A Brief Discussion of the Gods

Prologue

It is important to note that the following is a gross oversimplification of my thoughts, research and rationale of these ideas but for the sake of brevity and in an attempt to be concise this will have to do.

By I.M. Knosp

Across every race of man, every tribe and category therein are traditions, spirits, gods and more that all connect to the people. In Europe those who followed these Old Ethnic Ways, were known by many names Ethnikos, Pagans, Heathens, Goodfellows, Witches, Cunning Folk, Fey, Elves, Devil Worshippers among many other names more or less savory in their meaning. These names are all unsuitable, and truly there is and can be no good word for what these various ethnic traditions are, merely one can string together adjectives in an attempt to describe the various collections of customs, beliefs, gods, spirits, and celebrations; to encompass the whole of a people and their beliefs, history and ways in one word could never be done satisfactorily. Though some have tried by compartmentalizing different regions in a bound tradition, as if in a vacuum unable to be accessed or influenced and shared with their neighbors.

Asatru and Rodnovery are some that come to mind, though these are New Age religions and can’t truly be called Ethnic Faith in even the loosest sense of the term, these are not the Goodfellows of the Heath, or the Cunning Folk of the Stone Circles.

So what if anything can be said of Ethnic Faith? A placeholder name as good as any other for the purposes of this discussion one may turn to the gods. But in this respect I must warn people that the gods are in fact not the most important part of ethnic faith, as ludicrous as this may sound. If the veneration of a figure such as Yahweh, Amaterasu, Allah, or Krishna could preclude someone of the Hyperborean (European) tribes from practicing ethnic faith. The first and foremost item of importance within ethnic faith is the people, yet as much as if one was to consume a food that we were not designed to eat, the spiritual traditions and nourishment and yes even the gods are not going to lead to a healthy life. One may leech out the poison, or burn away the bacteria, but one would still find it better to simply eat what one is meant to, nay… born with the ability to eat and enjoy. Yet, because it is one of the most predominant topics of Ethnic Faith I shall discuss the gods from multiple, at first glance conflicting, viewpoints.

Carnac Stones, France

Archetypal

The concept of “Archetypes” is one of the most common, it is often used either to belittle the pagan gods or for atheistic ends. The former of which is misguided and the latter of which is irrelevant. So I shall try to examine this in the way that is most befitting, the most egregious idea of archetypes is that the archetype of say the Trickster is all of the Tricksters. This may be the case in the same way that using the word Boxer to mean a job title or role would include all Boxers but no one would Say Jack Dempsey and Tyson Fury are the same person for both fulfilling the same general occupation in their day to day life. In the same vein the Tricksters of various traditions may all be “Tricksters” but they are not all the same Trickster, even in the same tradition of say the Eddas both Loki and Odin are tricksters, having different roles, goals, and methods. Loki like a Court Jester or Mafia Don expertly plays against expectations, he is honest if misleading promising his head in a bet only to deny it so long as they cannot remove it without taking his neck as well, saving his head and resulting in a massive amount of wealth and treasures for the gods. Odin on the other hand is closer to a leader of street urchins, a magician or a conman. He puts on a false face and shrouds himself in lies, often using any means at his disposal regardless of moral implications to achieve his goals. The death of several giants is but a small obstacle, a simple calculated tossing of a blade and there is a job opening, a false name and false face lands him a job and a romance, his shape-shifting allows him to escape with his prize, the mead of poetry. Which he delivers to the gods but not without first excreting the waste of “Bad Poetry” upon Midgard. Both achieve their goals through Trickster tactics though their execution and methods are vastly different.

On the Left is a depiction of the Slavic figure of Stancyzyk a Jester from Polish history contemplating the ramifications of the current war, while on the left is the Artful Dodger the leader of a band of street urchins from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Then there are other Tricksters such as Manannán Mac Lir or Puck who will act as tricksters both violently at times but more likely than not simply for the purpose of a practical joke. Puck who will run around as a chimney sweep calling “Chimney Sweep! Chimney Sweep!” until someone arrives to hire him then run away giggling like a maniac. While Manannán will disguise himself as a beggar and make boasts such as being able to move one ear up and down while the other stays still, saying this is proof of his great power. When called to perform such a feat Manannán will take his hand and wiggle one ear up and down. If the individual chooses to mock him in this moment he will strike them or someone near them dead, only to resurrect them shortly after. All of these figures are Tricksters from the Celtic and/or Germanic regions of Europe, no one would say these are all the same figures their demeanor, abilities and even their area are different. Even if one were to say as they are all Trickster Archetypes and therefore are all just masks of the Trickster, This is not how Archetypes work. A god inventing writing does not make it the same as any other god of writing, just as Benjamin Franklin and Saint Clement are not the same person for each inventing a script for writing. Africa is exploding in scripts as of late since they’ve been exposed to the variety from across the world, does that make every instance of script invention the result of the same “God or Archetype of Letters”?

