Walpurga, Faust, Satan vie for souls on German mountain

Thu May 1, 2014 8:13am EDT
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By Alexandra Hudson

BROCKEN MOUNTAIN Germany (Reuters) - Pity Saint Walpurga, the English nun from Devon. A night of 'devil worship' atop a German mountain is not how she would have wanted to be remembered.

When canonizing Walpurga on May 1, 870 for converting pagan Germans, Pope Adrian II hoped to Christianize a much-loved heathen spring festival. The plan failed, but Walpurga's name stuck.

Today 'Walpurgisnacht', or May Eve (the night of April 30-May 1), is an occasion for revelry and excess in much of northern Europe, but no more so than in Germany's Harz mountains, a remote region of dark pine forests, eerie rock formations and blustery peaks.

The beautiful villages of timber-framed houses and cobble streets snaking around the base of the Brocken and nestled in the valleys of the Harz are a huge tourist draw, each laying on bonfires, music and spectacle to mark Walpurgisnacht.

In the little village of Stiege, Satan is rowed across the lake in a flaming torch-lit boat after nightfall to lead dancing around the bonfire.

Elsewhere, with the help of cables, witches appear to fly overhead while in Thale, men from around northern Europe and Scandinavia compete in a terrifying speed chainsawing competition, carving diabolical creatures from logs of wood.

Down in the valleys, as devils dance with their plastic horns flashing, one hand holding a trident, the other a beer, Walpurga is toasted.

"I love dressing up, and I love all the myths and history attached to Walpurgisnacht," said Waltraud Scheller, 63, from Hamburg, supporting a giant plastic raven on a staff.   Continued...

A woman dressed up as a witch walks at the summit of Brocken mountain in the Harz region celebrating the Walpurgisnacht pagan festival, April 30, 2014.    REUTERS/Thomas Peter