is generally known as "Walpurgisnacht", after the christian St. Walpurga or Walburga; the native Teutonic name for the festival has not survived. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints tells us that "(Walburga's) feast of 1 May inappropriately coincided with a pagan feast for the beginning of summer and the revels of witches, whence the customs of Walpurgisnacht, which have no intrinsic connection with the saint. It is, however, not impossible that the protection of crops ascribed to her and represented by the three ears of corn in her images may have been transferred to her from Mother Earth" (p. 395). However, many folk choose to give the name "Walpurga" a Heathen reading, though it is incorrect to associate the first element with Wal- as "Slain" and thus to connect it either with the cult of Wodan or with the Frowe as the chooser of her share from the battlefield. The name's original form was "Wald-Burga" (Wood-Protection). However, a similar name, "Waluburg", is recorded for a Germanic seeress in the second century C.E.; this probably derives from *walus (stave or staff), just as the word "Völva" does (Simek, Dictionary, pp. 370-71), and thus is wholly fitting to this night of magic.
Waluburg's Night is probably best-known as the night when witches gather to feast, as at the Brocken in the Harz mountains (Germany), which was recorded as their meeting-site as early as the fifteenth century (Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, III, p. 1051). A similar belief from Russian folklore was set to music by Modest Mussorgsky, as the well-known piece "Night on Bald Mountain". As spoken of under "Ostara", it is possible that the "Easter Witches" of Sweden and Finland might first have been thought to go about at this time, but that the belief was displaced to the earlier holiday. In Jutland, there was a special prayer said at this time which asked for blessing for cows and calves, horses and foals, sheep and lambs, goats and kids, swine and piglets, geese and goslings, cow-milk and sheep-milk, ale and brandy, brewing and baking, and so forth - showing the repetition and attention to detail characteristic of magical charms. This prayer also included a verse banning "all etins and troll-folk....south and north, east and west" from the house; it is likely that the Danes shared the common belief in this night as a night of magic when all sorts of wild beings might be abroad (Bjarne Troelsen, Nordisk Bondereligion, p. 60). As at Yule-time, the house and cattle were warded carefully on this night. Rowan and crosses tied with red thread were two of the most common protections the christians put up against the witches and troll-folk at this time. In Ásatrú, it is seen as more fitting to put out food and drink for the sundry night-farers, as the Celts also do on this night.
This is a good time for seiðr-workings and for fore-seeing of all sorts.
Waluburg's Night was also a night of folk festivals, one of which was described in detail by Nicolay Jæger in the early eighteenth century. The folk rode out with beating of drums; one person went before them with a white banner with a cross on it. The next folk rode with a "May-spear", which was danced about in every village they came to. The folk stayed up late at night, drinking, dancing, and enjoying themselves (Troelsen, Nordisk Bondereligion, p. 64). In Scandinavia, Waluburg's Night (the German name has simply been translated as Valborg) is seen as the true beginning of spring, and is still a time of great rejoicing. In Uppsala, university students put on their white caps and gather to celebrate the end of winter; in Helsinki, the whole city holds ecstatic outdoors festivals, often with all-night drinking.
In the old days, this feast was probably most often held on mountain-tops or on gravemounds. Troelsen cites a reference from 1847 to a "Pinseberghøj" ("pentecostal mountain-howe"), which was danced around on this night, as were several other Danish gravemounds (Nordisk Bondereligion, pp. 65-66).
Waluburg's Night is also a night for love - a Teutonic equivalent of the modern Western Valentine's Day: German youths go out to gather green branches and flowers, which they put at the windows or doors of their chosen maidens before May Day dawns. For this reason, as well as the witch-meetings, Waluburg's Night is especially thought of by Ásatrúar today as a feast of the Frowe, patroness of magic and love. It is very fitting for true folk to give love-gifts and cards on this day; amber hearts are especially well-suited as declarations of love.
According to German folklore, this is the night on which a blue flame burns over buried treasures - the fiery might of the gold showing itself forth. This may cause one to think of the Frowe's Gullveig-Heiðr burning initiation in which the gold-woman was thrice eaten by flames and reborn as a seeress.