Benjamin Franklin invented a Phonetic alphabet for use in America…. It did not take off. Saint Clement is credited with inventing the Cyrillic alphabet.

In the vein of Jungian thought the archetypes are themselves their own individual conceptions. Wotan is a distinct archetype of the Germans and their relatives, an archetype alive within their own collective unconscious or as some call it blood memory or the group spirit. Even if one does not imagine Wotan literally riding across the sky in the Wild Hunt or wearing a golden bear cloak as he delivers visions to hermits before slumbering atop or below his mountains, he lives on in the people; a sort of semi-autonomous being that the people are both masters of and servants to. He is not merely their instinct for War, their wonder at the mysteries of death; he is Wotan! He may rally, he may fight, he may reveal, but he is not simply these things. In the same vein Dionysus among the Hellenic tribes can not be said to simply be a wanderer or a god of insanity; he is Dionysus! Each archetype a living thing caught between the consciousness and soul of every person who birthed them. Removed these archetypes WILL reappear, as long as the race of man they are a part of remains. Apollo will string his lute and shimmer like the sun, Ogma will entrance and sing in the Irish lilt across the effervescent threads that connect all of a certain group together these archetypes will remain and over time new ones may be born or surrogates cultivated in order to fill the hole of loss. The sun god appears in the form of Superman, the Wanderer puts on a long Scarf and a dopey grin becoming The Doctor, the Wild God sheds his fur and leaves donning a hood and bow and Robin Hood steps into view. The first of these two are surrogates, a fictional band-aid given further life and breath through storytelling, the latter of which is an example of a Hero Cult; though this is something we shall discuss another time.

Robin Hood and His Merry Men Entertaining Richard the Lionheart in Sherwood Forest by Daniel Maclise

Literal

Now having spoken of “Archetypes” let us discuss the other most popular conception of the gods. That they are literal.
A magic one eyed man with a spear and Spider Horse will ride down the tree of life to speak to you about the old Germanic alphabet. A giant with a massive appetite, super hot wife, badass bunch of sons, eight foot cock and magic club is going to come out to make sure your field is working great and maybe throw a party and fuck your wife (When you’re not looking). While this may sound as if I am dismissing these ideas or the idea the gods are literally just that, gods. It could not be further from the truth.

I believe in the gods myself, though the stories themselves are a bit more complicated. The gods are their own entities, a sort of extended divine family of the people, related by blood and spirit to the people who venerate them. The gods are not sitting on clouds bored out of their minds working endlessly to accomplish your prayers or wishes. Nor can they be bought, our gods are neither merchants nor servants (Even the gods of Commerce aren’t) to be bribed or employed at our whims. Our gods are a part of us and just as Thor is masculine to a T, complete with both the good and bad, so too do many of us have to find a way to control our tempers as young lads full of piss, vinegar and general “fuck you” attitude. Only Thor has lived a long time and has been through quite a bit, as such he has mastered things we have yet to master, or envies us for our ability to do so (one of the benefits of a mortal existence is a sense of urgency after all) and has also inevitably settled into certain habits and ways of doing things that have gotten a bit out of hand; much as one may imagine an immortal human may. As such the gods on the pages of say the Iliad, The Eddas or the Kalevala are not the gods they are now, while at their core much as ourselves they are still the same, much has happened since these tales were written down.

One need only look to the folklore to see how the gods adapted or were manipulated. Perchta and Harke of Germania for instance were aggressive in their response to the church. Harke used her mighty strength to try to rid her forests of Churches but failing this she abandoned her sacred grove for greener pastures. Perchta meanwhile became much harsher like a mother who has seen her children fall into drugs and depravity, a whiff of Abrahamic ideals is enough for her to bludgeon a man to death. In direct contrast the Church took a very different tactic in other areas. They re-branded some gods as Yahweh (Perun for instance) others as the Devil (Veles) or in the case of Celtic Christianity simply had the gods convert such as the Children of Lir or Oisín or just slapped “Saint” in front of their names. These latter types one can see are rather obvious propaganda, while the former involving the German gods shows the gods never went away but just as our tribes were effected by the coming of the church so too were the gods.

In the insanity that followed they adapted in different ways. Some like Thor, Harke, The Morrigan, Diana, Perchta etc. struck back angry at what had been done to their people. Others attempted to adapt some such as Holle did so fairly well her cult too well entrenched among the Germans she flourished despite Christianity. While others almost vanished or were repurposed as symbols such as Cupid, Fortuna, etc.. Meanwhile new gods were born to fill their holes, either in the case of apotheosis such as Joan of Arc and Paul Bunyan or with a “Birth Cry” a moment of intense emotion and historical significance where simultaneously across the lands a god seems to appear among the people. After the tragedy of the Black Plague, the wars, the disease, the Danse Macabre a period of darkness, pain and confusion followed by the Witch Trials and the murders of millions, a god many will recognize was born. Seemingly across the lands at the same time, once a babe, sometimes a corpse, he was short than he was tall, he was cloaked in rotting flesh and then a black cloak; his name is Tod, though you may know him as The Grim Reaper.

