Once Upon a Time, there was a woman who deeply wanted a child, a ferry man that heard a shout, an old oak forest, a small black dog, a wicked witch, and a story.
In fact, many stories populate the woods and wells, the mountains and caverns throughout a land you may have heard of, its name is Germany. Where they speak of loving sisters, big bad wolves, spirits atop red and white mushrooms, glass mountains cursed long ago, and much much more. These stories never stopped, they are still there and in them are the Frauen, the goddesses of Germany, the mistresses of the mountains, the wild huntresses, who dwell in old oak woods, who keep small black dogs, who call to ferrymen, who dwell in gingerbread cottages, and who give the gift of a darling babe. To this day, these ladies of their people give boons and happy memories. Still Mother Holle makes the snow, still Perchta leads the ghost children, still Harke hurls her stones, still Gode rides with her hounds atop the clouds, still Frick flies with dragons. To this day; there are still so many tales to tell. Where to start…
Perhaps Frick would be good to start with? The Old Frick a wicked witch if ever I saw one, though her kindness can still be found here and there, a goddess whose head was garlanded by storm clouds, who tried to drink a river dry for the children whom she pursued. Who perhaps desired love but could not find it.
Or perhaps Perchta would be a better goddess to begin with? The wandering queen of the ghost children. Whose retinue contains raven headed women, and goat men, alongside the souls of lost children who drag her plow or ride atop mountain goats. The one whose name means “The Bright One” the light in the dark with her crown of stars and iron nose who dwells within the Alps.
Though Harke would be a good one to start as well, the lovely “Dame Knife” or “Lady Rake” who dwells in old oak forests, a giantess of Saxony-Anhalt. She was said to dwell within the high hill of Frau Harkenberg. The Frau who appears in the guise of a scarecrow to strike fear at carnival, who watches over and tends her beloved badgers. Who threw stone and fury at the growth of the church.
Perhaps even Frau Gode? Who so adored hunting and whose dogs howled more and flew more than any other. Whose name means Lady Divine, who adores the songs of children and like Holle grants the wishes for a “little lamb.” Who was proud and resolute, who flies across the sky with an insatiable desire for the Wild Hunt among the furious host.
No, no, it must be Mother Holle, the most well-known of the goddesses. It is her tale that was retold by the Brother’s Grimm. Though it is by no means the only tale of her, no, no, she has far more stories to tell of her. Whether atop the Meissner in Hesse, within the Haselberg in Thuringia or atop the Hexenkopf in America, the goddess whose name means kindness and tender mercy watches over her people. They dwell on her mountains or spin in her name, they drink from her wells hoping for health, or care for the small white cats that she tends. For Mother Holle loves her people as fierce as she may be when needed, it is with care and love that she guides and aids her people. It is with her I must begin the tale.
…And what a tale it is; romance, wishes, wild hunts, giants and mountains, snow capped lands and sleeping kings. Mother Holle is never short a story, with a just yet fair hand she guided her people.
Some say Holle is a giant, others say a wild woman or faerie, a ghost or a witch, why must a goddess have but one shape? Who can say. Still many a tale was told of her over the centuries. Some such legends tells us that it is Mother Holle who keeps the souls of infants before they come to their families. She keeps them in her wells and the realm beyond, from there Holle will send them out plucked when ready and ripe as if apples from a tree, and sent to their mothers via storks.
Many ask for the aid of Mother Holle, in childbirth, and in health, in protection and in times of dire need. The belief in Holle remained for centuries long after so many others faded from memory or became too hidden for one to notice at first glance. Some such goddesses even seemed to have become embroiled in Holle’s own legend such as Eastre and a summer maiden perhaps Volla, Rosenrot or Walpurga. They perhaps fell into Holle’s legend as her name Holle or Holda found parallels in a villainess from the Christian’s book, and Holle’s name survived. Though many attempts were made to vilify Mother Holle, they rarely took deep enough root to those who knew of her, those she walked among.
