Burning of the Witches

Written by Simona Hejhalova

Category: Tradition

Learn more about Burning of the Witches

The burning of witches, which takes place during the night from 30th April to 1st May, is a tradition that has been celebrated since the pagan times. It is kept in the Czech Republic and also other European countries. Other name used for it is Walpurgis Night, this is used mostly by the Germans and the Dutch but it doesn’t have anything to do with witches. They named it after Saint Walpurga a French abbess who lived in the 8th century.

Today it is celebrated by lighting bonfires, Czechs usually sit around them, roast sausages and as they do with any other celebration, they use it as an opportunity to drink a lot of beer. In smaller towns and villages there can be witch themed games and competitions prepared for the children, who usually dress up as the witches

In Germany, they light fires like Czech people do, but also young people take it as an opportunity to play pranks on their neighbors, Finland where it is one of the most important holidays and hold big carnival like festivals in almost every bigger city, or Sweden where people gather to celebrate the arrival of spring.

The roots of this tradition go back to the pagans who believed that the last night of April had a special meaning. They divided one year into two half-years, one was the dark and cold and the other was warm and sunny, and they considered the 30th of April to be the last day of the winter times. It was important for them to light as many fires around their houses as possible to weaken the dark and evil powers that they believed have gained strength during the cold half-year, and they needed to banish them with fire to protect themselves, their homes and their cattle.

As the time went and Christianity was on the rise people started to believe that on this night, the witches would gather their entire covens to commit unholy and evil deeds and to harm them. They wanted to weaken their powers or, in the best case wipe them from the earth, by not only lighting fires around their villages, but by throwing burning brooms into the air in hopes of hitting a witch that would happen to fly by. So there technically wasn’t any actual burning of witches involved just yet, but when the wave of inquisition began, there were a lot of alleged witches that ended up burning on the stake and it definitely wasn’t only one day a year. The Christians also gave this tradition a new name, they called it Jacobi Philippi, in czech ‘Filipojakubská noc’ after the two apostles.

Nowadays not so many people keep this tradition, as many others, it is far more popular in the countryside, where it is celebrated by a symbolic burning of a witch made out of straw and old clothing. This however, leaves a room for imagination. Instead of the straw witch you can imagine whoever you want – your mother, your boss or your least favorite teacher. You can even decorate it so it looks more like them, there are no limits to creativity.

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