In the same vein across the pond centuries later Columbia was born among the newly made Americans, mother goddess and rebellious war goddess, an American Freya and Athena. Born in the joys, hopes, dreams, and ideals of everyone who built the nation she protected; introducing herself in visions to Washington and in pleas to her children.

So the gods are certainly real to me. Perhaps Thor has swapped his armor for some flannel or maybe Frigg found she loved the Southern Sundress, perhaps Perun is dressed in modern military gear, and Apollo is dressed in the casual dress of a Grecian playboy. The gods do change over time but they change like we do. I grew a beard, got taller, put on muscle mass, shaved my head and stopped giving a fuck in comparison to the rather nicer and more timid me I was in my awkward years. I changed but the old me no longer exists, this is not a mask over my childhood or adolescent self, it is merely me as I changed over time.

So the legends, myths, tales we tell may be real but the gods in them are most certainly not the same now as they were then. Too much has happened, too much has changed, just like us they too evolve, adapt and fight upstream. They are not all powerful like Yahweh is described, though in truth I doubt that Yahweh is that strong and if the Christian God is as powerful and horrid as their book describes him, than that makes our gods that much more worthy of veneration; because they fight a seemingly unwinnable war because it is the right thing to do.

I guess an analogy may be found in the earlier reference to Superheroes but only if one were to say that Superman never helped unless it was a threat that required his attention. The gods are not above getting directly involved, though it is not as simple as walking to us, just as we do not easily pass to their realm, they at least in physical form can not do so as easily to ours.
Hence the need to whisper to the bards and to confer in our dreams.

The gods may become something else entirely, though Odin would still be Odin if say Santa Claus was Odin, which I honestly doubt given Santa’s Celto-German origins. Just the Odin who walks around in a blue cloak, with flowing red or grey beard, one eye, and a spear has long since grown his eye back, gone fully white, gotten over both his ego and his selfishness, devoting himself to making toys for all the good girls and boys, through his diet of milk and cookies he put on quite a gut, though with that heavy sack he carries around he has the traps of a strongman. He long since got rid of his blue travelers cloak and decided Red Velvet and White Fur Trim was ideal for the North Pole Winters and Sleipneir well poor thing just wasn’t cutting it so he traded him in for a bunch of Reindeer. Odin of the Edda’s becomes but a shed cicada shell. If Odin is Santa Claus, then Santa-Odin is the true Odin; the old Odin was some midlife crisis or something. Separated by hundreds of years one can see how someone could change that much but the one eyed wizard would be gone then, just a memory we recall. So I guess it’s a good thing for the One Eyed Wizard Fans that Odin isn’t Santa Claus then eh? Though this brings me to the most prolific use of the gods today and one that is important to bring up.

Symbolic

Gods are just symbols right? I mean Athena is just thought, same with Odin and Mercury, Tyr and Mars are just War! They symbolize these things….. yes, yes they do but those who speak this way are confusing the use of the gods in a symbolic manner with the gods themselves. For instance there are many different tales as to how the world was made in the various mythologies. Instead of arguing which would be right or not let us go with the assumption that the reason for variation is these myths of creation were more about trying to convey the idea of how the world may have been formed. Sometimes it involves the creation of Life in Chaos which Life requires the divine masculine and feminine, so in doing so a male god and a female god are cast in these roles. Then to further that it is not only the male and female but the connection and draw between the two the “Love” one could say that generates life, well then we need a love god.

If you are unaware of what I am referring to this is one of the origin of the world myths from the Greeks I encourage you to look into it, more than likely it will involve the “Birth of Eros” a god who is also the son of a goddess who isn’t born yet… so genealogies of gods are mostly symbolic. While I do not doubt that the “older” gods may indeed be older to their respective areas they may in fact be very new to an area just to the west, then as needs and hierarchies shift gods shift in their importance. Venus was of immense importance to the Romans and many of their great emperors traced their lineage to her. As such she was given quite a bit of attention and honor, especially given her part in the later genealogies of Romulus and Remus via Aeneas her son; not bad for a goddess of Vegetation that got fused with Aphrodite in the literary tradition.

In effect what I am describing is just because a god is related to a certain function and is symbolized as such does not mean it is literally the thing itself. Nemetona goddess of sacred places for the Gauls was not herself the sacred places, Helios may represent the sun in myths but he is not himself the Sun, Ares may fight in war but he is not himself War, Themis may carry out Justice but she herself is not justice. Inevitably especially in the upper classes who are far removed from the day to day functions that the gods are involved in, a literary tradition is begun, removed from the folklore just as most American elites would scoff at Paul Bunyan or Johnny Appleseed as anything other than a rural joke, and know next to none of their stories, so too would the Greek gods become less and less prominent in the minds of the elites of the time being rendered down to their symbolic function. Save perhaps their patron deity, though this is doubtful.