For when it snows children would gleefully call out:
“It’s snowing, Frau Holle is shaking her beds,”
as the feathery snow coated the earth. Upon her mountains Holle could control the weather, when she baked bread the mountains would be covered with fog, when it began to snow Holle was said to be shaking her beds and the snow was the feathers from her cushions and blankets. For in the mountains of Middle Germany and beyond Holle would govern the weather and wander the woodlands upon the mountains interacting with her people.
It was in these mountains that many of her stories took place, with figures such as the Devil’s Grandmother, wicked witches, the Mountain Monk and more would enter into her various legends. It was from Holle the gift of Flax was to have come from, when a man chased after a magnificent mountain goat, he came across a gem encrusted cave with many beautiful women around the beautiful Frau Holda. He was so respectful that Holda offered him a gift and after looking at the many jewels he chose instead the purple flowers within her hand. “You have chosen wisely,” Holda told him. The flowers were those of the flax plant and Holle had given him an unending supply of the flax seed and over time he reaped many a harvest
of flax from the gift of Holle, he was said to have eventually gone to search for Holle to thank her. Whether he found her or not is not known, for the farmer never returned from his quest. Though for centuries afterwards in the harvest and spinning of flax in ancient dialects songs were sung in praise to Holle.
Others would go to her many wells and sacred areas and ask for a child or a spouse. The waters of her wells were said to heal, and Holle would heal the ill, help the honorable and punish the wicked. Many tales are told of such deeds by Mother Holle, in one tale a girl was cursed by a powerful witch and it was with Holle’s aid that the girl overcame her plague and the wicked witch was no more.
Another such tale speaks of a small kitten found by an impoverished mother, barely able to feed her children. Yet she took the kitten and placed it inside her clothes keeping it warm and revealing it to her children. They were overjoyed at the soft white cat, and played with it and let it sleep by the fire, though they had to go hungry yet again, a few days later the kitten was gone. The mother looked all over for it, til she came back to the spot at which she had found the shivering kitten, and Mother Holle appeared and tossed to her a ball of yarn saying “this is for the cat” and disappeared. The woman took the yarn home and found out it was unending, Frau Holle had gifted the woman an enchanted endless ball of yarn, and with it
she created many goods and garments and lifted her and her children up out of their crushing poverty. It may seem an odd thing to do for such a small act, but cats are sacred to Holle, especially white ones which were said to mayhaps be a girl she has punished who has not learned her lesson or a devotee of Holle who shape changed into a cat to follow Holle where she went.
Other tales tell of Holle helping those already on their journeys. A girl who saved a cursed king only to find a witch snatching him while she was away, his memory erased and taken from her. It was Holle who aided her with three apples containing a golden spindle, reel, and spinning wheel within them, sending her to a glass mountain to save her king from his curse, for the old stories tell us that glass mountains are nearly always enchanted or cursed in some way.
Though perhaps it is the much more well known tale of “Frau Holle” that you wish to hear? The one the Grimm brothers recorded, the one that includes the figures of Pitchmary and Goldmary? That story has many versions not all have Holle in them, though some say the two Mary’s are the sun and the moon, Goldmary being the diligent and kind sun, while Pitchmary was the lazy moon. They were gifted for their work accordingly with Goldmary being given a shower of gold and Pitchmary a shower of pitch. Perhaps these are newer names for the Wendish goddesses Yr and Om? Or perhaps they are the goddesses Sunna and Sinthgunt? Who’s to say.
Though in each story with the two girls they travel separately to a land with a fearsome ruler, an otherworld of sorts and are gifted fairly. They are mythic figures
in their own right with Holle being merely another member of this tale of the divine, one of many figures one could find in another realm.
Holle herself does bring light and warmth. She is said to sit and spin in her chair upon the Meissner on the 2nd of May and from her golden curls shines bright light to which Holle would say “This is my morning gift,” here she brings the dawn to her people, forecasting the time of summer and plenty. Though perhaps this is an example of Eastre being conflated with Holle or perhaps the goddess’ shared this role. Mother Holle is not only the softer side of kindness though, she may give you gold or she may give you pitch. It is this darker side that the church emphasized and made into a bugbear, a tale to make the young fear whom once they would love.
