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Walpurgis Night: The Witches’ Sabbath in German Folklore


As twilight descends on April 30th, casting long shadows across the German countryside, a sense of mystery and intrigue fills the air. This is Walpurgis Night, a night steeped in ancient folklore, pagan traditions, and the belief in a gathering of witches. While the modern world often views it as a time for festivity and celebration, Walpurgis Night holds a rich history and a darker side, intertwined with the myth of the “Witches’ Sabbath.”

This blog post delves into the historical, cultural, and mythological aspects of Walpurgis Night, unraveling its connection to witches and the infamous gathering they are said to attend. We will explore the origins of the night, its evolution over time, and its significance within German folklore and modern culture.

Table of Contents

  1. The History and Origins of Walpurgis Night
  2. Walpurgis Night and the Witches’ Sabbath
  3. Walpurgis Night in Modern Culture
  4. Conclusion
  5. FAQ

The History and Origins of Walpurgis Night

The name “Walpurgis Night” derives from St. Walpurga, a devout Christian missionary who lived in the 8th century. Born in England, Walpurga traveled to Germany and dedicated her life to spreading Christianity. Upon her death, she was canonized and became a revered figure in the region.

While St. Walpurga’s influence is undeniable, the origins of the night itself likely extend back to pagan traditions. Ancient Germanic tribes held spring festivals, celebrating the arrival of new life and the return of warmth after the harsh winter months. These celebrations often involved bonfires, feasting, and rituals, many of which were later absorbed and adapted into Christian practices.

The Christian church, in its efforts to convert the pagan populace, sought to integrate these existing traditions. They began associating Walpurga’s day, May 1st, with the celebration of her life and legacy. This resulted in the merging of Christian and pagan elements, creating the unique blend of religious observance and folk customs we see today.

Over time, Walpurgis Night evolved, becoming less about honoring the saint and more about folklore and tradition. The focus shifted from religious devotion to a celebration of spring, with the night taking on a more secular and celebratory character.

Walpurgis Night and the Witches’ Sabbath

The image of witches gathering on Walpurgis Night for a “Sabbath” is a prominent feature in European folklore. This myth, deeply rooted in the collective imagination, has fueled countless tales and legends. It is believed that on this night, witches would gather on the Brocken, a mountain in the Harz region of Germany, to celebrate and participate in rituals.

The Brocken, shrouded in mist and fog, provided a perfect backdrop for stories of the supernatural. The folklore surrounding the “Witches’ Sabbath” describes a night of wild revelry, where witches danced with the devil, flew on broomsticks, and engaged in various magical practices.

One particularly intriguing element of this folklore is the “Brocken Specter,” a ghostly apparition believed to appear on the mountaintop during Walpurgis Night. This spectral image, often described as a giant, ethereal figure, is said to be a manifestation of the devil or a powerful supernatural entity.

While the concept of a “Witches’ Sabbath” has largely remained within the realm of folklore and mythology, the image of witches gathering on Walpurgis Night has permeated art, literature, and popular culture, solidifying the night’s association with the supernatural and the mystical.

Walpurgis Night in Modern Culture

Today, Walpurgis Night is still celebrated in many parts of Germany, although its focus has shifted from religious observance to a more secular celebration of spring and the season of renewal.

One of the most enduring traditions associated with Walpurgis Night is the lighting of bonfires. These bonfires serve a dual purpose: they symbolize the burning away of winter’s darkness and the welcoming of spring’s warmth, while also offering a protective barrier against evil spirits.

Beyond the bonfires, modern celebrations often include music events, dance performances, and special meals. The night is often marked by a lively atmosphere, with locals and tourists alike gathering to enjoy the festive spirit.

Walpurgis Night has also inspired artists, writers, and musicians, who have drawn inspiration from its rich folklore and mystique. From Goethe’s “Faust” to Wagner’s “Die Walküre,” the night has found its way into various works of art, literature, and music, adding to its cultural significance and perpetuating its legend.


Walpurgis Night, a captivating blend of history, folklore, and culture, continues to hold a special place in German tradition and beyond. From its pagan origins to its Christian adaptation and its enduring presence in modern celebrations, the night has woven itself into the fabric of society, inspiring awe, wonder, and a touch of the supernatural.

Whether you celebrate it as a night of spring renewal, a time for bonfires and festivities, or a glimpse into the world of witches and folklore, Walpurgis Night remains a fascinating and enduring tradition, offering a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Germany and the enduring power of human imagination.


Q: Is Walpurgis Night a real holiday?

A: While it is not a recognized public holiday, Walpurgis Night is celebrated throughout many regions of Germany, especially in rural areas, and holds cultural significance for many individuals.

Q: What are the origins of the “Witches’ Sabbath” tradition?

A: The “Witches’ Sabbath” tradition is deeply rooted in European folklore, with roots in pre-Christian beliefs and practices. It is associated with the fear of witches, who were often seen as dangerous and demonic figures.

Q: Is there any historical evidence for witches flying on broomsticks?

A: While there is no credible historical evidence to suggest witches flew on broomsticks, the image is deeply ingrained in folklore and popular culture, perhaps due to the association of brooms with cleaning, which was considered a “woman’s work” and often linked to witchcraft in the past.

Q: Are bonfires still a common practice on Walpurgis Night?

A: Bonfires remain a significant tradition on Walpurgis Night, especially in rural areas. They symbolize the burning away of winter and the welcoming of spring, as well as offering protection against evil spirits.

Q: How is Walpurgis Night celebrated in different regions of Germany?

A: While the core traditions remain similar across regions, local customs and traditions often add unique elements to the celebration. For instance, some areas might feature specific types of music or food, or have their own unique folklore associated with the night.

Q: What are some examples of works of art or literature inspired by Walpurgis Night?

A: Walpurgis Night has inspired a wide array of works, including:
* Goethe’s “Faust”: The “Walpurgis Night” scene in Part One of “Faust” depicts a wild gathering of witches on the Brocken.
* Wagner’s “Die Walküre”: The opera’s third act, known as “The Ride of the Valkyries,” features a climactic scene set on Walpurgis Night.
* Heinrich Heine’s “Walpurgis Night’s Dream”: This poem depicts a surreal and satirical gathering of poets, artists, and other figures, referencing the Walpurgis Night tradition.

The rich cultural tapestry of Walpurgis Night continues to weave its magic through art, literature, music, and folklore, ensuring its enduring place in the hearts and minds of people across generations.