This is not to say these figures are not of some use as symbols, many an allegory has been painted using the gods as symbols. In the broader sense of the gods in this function they go from being archetypes or beings of great renown adored by the people to stock characters with little difference in literature to the use of literal personifications or the superhero pantheons of DC and Marvel. Yet there is something of note to say here as well, even if one were to render the gods down to stock characters; symbols to be used by a talented or not so talented author to create songs, epics, novels, short stories, film and radio plays. This is where the storytelling tradition comes into play.

Napoleon I, Crowned by the Allegory of Time, writes the Code Civil by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse 1833

Among the Hyperborean tribes each group has a slightly different storytelling style, even in America one can see the yarns and whoppers spun around the fire, the tall tales that spread like the plague, a mix of humor and wonder in every tale of this American Fairyland. Yet one can see the interconnectedness of the various tribes of the Hyperborean (European/White) race. There is a way we tell a story regardless of media and we are furious when it is done poorly. Again I must rely on fictional characters but it is rather blatant. The abuse that many fictional franchises from Star Wars and Doctor Who to Marvel Comics and Fantasy Books have suffered is inexcusable to our people. But one can see the immediate reason for it, if one knows the storytelling style of the various races to some extent. Among Europeans our gods are flawed, they are very “Human”. Just as Superman is also Clark Kent, he is vulnerable with the woman he loves, he loses his temper, he loses… and even dies. In the same vein figures like Thor have done the same. He is vulnerable with Sif, playful with Tyr and Loki, loving with his sons, he loses his temper, he loses and even dies. Yet we still venerate him regardless. We do not demand perfection. Only that you tried your best. An honorable death is still heralded not scorned. Failure can be learned from and forgiven. There are lessons in these stories, literal, archetypal or symbolic. Our gods are like us they are very human, and very extreme, for we are a people of extremes.

Yet in most other traditions the gods and heroes are near perfect. The hero or heroine is what would be scorned in the Hyperborean storytelling tradition as a Mary Sue or Gary Stu. Look to gods and heroes such as Krishna, Amaterasu, Mwindo, Yahweh or Quetzalcoatl, they are perfect for all intents and purposes, even if they mess up it is for the best in the long run. There are no real lessons only an idealized power fantasy, or perfect being to adore, at least from our perspective this makes neither a good myth or a good story. It would be a movie that would have to rely on their diversity for success, a book that would have to tout its transgender author to avoid the inevitable crushing criticism levied at it and that is keeping in mind these stories are often written down and translated by people of European descent, so they are already partially filtered from the original just because we can’t help ourselves, we have to “Jazz it up a bit”.

Wonder Woman is not Wonder Woman when she is written as a perfect female who chastises men for being men and is more about Feminism than Women embracing their inner warrior. Wonder Woman wouldn’t have an essay long speech on the evils of manspreading and mansplaining. Wonder Woman is flawed, she makes sacrifices, she fails and she loves and loses! Now taking that same genre we can look at America Chavez who is perfect in every way designed by a Latina author she is incredibly powerful and can do no wrong, a Mary Sue with a political goal. A talking post with less personality than a cockroach in your sink. Even if Wonder Woman or heck Poseidon was used as a mere symbol could it be executed correctly? Would it still be Poseidon or Wonder Woman in the hands of someone with a complete spiritual and cultural disconnect to the traditions and people that birthed them? Is Poseidon still the Sea to the Japanese? Even if they chose to place him as god of the Sea in their tradition would he simply be a poor facsimile of their own god and story telling tradition with foreign imagery and titles? In the same case a talking post with Wonder Woman’s visage is just that a talking post; not the character or what she symbolizes.

Two classical depictions of Poseidon on the left, two Japanese depictions of Poseidon on the right both of which interestingly serve as villains in their respective Japanese stories

Apotheosis, Ancestry and Incarnation

When I say the gods are family and tied to us directly, I am not being poetic or hyperbolic. From the birth of our race the gods gave us the gifts to become what we are. Whether born of trees or sprouted out of the ground like flowers or were born from bears and beasts of the Northwoods, whatever the specific tradition of Hyperborea the gods nurtured us. They may not have made us literally but they made our spirit, our souls. One could go off in a certain direction and tie it to siphonophores and various other connections, but safe to say that would be overkill and sticking more or less to the lore would be pertinent. Which gods did this, who knows? In the oldest tales it wasn’t just a first man and a first woman but whole groups, tribes, something that was echoed in the last century with Tolkien’s works and the birth of the races of elves and dwarves, who were born in groups almost as if blood memory sang to him. I could go on about bears and Neanderthals, adaptations and biology but this is already rather long and they deserve their own article.

Angsalvor by Nils Blommer 1850 elves

By nurturing us whatever ancient gods these were whether they were born from us or chose us, we are theirs and they are ours. There are ancient gods, gods that it is hard to tell how old they may be; Tyr, The Morrigan, Cernunnos, The Eternal Hunter and the Bear Mother to name a few so old their very names and imagery stir the blood and touch the frequency of the soul. From here the gods also rose from us and bred with us, the beautiful thing is we have no idea which were born of us and which were born gods. How could we?