Though it is not mere Christian propaganda, like any mother when protecting her loved ones she can become fearsome indeed. Such as in the tale of Crooked Jacob, where a lame legged prince is kicked out by his elder brother. Despite the elder brother promising their father to take care of Jacob. He comes upon Holle who has him work for her. Under her tutelage Crooked Jacob increases in strength and skill. Eventually Holle takes Crooked Jacob back to his brother to demand his half of the inheritance. The elder brother again denies his brother his birthright and Holle in her anger destroys a linden tree on the grounds that had been said to protect their families castle, soon after, misfortune befell the elder brother. Getting worse
and worse until he died when the castle collapsed onto him. Holle then went to the corpse and took half the treasure from it and gave it to Crooked Jacob, though she told him to abandon any dreams of being part of the aristocracy and instead to become a farmer, which he did and prospered with Holle’s blessings.
In another far more frightful tale a beautiful maiden is pursued by numerous suitors leading them on before settling on a hunter under the protection of Holle. He ends up leaving her, but she becomes with child, though to which suitor is unknown. She then lies and tells the first suitor that she chooses him in order to get him and the other suitor to try to kill the Hunter, whom she claimed she had never loved and had instead been bewitched by the sinister Holle Witch. However, while the two suitors try to kill the Hunter, Holle warns him and causes the two to take each others life, bringing the corpses to the girls doorstep and proclaiming that the girl had been the cause of this. Her and “The Devil’s Grandmother” she was in league with. A figure no more sinister than Holle, yet here she appears mentioned in a story by Holle herself. Who was she?
The Old Frick & The Devil’s Grandmother
For that I must speak on yet another of the Frauen. For the Devil’s Grandmother appears in many tales, yet who she is is rarely agreed upon. Some say she is Holle, and that name may have applied to Holle at times, as well as to many of the Frauen. Yet it is to Frick whom the name is most associated with. A goddess made far more demonic than any of the other Frauen, though she was no less beloved. Known as The Old Frick, a man eater and ogress. Other times a spirit or goddess, like the other Frauen she has many forms some demonized some wondrous, others powerful and regal. It is often to her that the Wicked Witch in the tale of “Hansel and Gretel” is ascribed. There is a tale similar to the famous story of breadcrumbs and gingerbread cottages in that of “The Old Frick.”
In this tale The Old Frick lures in a brother and sister into her cave and begins to fatten up the brother while his sister becomes her slave. However, The Old Frick has a magic rod that the sister then stole, freed her brother, and fled to the river where they used said rod to turn into ducks. The Old Frick was unable to cross the river and began to drink from it. Draining it further and further until she popped. The two were then free to go home, magic rod and all.
Some say this is Frick demonized and I tend to agree, though it also points to an interesting aspect of Frick that differs from others of the Frauen, an aversion to water. While she could drink a handful at a time to try to get to the children, she could not cross it. While this is a stark contrast from the wells and water that many of the gods and goddesses are associated with. Harke with her bathing pond, Holle with her wells, and many more examples. Frick has something that the others do not, a clear association with fire.
Like many of the Frauen she is a member of the wild hunt, appearing with her head garlanded with storm clouds as she rides the winds on the Twelve Nights of Yule. Like most members of the wild hunt she possesses hunting dogs, though hers are odd. In many ways they seem to be closer to dragons than the typical dogs like those of Frau Gode or other members of the wild hunt, such as Wode and The Eternal Hunter. They are large and breathe fire with a habit of consuming flour. Such as in the tale when a man after milling grain and heading home hears the carriage of Frick approaching with her hunting dogs in tow. In order to escape the dogs the man spills all the flour upon the road and flees. The fire breathing dogs consume the corn, yet later there is plenty of flour in the bags when he checks the next day. The animals and especially the dogs of the Frauen often are a form taken by another being, whether children, spirits, or gods themselves.
