Walburgis Night
by Kirsti Melto

  Walpurgis Night bonfire in Sweden.
Walpurgis Night bonfire in Sweden. Image by David Castor.

Beltane is a cross-quarter day falling halfway between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. Cross-quarter days originated as pagan holidays in Northern Europe and the British Isles. On Beltane the traditional summer begins. It is a time to celebrate life and renewal and a time of hope.

Walpurgis Night is a holiday celebrated on April 30 or May 1, in large parts of Central and Northern Europe. The festival is named after Saint Walpurga (born in Wessex in 710), who was declared a saint on May 1. In the Finnish and Swedish calendars the first of May is named after Saint Walpurga. Viking fertility celebrations took place around April 30. Because Walburga worship was similar to Viking spring celebration, the two dates became mixed together into one - the Walpurgis Night celebration.

In the Norse tradition, Walpurgis Night is considered the time when Odin, the chief god of the Norse pantheon, symbolically died to retrieve the knowledge of the runes. Odin hanged from Yggdrasil, the great cosmic ash tree, for nine days and nine nights as a sacrifice to master the runes. Odin's death lasted until midnight, and then light returned to the world. The night was celebrated with large bonfires lighted around the countryside. It is said to be a time of weakness between the living and the dead, as on Samhain, a festival dedicated to the harvest and the dead. The living invited deceased friends and relatives to warm themselves by the Beltane fires. One of the bonfire's purposes was purification. Cattle, the source of wealth in those days, were often led through the purifying smoke.

Maypoles remain common in Scandinavian countries today. The May Pole is a symbol of fertility and it also relates to Yggdrasil. The tree of life has its roots deep in the earth and its branches reaching toward heaven. Yggdrasil is linking the underworld, the world of the living, the heavens and numerous other realms.

Copyright © 2008 Kirsti Melto

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