Over time the oral tradition would place those who underwent Apotheosis like Aesculapius, Sviatoslav, Joan of Arc and Washington in the same category as the ancient ones. Many peoples traced their lineages to the gods; Hengist and Horsa of the Saxons traced themselves to Woden, the broader Saxon tribe traced themselves to Saxnot, the Marauders found their origins in The Morrigan, the Arcadians had Callisto and Zeus, the Bernese their Bear Goddess (Artio or Urschel), the list goes on and on so it becomes a bit superfluous to name all the people who considered themselves descended of the gods. Essentially every god had at least one tribe that claimed descent from them, the Spartans had Heracles, even Hesperus a virtually forgotten god had tribes devoted to him and spawned from him. Sometimes one among us is truly great and we call these figures demigods. Often they will go on to enter legend and go through apotheosis from being human, other times through odd happenings a god can find itself a mortal once more in myth such as Orpheus or Achilles, who became mortals in average Greek myth. In honesty this is why the people are the most important part of ethnic faith. Gods? Spirits? Heroes? Ancestors? Frank from Next Door? All on the same playing field more or less. A god could be a spirit or a hero in one area and the Chief God in another, these natural varieties and complications only grew to further extremes after Christianity. But it is easy enough to decipher if we take the time to do so.

The gods also incarnate taking human form, either being reincarnated themselves with no memories (a new round on the Mortal realm). While others will simply possess animals like The Morrigan with Wolves or Veles with Bears. As a result it is not only the blood connection and therefore spiritual connection that is required for ethnic faith.

If one were to say… be half German and half Vietnamese, one would neither be truly Oriental nor truly Hyperborean, they would be a Chimera of two races of man. Incomplete and accepted by neither.
One could picture it as a bridge, if you are all of one race your bridge is full but once you are that disconnected you have two (or more) bridges each missing at least half their pieces and the half is random. So the bridge may be hard to cross or even impossible. Then if you can make it to the other side would the gods even accept you? And this is for the poor souls who are chimeras, those who are not are searching for a bridge they do not have by looking to foreign gods. Leading to the first two ways of looking at the gods archetypal and literal to fall away. The gods would not reach out to someone they have no connection too or even pay attention to them if they tried. The archetype does not live within their collective unconscious, hence they resort to symbolism, and still they do so in a mindset foreign from the nature of the people who the god belongs.

A lesser version of this happens when someone with non Germanic Blood say… Greco-Slavic from the Balkans would try to reach say… Holda; while she may not be rude its kind of like knocking on someone’s grandmas door with no warning, no explanation and then with how most modern pagans behave, begging for stuff. The same would work in reverse as well say someone with no Slavic heritage tries to reach out to Perun, it’s not going anywhere but awkwardville.

Closing Statements

So are the gods Literal? Symbolic? Archetypal? Historical? The answer is yes, to all of them. The gods do not need to be fictional to be archetypal or symbolic, and vice versa. The gods live within us, around us, in other realms. Where they do not live… is in the pages of a book! Historical figures that ascended to godhood did so by making an impact so even if their soul is what became the spirit of a god as if they and us are “Baby Gods”!

Yet their legends also made their way into the collective minds of people the likes of Washington, Napoleon, Joan of Arc, are just as imprinted within the Group Spirit as the Old gods and Heroes of myth. For those whose myths and names that have faded or vanished they still call to us, as we tell stories we recall them giving them shape and form and purpose. The gods live because we live! Just as we become but ghosts turning into shadows if all we are is names in a book, we too long to be part of legends and myth, so we boast and tell our stories, and we continue to tell theirs, whether as great heroes or perhaps putting Thor or Paul Bunyan in a dress to get those half in the bag laughing like crazy before the fiddle comes out untuned to end the night in a soulful serenade. The gods live, we live, and our story is not done being told.

Witches, What Really Were the Witch Cults?

By I.M. Knosp

Upon the mountain top they ride, brooms and bed knobs, oven scrapers and sorghum, fennel stalks and horny beasts. Gathering round a dark clad god with hands bloodstained they reach before the flame. Their eyes engulfed in splendor, their bodies rife with pleasure, their senses overflowing in ecstatic experience, wild haired their feet dancing, their bodies bared before the scarlet moon. Demons and devils cavorting around them, werewolves growling and tearing at flesh as shadowy shapes around them coalesce into packs of wild beasts charging, snapping, biting, the battle begins. The shrill calls crying out, roaring, writhing, fearful, bloody ecstasy… The witch is present and then… the witch wakes and life carries on.