In the case of Frick the dogs she has are at times thought to be a kind of corn spirit known as a Drac. This corn spirit is in many ways a domesticated spirit, being used for the fertility of corn and appearing in the shape of a dragon. This corn spirit was cast as the devil in another tale from the Brother’s Grimm “The Devil and His Grandmother” here it appears in a corn field as a dragon shaped trickster figure aiming to gain “the souls” of deserters of the military. So long as they cannot solve his riddle in seven years time. Not only does Frick become associated with dracs, but also a trickster spirit, one whom the soldiers are able to best with her help. For as demonized as Frick became she never truly lost the affection of the people.
Even as some of her possible names like Frû Friên became demonized as little more than screaming spirits and devilish vandals. She continued on albeit in less standing than she had had. Tales tell that Friên is said to lack a lover though she wishes for one greatly. Screaming her laments in their absence, a possible inversion of a loving goddess or perhaps she is one who knows only heartbreak. Reducing her down to a minor bugbear more befitting an imp than a goddess such as Frick, whose name it is said means “Beloved.
Another of her possible names, Frikka, found it’s way into the stories of Wagner’s Operas. Where she is cast as a synchronized figure of Holle and Frigg and the wife of Wotan. Here she is depicted as harsh and associated with rams. Though the figure has lost much of what made her who she was and merely her name is present in this tale. It is possible she finds a male counterpart in the form of the god Frikko found further north. Though from here comes mere conjecture, perhaps Frick found herself as a hearth goddess for the ashes of the hearth would make fertile fields indeed, marking a deeper meaning to the firey dogs and the flour they consume. Yet perhaps it is truly heartbreak and woe that seems to govern Frick. For like many goddesses she was slandered and her people began to think of her as more of a
bugbear than who she was. Such were the methods of the church.
Frau Perchta: Christmas Belly Slitter & Queen of the Ghost Children
She was not alone in this, other goddesses among the Frauen found themselves fighting a battle against an encroaching enemy in the form of the church. As they traveled the land calling them devils, Frick and Perchta found themselves increasingly cast as monsters and demons. Perchta especially survived more in a monstrous tradition as “The Christmas Belly Slitter”. A bugbear that far surpassed that of the neighboring Holle Witch.
She was known as the Queen of the Heimchen also known as “The Ghost Children”. With a retinue of the souls of lost children. Who follow their surrogate mother Perchta across the alps. With the smallest pulling the plow of Perchta behind the others, this little child is said to pull the plow until someone gives it a name then it is freed from the retinue of Perchta. Though whether this has something to do with reincarnation or if it is something that was added after the church began calling her a devil is not known. Some say the Heimchen are actually a kind of gnome that only resembles children and lies were told of an evil Perchta witch that took the souls of unbaptized children into her retinue. For the old stories tell us that any unbaptized individual’s soul belongs to the heathen gods. Though Perchta’s treatment of the children and the stories surrounding them, show her to be the keeper of the souls of children tragically lost in this life, and a diligent and protective surrogate mother to them.
Such as the tale of Perchta and the ferryman. Perchta called out to a ferryman to aid her in crossing the river, she gifted him the sight to see her Heimchen some of which were riding goats or tending to her plow. She made sure the Heimchen crossed and paid the ferryman with pebbles or wood shavings. To which he is unhappy about and throws most of them away. Only for the few he kept to become gold the next morning. Another tale speaks of the children following her with their own weight to bear, such as the ghost child with a jar of his mothers tears. His mother cried each night for her lost child, until Perchta came across the land with her ghost children and the mother seeing her own child came to him and lifted him up. The child than said to not worry for him. For he was fine, but that he may not be able to keep up with the other children if the jar he held got much heavier. For it contained all of his mothers tears she had cried for him. From that day forward the woman stoically carried her pain so that her child’s time with Perchta would not be weighed down with her grief.
