Walpurgisnacht is said to be named after an early Christian woman (Saint Walpurga, 710-779) who was missionary to the Black Forest German pagans. Like most saint's stories, I take it with a grain of salt.
More likely, Walpurga was a wise women or, perhaps even a female divinity of place. If you can't at first get rid of those old gods and their generosity with a good time, the early Christians soon found that these local holidays were easily co-opted. Taking over a night of bonfire and dancing is not too hard, but you have to discourage (first with threats and then by fire) the far older fertility rites of liberated sex in the woods. (Imagine! Women running wild!) Among the English, you'll family names of Robinson or Green or Grove are common, and are often said to have had their origins in babies born after a spring fling in the forest.
This is one of the stories within Roan Rose, whose heroine is born into the just such a peasant community.
For humble farm folk, the older traditions often quietly continued. After all, the New Religion allows you to repent whatever indiscretions you've committed during the night at the next morning's Saint's Day Mass! Alcohol, a good party and warm weather are stimulants to the young who, in all ages, are universally singing "Born to Wild" after any big celebration with the opposite sex present.
This Walpurgisnacht, or Hexennacht, ("witches night,") falls midway between the summer solstice and the equinox and were therefore once commonly named "Cross Quarter" Days. Like Samhain (Halloween/Hallow's Eve) May Eve is considered another "time between" when the "veil between the worlds" is thin. So, besides a party--if you were inclined to celebrate--you might have a picnic or leave food for the spirits of place, or "bring in the May" by decorating your home with flowers and greens just as my mother showed me long ago. These quieter alternatives to that blow-out bonfire are more in order where I live and to the state of my elder body. However, from sundown on April 30th until sunrise on May 1st, the old rule, bar the caveat "'an you harm none" was: Do what you will!
While researching the habits of 18th Century Vienna, I learned that there, Saint Brigitte was the proper Lady to celebrate on May 1st. The similar name indicates that she may be a form of Brigid, the ancient Celtic triple goddess of artistic creation, rebirth and renewal. In my reading I learned that so many tried to leave the city for picnics and flower picking in the surrounding fields and woods on that day, that there were, by the late 1770's, traffic jams. Once, I read, the Emperor Joseph himself could not get out of town on one particularly carriage-clogged May Day because he did not drive out sufficiently early in the day.
In My Mozart, the teen heroine has a name day on April 29th. She attends a fateful party in the Vienna Woods with the louche fellow players from her new workplace, a Volksoper, where she dreams of the blazing kiss of Orpheus.
In Zauberkraft Black, the hero, a little drunk and sorry for himself, stumbles upon just such a party among his tenants the first night of his homecoming from the Napoleonic Wars. He finds a great deal more is going on there than simply drinking and getting lost in the new green woods with a willing farm girl. How little, this gentleman will find, he has known his own peasants!
It's probably pretty clear by now that I love this holiday and still keep it with flowers, new loaves of bread, and a of wine. On Saturday too I will pick up a few more native plants from a local Conservancy group--all very formal this year because of Covid--and bring them home to my yard. (Please grow, My New Darlings!)
Welcoming spring and giving thanks for the seasons while whispering a few prayers for a bountiful harvest can't, at any time or place, be a bad thing. These days, Mother Earth is in need of all the good vibes we can send to her.
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