There are many legends, rumors, tales, and stories filled with horror told of the witches of yore. Images flood the imagination of their clawed hands, iron teeth, pointed nose, faces covered in warts, while they cackle with laughter as they chant of “bubble, bubble, toil and trouble!”. Yet beneath all the macabre and eldritch tales, there is something far kinder, far harsher, and far more important than we might think. This is the tale not of the Witch Hunts, of the atrocities committed over centuries of pain and persecution. Instead, this is the core of the tale found hiding beneath the veneer developed over the millennia. Less chicken blood more bandages, less sigils more signs, less cannibalism more potluck, less malevolence more self-preservation. To tell such a tale we must begin with the well-known witch flying upon her broom soaked in baby’s fat with a hat full of dark spells and gruesome ingredients. For a story is a living breathing thing, as are traditions associated with it. So, we begin with the horrors and wonders of the Devils bloody contract the Witches Sabbath, then perhaps our story can truly begin.

The Sabbath

The Witches Sabbath of the medieval imagination was said to be a horrid demonic affair involving witches flying across the sky to join their dark god so they might engage in spells most foul, orgies, and of course human sacrifice. On days such as Walpurgisnacht, Yule, All Hallows Eve, The Ember Days, or any other regional day or period of note. The populace would be wary of witches and their flying to the sabbath lest a man be ridden to the Sabbath in place of the broom or other utensil the Witch typically favored. The children wary so as the witch would not capture them to then carry them off to be disemboweled, consumed, or dismembered for use in any number of spells.

Once at the Sabbath the witches would dance around a fire changing shape, while enjoying the company of the many devils lost in life’s most carnal pleasures. They were imagined sacrificing humans to their dark disfigured god, conjuring up illnesses and storms declaring their wicked deeds in the devils’ name or be woefully punished should they fail to successfully commit these atrocities and more in his name. The witches were then thought to plot against the Church trampling the cross and the sacred host. When their evil machinations were complete only then would they fly home. Whether in the form of a human, animal, smoke, or another shape they would ravage across the land consuming food, bewitching people, drinking all of the wine, beer or any other drink that had been left to ferment. They would then piss and shit in the vats so that the wine and food would seem as if it had been untouched, causing it to sour, returning home only just before the day broke their good Christian family and neighbors none the wiser. This is the story that had been told for centuries, but it is a lie! A dark figure of atrocity propaganda, a useful scapegoat, a tool of conversion and fear the Church was all too happy to use against the populace. However, that is not the tale I wish to tell, I wish to speak of a tale much older. I wish to speak of the men and women now known as witches and the story too often left untold. A tale of pain, sacrifice, tradition, lies, peril, resistance, hope, betrayal, magic, mystery, and family.

Lightning Strikes a Flock of Witches by William Holbrook Beard

What is a Witch?

The Witch was not a single role, nor did they have a singular purpose. The infernal Sabbath has been part of the common consciousness for centuries now, yet deep in the records we find what it was, disappointingly humdrum to most. The average meeting of Witches commonly known as the “Witches Sabbath” was more akin to a backyard barbecue or potluck then any demonic orgy. Most witches were tucked away in villages, the more isolated the village the less the traditions had been subsumed by the invading Church. The Witch had many names and duties, each role not necessarily performing the duties of another. Some called them Wicca, Chresnichi, Zduhac, Negromanat, Kresniki, Táltos, Werewolf, Hag, Knower, Wisewoman, Enchantress, Wizard, Azti, or Shapeshifter. They were known as Charmer, Herbalist, Crone, Ragana, Galdranorn, Völva, Masca, Bruja, Twister, Spinner, Benandanti, Trollgumma, Helrune, Hexe, Hagedisse, Wykke, Magjistare, and many many more names of both the men and the women we now call witches whose various purposes and forms were eventually conflated with entirely different beings and groups as over time traditions and beliefs melded with those of the Church.

Tucked into these small rural villages many people kept their traditions. The men kept their hunting traditions, telling tales while walking through the woods communing with their gods of the forest or during the thick of war, upon sailing ships and while on perilous journeys. The women met their gods at the well, and honoring them at the hearth, they also saw their gods in the garden, in the meadows, in the glittering forest canopy, in some cases they “made love” to them as did the menfolk. Each had their own role. This continued century after century influenced and occasionally suffering at the hands of the New Religion.

In these traditions the gods were but one part of a massive tapestry of beliefs and figures within the world. Each moment and action carried with it significance. A hunt was not just a hunt, farming was not just farming, magic was all around them, purpose and meaning in nearly all they did. One of the broadest and most immediate forces that people would interact with was that of the dead. Ancestors did not simply fade in death, they interacted as house spirits, the Wandering Mothers, or flying across the sky with the Furious Host spending time with their descendants in dreams of the lands beyond this life.