As she passed the land with her Heimchen she was also fiercely defensive of them, for any mockery or laughter directed at those in her care, or those who chose to spy on her or the Heimchen during Yuletide were often blinded. Though at times she would give even odder punishments such as antlers or an over-sized head. Only reversing the effects one year later or after the blind or disfigured had learned their lesson and become humble and respectful. This action of blinding them was often said by Perchta to be “The blowing out of lights” an interesting choice of words for a goddess whose name means “The Bright One”. Perchta’s harshness is in many ways a result of her own extreme dislike for the Christian influence upon her people. Though Perchta’s legend has maintained itself throughout the Alps and beyond. As Queen of the Ghost Children and as the Christmas belly slitter.
A much harsher and monstrous Perchta can be found in the latter tales. One who resembles more a misshapen and demonic witch than the regal queen and mountain goddess that she is in other tales. Here her iron nose, sickle, and children become far more heinous. She becomes a bugbear for spinners threatening the lazy ones and testing their ability and cunning with their lives on the line. Other times Perchta would come upon the naughty and slit their bellies before stuffing them full of filth, dirt, straw or any other number of trinkets and refuse. Then she would sew them up with an iron chain until they seemed to have merely died in their sleep. This is the most well known and monstrous Perchta as the legends of her as keeper of lost souls and agricultural goddess seemed to fade. Stories of her and the Heimchen tending farms and plowing them from beneath the earth became fewer, until they were seen as evil spirits and felt unwanted and despised. At times even leaving for what they hoped to be greener pastures.
Frau Perchta is also known for appearing at crossroads as her carriage breaks down and if you are asked to help and do. You shall find yourself rewarded with dirt or wood shavings turned to gold. Though approach her at the crossroads with the intention of making gold from her you may find she is far less forgiving of those who wish to take advantage of her. Finding yourself stabbed through or knocked to the ground. While her gentle and loving nature is truly present she has also it seems lost patience over the years for the actions of her people under Christianity and is not afraid to punish severely. Perhaps this is why her processions across the alpine include not only the Schönperchten (Beautiful Perchten), but also many more spirits, most notably the Schlachtperchten (Wild Perchten). While the beautiful perchten depict themselves with a headdress decorated extravagantly with everything from paintings to taxidermy that rise so high that it doubles their height. The wild perchten appear as goat men with shaggy coats, whips, chains, and horns. Calling to mind Krampus and similar Wilder Mann costumes across Europe. Far more Perchten exist in these processions springing and whipping where upon the people exclaim:
“The perchten dance & spring
You should spring too,
Fortunes blessing are to bring,
all the time anew”
these carnival processions of the perchtenlauf include even more perchten ones that sweep and ones with raven bills, running through the towns in hundreds, in a dark and beautiful furious host all their own. Though Perchta is not the only goddess to find herself amongst these revelers. Another goddess finds herself within the procession, that of the scarecrow costume of the giantess Harke.
In Saxony-Anhalt there is tell of a beautiful blond giantess, she is known by the name of Herke or Harke which mean “Lady Knife” and “Dame Rake” respectively.
There she dwells atop the Frau Harkenberg in an old oak forest bathing in nearby Lake Kamern every morning, If the water was frozen the giantess would take an oak tree and shatter the ice upon the lake. Among the Frauen few despised the spread of Christianity more than Harke, who would lob boulders at the churches such as the story surrounding the Brandenburg Maria church. Only failing to destroy it by virtue of the stone being too greasy to grip properly, causing her to miss and make a pit instead. Her ire was not only a result of the church’s effect on her people, but also the felling of the oak forests where she resided in relative solitude save her retinue.
She was a lady of the forest and fields, being a protector of both humans and animals especially the badger. Which was sacred to her especially the “Sows with one eye” or perhaps those badgers who were scarred period, protecting and caring for them. One such story has hunters go into her woods and hills to hunt what they perceived as an overabundance of badgers only to hear a voice call “ Quêms, quêms!”. When they asked what is wrong the voice said they were looking for the “Big one eyed sow”. The men fled home and checked the badger they had caught. It was indeed one of “Frau Harke’s badgers”. Since then supposedly hunters are careful not to shoot badgers near Frau Harke’s hill.