Fires are a great part of the celebration at this time, especially need-fires. The need-fire, kindled by the friction of wood on wood (see "Working Rites and Holding Feasts"), is the form with the most magical power, particularly for turning aside an ill wyrd, sickness, or curses: and Waluburg's Night is the mightiest night for such a working. Cattle were led through the smoke of such fires to cleanse and protect them, and folk jumped over the fires for good luck. Grimm cites, among other uses, the Highlands custom of boiling a pot of water on such fire and sprinkling the water on people and cattle suffering from diseases (Teutonic Mythology, II, p. 610). He also mentions that such fires were often laid with nine kinds of wood.
As well as fires, greenery is much used in the traditional celebration of Waluburg's Night. The May-Tree, a large bough adorned with ribbons and such and borne about the village in a festive procession ("bringing in the May"), is known from the south of Germany to Scandinavia, and may have been part of Germanic spring/summer rites as early as the Bronze Age, as some of the Swedish and Danish rock-carvings show. Fossenius mentions that in the Saar area, it was particularly a birch-tree chosen for the procession, and that the riders stopped before every house (p. 69); conifers were also common choices for May Trees, perhaps because their needles were also seen as warding against evil wights (p. 326). May-songs were sung about this tree in many of the Germanic countries, including England: Fossenius quotes,
We have been rambling all this night,
And almost all the day,
And now returned back again,
We have brought you a branch of May.
A Branch of May we have brought you,
And at your door it stands
it is but a sprout, but it's well budded out
by the work of Our Lord's hand.
The May-tree was very often stripped of bark and branches up to the point, leaving only a small crown of foliage. These trees clearly show the springing might of rebirth and fruitfulness. Egg-shells were also used to decorate both the May tree and maypole, rather in the manner of the egg-trees still common in Germany at Ostara-time (Fossenius, p. 347).
The Maypole can, for obvious reasons, be read as a particular embodiment of the might of Fro Ing, although in some parts of Sweden (Västergötland, Bohuslän, Nordhalland) it was also set up in the shape of a womanly figure. Maypoles take many different shapes. The typical Bavarian Maypole, for instance, is a long post painted with blue and white stripes or wound with ribbons, and ringed with hanging garlands. On this Maypole, symbols showing the work of all the folk in the village are hung or nailed. In England, the Maypole is the familiar sort topped with long streamers which are woven about it in the traditional Maypole dance, but it was also commonly decorated with branches and flowers. The Danish Maypole often has the form of a cross, with wreaths hanging from the cross-arms; it is likewise decorated with greenery as well as ribbons. In Bavaria and German Bohemia, the Warder of the Lore has also seen that it is still common for folk to decorate the living birch trees in their yards with coloured ribbons on May Day.
In Denmark, the young women went to the woods to make wreaths of flowers, with which, when they came back to the village, they crowned and garlanded the May-Bridegroom (chosen by the last year's May Bride); he then chose a maiden to crown as his bride (Nordisk Bondereligion, p. 60). In Germany, the young man was covered with birch and willow branches and green bushes until no one could recognise him; then the folk had to guess his name. When the man's actual name was spoken, he was uncovered and the branches divided out among all the folk - especially the young maidens, who then put the twigs on their windowsills (Fossenius, p. 74). Sometimes he might be ducked in a pond, so that the flying drops of water from his splashing should bless those around him. Here, it seems clear that the youth was thought to embody Fro Ing or a like god, walking in the Middle-Garth for a little time to give his hallowing to the folk. The May Queen and King might well have been thought of as bearing the might of Frowe and Fro; it is also possible that - especially in areas where only one ruler of the May was chosen - they could have been seen as sacrifices similar to the maiden who was wedded to the Last Sheaf (see "Winternights"). These things traditionally happened, not on May Eve, but on May Day itself; it is good for a group to camp out all night, or else meet again early in the morning at May Day.
Waluburg's Night: Rite
This ritual should start around sunset or a little after. If at all possible, it should be held outdoors, by choice in a high place. You will need at least two fires on the site so that folk can walk between them. If it is indoors, the fires can be replaced with a candle, which, assuming that all possible safety precautions are taken, can be carefully leapt over at the end of the rite. It is best if there is someone in the group who is able to kindle a need-fire, but if not, matches (though not lighters or flint-and-steel) may be used instead.
