Walpurgis Night: What is it and why is it spooky?


Walpurgis Night – 30th April – is a spooky event named after a British saint. It’s celebrated all over Europe but ironically it’s not widely known in the UK. Guest writer MJ WAYLAND reports.

Every year this date is celebrated by pagan religions across Europe, the veils between this world and the next are delicate and the time is right for magick and other occult activities.

Surely I’m talking about Halloween? Actually I’m talking about Walpurgis Night on 30th April.

As with most European traditions, Walpurgis Night has roots in ancient pagan customs and festivals. Most festivals on 30th April celebrate fire and the coming of the spring. This fire festival has an incredible evolved existence that only now are anthropologists beginning to understand, indeed Pauline Bambry from the University of Wales recently admitted that she believed the festival dates from prehistory.

The name Walpurgis surprisingly originates from a very different source, that of a Devon-born nun called Walpurga who become known for speaking out against witchcraft.  Since the time of her canonisation and the Christianisation of many festivals across Europe, the night before her celebration day became known as “Walpurgis Night.” It is at this time that the night obtained some of its many negative aspects, when it was believed, like Samhain/Halloween, that ghosts, spirits, demons and the devil had free reign to walk the earth.

Saint Walpurga
Saint Walpurga

In Scandinavian countries, a tradition dating back to Viking times (and possibly further) is observed by the building of very large bonfires on hills and mountains, it was thought that the power of the fire would scare away evil spirits or predators, or possibly both.

In Southern Sweden, a long known custom is of younger couples collecting greenery, branches and leaves from the forest at dusk. The couples would adorn the houses of the village and take part in festivities relating to the forthcoming Summer.

This tradition is similar to that of one that exists in Britain, where young couples would ‘tie the knot’ on 30th April and have 366 days to make the romance succeed, before untying the knot the following year.

In the British Isles the 30th April is honoured as one of the cross points of the neo-pagan calendar and known as Beltane, and shares similar traits with their European neighbours such as celebrating fire and the coming of Spring. In medieval Ireland there are records of huge ‘Bealtaine’ fires in Central Ireland and also at a number of ancient prehistoric sites. Many customs that take place have links with European neighbours and are well known across the Isles, these vary from the May Pole and crowning of the May Queen.

Across the world many pagans, wiccans and celtic traditionalists will be casting circle, performing ritual and above all celebrating the element of fire on April 30th or there abouts – magick is alive and well.

Walpurgis Night aka Walpurgisnacht

In film and books, Beltane and Walpurgis Night have been portrayed in many diverse ways.

The unforgettable film “The Wicker Man” was no doubt influenced by the records of Julius Caesar indeed the film’s screenwriter, Anthony Shaffer was intrigued by the reports that the Gauls and Celts burning criminals in a large wicker figure at the start of Spring.

Dracula, a truly European vision of horror has a number of links with Walpurgis night. In the short story “Dracula’s Guest” takes place on Walpurgis Night. Stoker wrote, “Walpurgis Night was 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.”

Later in the 1931 film “Dracula”, at beginning of the film a Romanian peasant describes the night as Walpurgis Night and Dracula’s clerk Renfield arrives at Dracula’s castle at midnight, the beginning of the witching hour.

So if you miss your Halloween spookiness and horror, then why not take part in the Beltane / Walpurgis Night festivals and light a bonfire, crown a Queen and then dance around a pole!  Or you could just sit at home and watch “The Wicker Man”.


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