Like Perchta or at times Holle, Harke also has a costume so that she may take part in Carnival proceedings. Taking the form of a scarecrow she appears in Carnival to scare children. At other times she would take the form of a dove and fly above the fields to deliver them fertility. A job she also performs while riding with the wild hunt, gifting fertility wherever she rode. Other times she would appear in a gigantic form and place a farmer and his oxen together and carry them in her apron. Yet for all the legends that tell of Frau Harke there are some that speak of her heading elsewhere as her forests grew smaller and smaller, and her nemesis the church grew closer and closer.
Fed up she collected her retinue and headed for Thuringia. Where it was said there were still wild places, she was unhappy to leave her home and as a goodbye gift she placed her fork near Lake Kamern and gave her life force and a great pine tree grew from the fork, where it was said to be seen at the entrance of the town of Wulkau. Though she still rides among the hunt, she still dwells under the earth of her homeland. Perhaps she never left or perhaps she returned. Who’s to say. Unlike many of the other Frauen, Harke is rarely mentioned with children or with hunting dogs, though a Frauen close to her and the final one I will go into detail on could not be further from such a description. The goddess who wished to hunt for all eternity who was affectionately called a “Dog goddess” Lady Divine herself, Frau Gode.
Frau Gode also known as Frau Gauden among many other derivative names, is a goddess who straddles much of the North European plain in Germany. She was at times said to have once been a noble woman who enjoyed hunting so much she would say “Hunting is better than heaven” over time she gave birth to twenty four daughters who all held that opinion as well, and at one point while driving her hunting carriage she allowed such an exclamation to leave her mouth yet again, and she was forced to watch as her 24 daughters lost their beauty and grew fur and their feet turned to paws, her beloved daughters all became bitches before her eyes and four took the place of horses for her carriage and the others surrounded her and she rose up into the sky to join the wild hunt. They say she has since grown weary of hunting.
This is a clear euhemerized legend, where the goddess was made into a woman who was damned for her blasphemy. A common tactic to hide many of the gods who partook in the wild hunt. With Dirk supposedly shooting the sky to kill god. Being cursed to hunt atop a boar for the rest of his life. Or King Herla, a euhemerized Harlequin, who became displaced from time and the earth after attending an otherworld wedding.
The hunting dogs of the hunt find no goddess they are more at home with then Gode, alongside them she is tied into many stories of the wild hunt. Like the other Frauen she is a wild huntress within the furious host, but for her the dogs are by far the core of her legend when compared to the others. Though she also appears in harvest celebrations being invoked in the “Vergōdendēl” (Frau Gode’s Portion) a ceremony surrounding the final sheaf of grain, this ceremony is similar to one devoted to Wode and when combined with her name has led many to translate her name not merely as Lady Divine, but also “Mrs. Wode” tying this goddess into the god Wode. She is also associated with childbirth being said to give fertility and children, for as children play people are said to sing:
“Frau Gauden has given me a little lamb,
so that I may live happily”
crediting Frau Gode with having given them their children. With her prolific offspring and love for children it is not surprising she was often called upon for fertility of field and family. She was also said to deliver gifts to children at Yule and especially adored hearing them singing. While she shares the crossroads stories and morbid Wild Hunt tales of Frick and Perchta, she like them is also one who deeply cares for her people especially children as any goddess of a people would.
The Wider German Mythology
The Frauen do not exist in a vacuum, while many of their stories depict them in a solitary fashion they are tied to the heroes and mythic figures of the land and it’s people. In some stories even appearing alongside such figures. Frau Gode even appears at times not as a solitary goddess, but as a part of the retinue of Perchta during the Wild Hunt. While tales of Holle tell of her in opposition to the Devil’s Grandmother, or keeping watch over King Barbarossa as he sleeps beneath his mountain. Even stories involving Holle and the giant known as Wode, which culminate in the creation of the Brunhilde Stone. Which had originated as a drawer from Holle’s kitchen, before Wode’s fit of rage over Blueberry jam.