These ancestral specters would not simply appear as ghosts or revenants they would become spirits at times even ascending to a place of godhood. While everyone could interact with their ancestors and the spirits of the dead in some form or tradition. There were people whose role was far more active than others. These individuals were often born with a sign, a caul over their head or born with teeth, feet first with the mother dying in childbirth, or perhaps even born with a tail? Whatever the sign the people knew what it meant, a witch had been born. Their abilities not by choice, they were born with it much as one might be born with a coat of fur or two different colored eyes, this power an intrinsic piece of them whether they wanted it or not. They may choose to reject it, to not accept the role, yet it was not so easy to deny a part of themselves as some of them may have wished. Others though relished their role, exclaiming loudly of their abilities or status. Such was the case of the Benandanti the remnant of a fertility cult that existed well into the 17th century in the Friuli region of Italy.

The Spirit Battles

The Benandanti were an interesting group of Witches in the sense they did not consider themselves Witches, but rather dutiful Christians bound from birth to their role as defenders of fertility and enemies of witches. They would discover malevolent “witches” and cure illnesses, they told fortunes, and spoke to the souls of the dead for those who wished to hear. They also traveled in spirit during the Ember Days, escaping their body in a form of catalepsy, a vulnerable near-death state, they would send their soul flying forth until arriving at “The Valley of Josaphat” a meadow where they would do battle with what they termed “Witches”. The Benandanti armed with fennel stalks while the witch’s used sorghum. If the Benandanti were victorious they would secure a bountiful harvest for the coming year but if they lost famine would occur.

In “The Valley of Josaphat” the Benandanti would not only fight “witches” they also encountered their gods or as many thought of them “Angels”. These figures as well as their very human commanders in these “Night Battles” would call their souls forth from their body to war with witches, at times the commander banged a drum to call them forth, whereas the Golden Angels and Godly beings merely called the soul from the body. These Benandanti that were involved in the Night Battles were almost always male, though many females also took part. The Women on the other hand often spoke of a procession of spirits led by a goddess, and some would tell of meeting “The Abbess” at a well when they traveled in spirit.

Similar traditions spread across Europe where whether in the Night Battles of Diana, The Wild Hunt led by Wotan, Harke, Harlequin, Berchtold or any other mythic figure. The spirits of the Witch, of the dead and of divine beings would battle and or revel. Many women would speak of the goddess they would meet in spirit whether this deity was Fraw Selga, Perchta, Habonde, Venus, Diana, Holda, or any number of deities. These deities often had retinues of spirits with them both those of the dead and those of the land. So the Benandanti were by no means an isolated group, nor did they escape the treatment from the Church that other pagan remnants felt.

It is unclear if the Benandanti truly believed they were following the Christian religion or if they merely encouraged the idea to avoid persecution. As the Benandanti slowly lost the faith of the people who thought of them as nothing but witches and trouble makers, the Church began to piece together enough of the Benandanti’s belief to mark them as devil worshipers and witches, claiming to be Christian would do nothing for them. The idea of a Christian witch, especially one so similar to the diabolical one the Church and the people spoke of, was an untenable position. Had the Benandanti been discovered centuries before they were, such as if they had been discovered prior to the 16th century they likely would’ve been executed enmasse. However, the fervor of witch hunts had largely died down around that time and the populations had become rightfully suspicious of how the supposed confessions were obtained. Due to this the Church did not really bother to pursue the Benandanti unless asked or one happened to fall into their lap. Eventually any difference between the supposedly “Christian” Benandanti and the Witches they fought faded from the common consciousness. The gatherings both in person and in spirit of the Benandanti became known as little more than a Witches Sabbath as diabolic as any other, and treated as such by the Church authorities.

In the traditions of the Benandanti we find not only the remnants of a pagan cult, but also the tendency of the populace after centuries of Church rule to try to make sense of the remnant pagan customs in the framework the Church gave them. Gods became angels and demons, and spirits became devils, witches and monsters. These night battles were by no means isolated, similar traditions appear in the Caucuses and the Balkans, around the Baltic Sea and in the British Isles, some form of the tradition and legend remained all across the land. Some more spiritual such as the Benandanti and Livonian Werewolves, others were more physical. For instance, the fights between different bands of Krampus in the Alps or the battles between the Ugly and Pretty Perchten.

Spirits of the Dead

While the Krampus and the Perchten battles are performed in person while dressed in Wilder Mann costumes they are no less spiritual in nature. Both the Krampus and the Perchten are spirits of fertility and of the land, the Perchten are of special note in fact. As the Perchten were once the souls of lost children who went to Perchta, the ones who chose not to reincarnate but instead became Perchten. Taking the form of beautiful glittering beings, hairy horned wild men, bird headed women or a number of other forms in service to the goddess. Yet as we see the tradition of these spirit battles was not of Good Witch Vs. Bad Witch. In the legends of the witches especially in the case of the Benandanti are seen a conflation between the witches and the spirits of the dead. Just as the Night Battles and flight of witches was most active around holidays and seasonal change, so too were the souls of the dead. Inside the traditions that call back to these ancestral spirits we find yet another tradition that of the leaving of food for the dead. An action recalled in traditions like Trick or Treating for Halloween or leaving cookies out for Santa in the modern day.

