Beltane Fountain. Image Source: Osgrid Gallery.
April 30 is Walpurgis Night. It is the eve of the May Day honouring of St. Walburga, a West Saxon princess by birth, and an 8th century English abbess. In the mid-700s, she traveled to Francia (to what is now Bavaria, Germany) with other English missionaries, to convert the Germans - who were still pagans at the time - to Christianity. In that work, she supported her famous uncle, St. Boniface, and her two brothers, St. Willibald and St. Winibald. Dark Dorset describes how the celebration of Saint Walburga overlaps with the older pagan May 1 spring festival of Beltane:
In Europe, the night of April 30 became a spring Hallowe'en, when witches and sorcerers held fertility rites around bonfires in wild areas. In earlier times, it was the time when livestock were driven out to pasture after a long winter, and charms were uttered over the animals as they ventured out into the wilds to protect them from harm. In the New World, Walpurgis Night is associated with the dark occult, including the establishment of the Church of Satan in 1966 in San Francisco, California.[H]er feast day also coincided with a much older pagan festival of Beltane ... [which] marked the beginning of summer. The eve of Beltane 30th April - 1st May became ... known as Walpurgisnacht, perhaps originally in an attempt to Christianise the festival. Like Halloween, it was also the night in which spirits wandered and witches favoured, as it was an auspicious time for holding their midnight sabbats and for conjuring spells. The most famous of all sabbats held on Walpurgisnacht was supposed to take place on the summit of the Brocken in the Harz Mountains of Germany as mentioned in Goethe's Faust [which you can read in German and English here, and watch here].
Thus, these two days, April 30 and May 1, centre on a moment of pagan-Christian ambiguity, a grey area between seasons and between evil and good, freedom and security, old and new. The sense is of turn-over, confronting the very last of winter's deaths and tests, and putting them behind to be open to spring growth. Dark Dorset summarizes these tensions:
In the first part of his great tragedy Faust, published in 1808, Goethe included a scene set on Walpurgis Night:On Walpurgisnacht it was customary for local folk to ring the bells of the church at night, cutting sprigs of blossom from the May bush (Hawthorn) and hung outside or inside the house as deterrent of witchcraft. The burning of Need-Fires and life size straw effigies of men or women which were made prior to burning and cursed with ill-health and ill-luck of the old year. Creating lots of noise by banging on drums, wood or firing of shotguns were all considered effective ways of ridding the area of witchcraft, evil spirits and dark forces. The very name St. Walburga (or Walpurgis, Waltpurde, Gauburge, Vaubourg, Falbourg, as known in other parts of Europe) and her image were also used as protective charms against witchcraft, plague, famine and storms.
Now to the Brocken the witches ride;Goethe's Faust explored the problems that symbolically arise around Walpurgis Night. His famous work principally concerned man's attempt to control the natural environment through scientific investigation and linear understanding, and the points at which faith and magic overtake that rational effort. Goethe's story describes Faust as a scholar, or alchemist, who makes a bargain with the devil to attain limitless knowledge. Faust's quest for infinite understanding automatically forces moral questions about how that knowledge might be exploited. Goethe insists: limitless knowledge can only be mitigated, and finally attained, by a leap of faith.
The stubble is gold and the corn is green;
There is the carnival crew to be seen,
And Squire Urianus will come to preside.
So over the valleys our company floats,
With witches a-farting on stinking old goats.
Image Source: Business Insider.
In the new Millennium, the moral dimension of limitless information, knowledge and technology is a huge problem. There are no St. Walburgas and St. Bonifaces standing now at the confluence of the environment and human knowledge of the environment. You may encounter many devils at the crossroads between environment and technology these days. For example, this week, Business Insider reported on a paper given last weekend at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting, which concluded that one third of babies in the USA are using smart phones and tablets before they can walk and talk; and toddlers under the age of one use smart devices for at least one hour per day.