Another tale speaks of Holle and the “Mountain Monk” each giving a gift to a married couple in “The Miner and His Wife”. Holle gives the wife an everlasting “wonder spindle” and the Mountain Monk gives her husband, the miner, an ever burning lantern.
Though both are required to keep their respective gifts secret. Eventually the two grow suspicious of each other and begin to argue and eventually proclaimed the origin of their gifts. The Mountain Monk than appeared and took the gift’s away, though they reconciled and stopped their fighting for they had already reached a better life due to their gifts. This Mountain Monk is possibly either Wode or Rübezahl, for both mythic figures may take the form of monks when they walk among the people. Though The Mountain-Monk also appears as a distinct mining spirit at other times.
The Wild Hunt
As the Frauen like many of the gods of Germany partake in the wild hunt, it is in the tales of the hunt itself that many of their connections and tales are found. As well as many of the mythic figures they find themselves connected to. Poetry written about them even mentions the “Sorceress Sisters” when referring to the Frauen as part of the wild hunt.
Figures such as the Hullewaatsch, a bugbear through and through who belongs in the retinue of Holle, beside her cats, fae, elves, witches, and Hollen (Imps), though she is not especially favored by Holle herself. Though other more kindly figures exist in Holle’s retinue such as The Faithful Eckhart. The herald who goes before the Wild Hunt warning those he comes across to get out of the way to avoid the dangers of being caught in the hunts cross-hairs. The Faithful Eckhart is said to perhaps have been a priest of Holle whose devotion transcended death and he became her loyal herald in godhood. Figures like Wode and Ewicher Yeager also ride across the sky in the hunt and are both considered as possible consorts for the dear mother.
She is not alone in having gods that seem to be connected to her as romantic companions. Perchta is often said to find consorts in Berchtold, Krampus, and a lord of the forest in Tyrol. While Harke is often attributed the figures of Heuke or Harlequin though this seems to have more to do with their names than anything else. Like traces of the goddess found in folk customs, especially those of the Wilder Mann variety, the other mythic figures find their way into Carnival and the costumed processions of the continent. Harlequin may appear by name or as the prancing fool, Eckhart often leads a procession himself and Perchta, Holle, and Harke appear in monstrous guises as well as beautiful ones. Like the Frauen the other spirits, gods, and heroes of the Hunt have tales of being cursed into the hunt, of being unable to cross water, or being used as a threat if work continues on Yuletide. Dirk would crush farm implements atop his wild boar if they were not put away by the nights of Yule. Just as many of the Frauen were often said to punish spinners who had been lazy throughout the year. The whole of the hunt would find themselves enforcing these rules and even taking the place of the Frauen in many a tale. With the hunt crossing the river instead of Perchta and her Heimchen or giving gifts of meaningless trinkets that become gold the next day, or send their coal black hounds through the village.
Both inside and outside the hunt the Frauen are often depicted with a myriad of magical objects such as bells, spindles, or even keys. the latter likely being symbolic of their dominion over the home and household. Though one of the most interesting objects is the rods they are often seen with, an item reminiscent of a well known spirit of the woods, the wildmen.
The gods and goddesses are often hidden as witches and wildmen. Covered in hair and shrouded in leaves and like many depictions of the wildmen they carry a club or stick with magical powers at times. Many of the Frauen such as Frick and Holle carry this wand, but so does Harlequin as well as other mythic figures. Their wild form echoed through into the more civilized form. For the gods often connected the wild with the civilized. Being the bridge between the two. Stewarding both the people and their wild twins. Even after years of Christianization the stories of the gods and goddesses remained. Permeating the folklore and customs of Germany and beyond.