You will need need-fire tools or matches, horn, blessing-bowl, ale, sprinkling-twig (birch or elder, by choice), and a May-Tree.
I. The Godwo/man does the Hammer-Rite.
II. The Godwo/man stands in an inverted elhaz stance (hands at sides, feet spread) and speaks:
Bright is the glow of gold hid in earth,
bright is the Rhine's red fire!
Gullveig's might kindles candles through worlds,
we greet the goddess gold-fair!
Above howe and holt high wings the falcon,
flashing as fire through night.
Heithe is flying, hunting for wisdom,
we greet the goddess gyr-winged!
Light burns in rings around Brísing-necklace,
fairest of finery all.
The Frowe is faring forth in wood and sky,
we greet the goddess gem-bright!
Waluburg, Waluburg! wise one, fore-sighted,
wand-bearer, wanderer, through widest lands,
witch, wend to us, with weal enchanting
all those who hail you this holy night.
Wodan, Wodan! wise one, rune-rister,
wand-bearer, wanderer through widest lands,
wizard, wend to us, with weal enchanting
all those who hail you this holy night.
Wish-frowe, wish-fro! winding together
your crafts and chants your keenest spells,
come to us here! we kindle the fires,
that need may be met this night most fair.
III. The Godwo/man or a skilled ritual helper lights the need-fire, from which the main fires or candles are lit. As the lighting is done, the Godwo/man speaks:
Need-fire burn out woe,
need-fire burn forth weal,
need-fire hallow us here!
This is taken up as a chant by all the folk as they walk between the fires, taking special care to pass through the smoke if possible.
IV. The Godwoman or an idis fills the horn with ale. The woman holds the horn above the fire while the Godwo/man hallows the ale with a hex-sign, saying,
Hexe-Heithe, holy, hallow this draught,
with fiery might and main.
Witch, turn wyrd, as our wills shape,
within the hallowed horn
in froth of the awesome ale,
by symbel spoken here.
The Godwo/man makes a short toast, speaking of some matter in which s/he wishes to see Wyrd turned, and drinks. Those who do not wish to speak aloud may whisper their toasts over the horn.
V. The Godwo/man pours what is left of the ale into the blessing-bowl and refills the horn. It is held above the fire; the Godwo/man hallows it with a Hammer-sign, saying,
We give our gift to the gods ringed here,
we share the symbel-ale.
Gleeful this night, we gladly hail
Ases and alfs of awe,
Wans of wisdom and weal,
all folk who share our feast.
The horn is passed around and each person drinks. The Godwo/man pours what is left into the blessing-bowl and refills the horn.
We hail the summer now here among us,
we greet the green-crowned tree!
Blessed, beloved, bending above us,
lusty are May-tree's leaves,
fair are the May-tree's flowers,
strong is the May-tree's stem.
S/he hallows the horn with the sign of the Sun-wheel and drinks, spilling a couple of drops on the May-tree. Each of the folk comes forward to do the same. The Godwo/man pours what is left into the blessing-bowl and lifts it, saying,
We've wassailed all the wights about,
all blessings be blended here!
Holy drops splash to hallow the kin,
stemming from springs beneath stone,
falling from heaven-bergs fair,
blithe-running over Fold's breasts.
S/he sprinkles first the May-tree, then the harrow and fires, and lastly each of the gathered folk, starting with him/herself.
VI. The Godwo/man says,
So give we ale to gods!
S/he pours the ale out over the May-tree and onto the earth. S/he says,
Fro Ing and Frowe, fruitfulness bring us,
merry this month of life!
Waluburg, Wodan, wise in your seeing,
show that our wyrds are set well,
shape all aright with your runes,
that nytt we joy from need.
Hail gods and goddesses all!
The Folk answer,
Hail gods and goddesses all!"
VII. The Godwo/man leads the folk in running between the fires and leaping over them. Dancing and singing are all fitting at this time; when everyone has leapt and danced, the feast may begin.