The Frauen Vs. The Church
They have dealt with many setbacks and slanders against their names. Labels of lustful demons, devil queens, evil witches, and much more have followed them around. Yet the people still spoke kindly of them. Even as stories circulated of them gobbling up children or slitting stomachs. Still people recalled the tales of the goddesses and wrote new ones as they went. Over the years the Frauen did not fade quietly, they hurled stones, rewarded the just and punished the wicked and those who besmirched the old ways. While in the countryside away from the claws of the Church, Holle would continue to teach her people. Giving the recipe for Thuringian potato dumplings long after heathen gods such as her were supposed to have faded away. The people still put out the milk for Perchta and her ghost children. They still tended the black dogs of the wild hunt that were left with them. They made up stories to the church to excuse their continuance of the old ways. Such as honoring Frau Gode and taking care of her dog was said to be a curse they must remove instead of a duty they fulfilled. While within many traditions Holle became a witch or bugbear, not the goddess who had tended her people for as long as they could remember. Later tales even had her watch over the slumbering king Barbarossa, guarding him and sending his prophecies to those who need hear them. The tales did not die in fact they thrived, though pyres burned and lies were told the gods and goddesses of Germany and the rest of Europe continued on albeit beleaguered.
Over the years many people sadly forgot the old ways. What the Church had failed to destroy with fire, slander, and slaughter they almost accomplished with urban sprawl and the encroachment and demonization of the culture itself. The hearths, the spinning rooms, the tales of ghost children, the gifts of mother Holle, the dogs of Gode, and the kindness of the Devils Grandmother began to be forgotten. Not because people wanted it too, but because the old ways started becoming consumed by the modern. Though as they always had in the past, they found a way to continue on.
Conclusion: The Frauen Persevere
Just when things began to fall and the stories seemed to be fading, and the victory of the invading religion seemed imminent. They began to reemerge, stories of the wild hunt began to become more and more popular. The Grimm brother’s tale of “Frau Holle” began to be seen more and more as what it is, a story of gods. Krampus began a whole craze of Yuletide monsters to which Perchta and the other Frauen came along for the ride. More and more their stories rose and were preserved and remembered. A statue was put up of Harke in the city of Rathenau, the result of a student competition on folklore. Bit by bit the gods returned, even in places they supposedly had never been, such as North America.
Stories have long been told among the Pennsylvania Dutch, legends of Holle, Perchta, Eckhart, Ewicher Yeager and much more. For it was Mother Holle who was credited with leading the Deitsch nation to America. In the tale “How the Deitsch Nation was Born” after the failure of Iceland as a last refuge for pagans it was to America the gods looked. Holle decided it was best to send the farmers and common folk for they had most kept to the old ways and sending aristocrats and scholars to Iceland had failed miserably. She came to the leaders of the Deitsch nation in their dreams and led them to bring their people to America and found the Pennsylvania Dutch. Her people stewarded to safety from the harsh and oppressive rulers of the time she took her seat upon the Hexenkopf mountain and watched over her people.
Over time the Deitsch nation recalled it’s heathen roots and Urglaawe was born, a sort of tribal tradition with Mother Holle at the center. More and more tales and images and people came forward for these gods of Germany. Bit by bit as the legends spread their people began to return to the old ways, they began to return home.
Slowly but surely the gods and goddesses of Germany return amidst neglect and slander and centuries of faulty scholarship trying to match them up to the gods of Iceland, they are finally beginning to be seen as who they are. It is not only the Frauen, no no, far more gods and mythic figures populate these legends: Harlequin, Dirk, Rübezahl, Heuke, Wode, Else, Eiwcher Yeager, Berchtold, Krampus, Orc, Laurin King of the Dwarves, and much much more. They exist in the enchanted woods and mountains across the landscape, through wells and rabbit holes, in faerie circles and magic castles, atop glass mountains and under mounds of old. They exist among the same forests and fairy tales that we know so well today, those of Snow White, Rose Red, Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood, and Jack the Giant Slayer. Hidden in plain sight for all to see these gods and goddess be. Yet the tales I have told are not the only ones. There are far more tales to be told and songs to be sung. Perhaps we can continue this tale another time…….
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