This “Food of the Dead” calls back to older tales of feasts left out for the dead, the Porridge left out for the Nisse in Sweden, or the Milk left out for Perchta and her Ghost Children. The Food was not eaten physically but in spirit by the ravenous appetites of the visiting dead, then the physical meal would be consumed after a certain amount of time by the living family. Legends tell of The Mothers, and White Ladies, among many other spirits, visiting the family around the time of certain holidays or the birth of a child.

In parts of Germany other folk traditions as well include the leaving out of food for the “Good Women” whenever a new babe was born, the family also would leave out spinning materials for the “Good Women” to spin a good fate for the newborn.

I have spoken of how the Witches were described as flying across the sky consuming milk, food, and alcohol yet the food would not shift at all though it may sour. Many of the supposedly malevolent tales of the Witches and their hi-jinks are taken from the beliefs surrounding the spirits of the dead, then twisted to suit a more malevolent purpose. The dead even remain relevant in modern customs such as ghosts abounding during Halloween and The Christmas “Elves” are a call back to ancestral spirits who would leave blessings and gifts while with the Wild Hunt or Furious Hosts. These times where the dead are most active also coincide with the time when the Earth is entering Winter, and fertility as a result is fading. Over time the spirits became conflated with the taking of fertility, yet the fights between the witches of rival villages or the living witches and the ghosts are also present across Europe.

The Myth of the Werewolf by Lorenzo de La Rocha 1895

A tale of Livonian Werewolves echoes these stories, with the famous tale of Old Thiess a Werewolf who claimed that he and others change into werewolves armed with iron whips to chase the devils and sorcerers into the entrance of the underworld or “Hell” by “the edge of the sea” in order to reclaim the crop for next year. In parts of the Balkans and Caucasus a more blatant battle between Witches from different areas takes place as they shape shift into beasts to engage in spiritual battle cheered from the sidelines by their respective lands.

Engaging in aerial combat having taken the shapes of wolves, bears, horses, and more they tear and gnash at each other. Other tales have various Witches, and their allies fly to the land of the dead or a meadow where the dead reside, though some versions of this tale call these ancestral spirits “Devils”. As the traditions of the Old Ethnic Ways mingled with the Churches decrees and beliefs, the souls of the dead were something the Church didn’t truly know how to classify. Sometimes they would be devils, others malevolent spirits, the church would then shove that lore into that of witches while the aspects the church could sanction were handed off to Saints and Guardian Angels as proof of their benevolence and protection.

As a result, the lore of the Witch and the lore of the dead inevitability became further and further conjoined as time went on. But it was in the legends of the living and their celebrations that other parts of the Witch find their origin.

What Really Were the Witch Cults?

Across Europe during the Middle Ages and beyond there was tell of “Witch Cults” said to venerate the devil and commit unspeakable atrocities. They would meet in forest clearings and atop mountains such as the famous Brocken in Germany. They would join together for the Sabbath or for the Esbat. The latter of which was far more akin to a business meeting, while the Sabbaths served a celebratory and religious purpose. Like the “Good Christians” these Witch Cults would collect themselves typically outside, weather permitting, and celebrate especially around Holidays. They would dance and feast, often bringing foods and enjoying a country get-together. These gatherings were typically led by a male head known as “The Devil” though occasionally a female might lead as well taking titles such as “The Queen of Elphame”. Though it is implied that in each case there were multiple figures who fulfilled this role, in many cases the Cults would hold meetings where “The Devil” would be at the head of the table and he would also have “The Devil’s Maiden” or some derivation of such a title, which served as matriarch to his role as patriarch. The Church records describe these figures as devils and demons that the Witches would venerate with circle dances, festivities, picnics, feasts, and many other traditions. When one looks at the names the “witches” themselves would use for their god it becomes a bit more obvious as to the origin of these “Witch Cults”.

Names such as Robin Goodfellow (The Faerie Puck), Robin Artisson (A Bear God), Janicot (A Wild God of the Basque), Hou (A Breton God), Holda (German Goddess); make it rather obvious that these so-called Witch Cults were remnants of the Ethnic Faiths Christianity had attempted to stamp out. To this cause the Church gladly attributed the title of Witch to those who performed traditions and rituals they considered heretical.

It is more than likely that most of the members of the “Witch Cults” were just average people who had by chance or by stubbornness kept to the Old Ways. Not Witches, just Bob the Baker, or Anna the Seamstress. It is not that Witches were not a part of these cults merely that they were not the entirety of them. It was these average people as well as the witches that got swept up in the Churches Witch Hunts under the delusion of pious action as well as righteous indignation. The inquisitors in their black clothes would sweep in and find those who had been accused of being witches and for most of their history were more than happy to commit atrocities to get the confession they believed would save the soul of the wretched witch. The Inquisitors often imprisoning their prisoners for over a year, only taking them out to torture and question them. These Inquisitors and Witch Hunters seem to have truly believed they were combating the devil, often outsourcing the torturing to professionals. Whether Devil or Wotan, Demon or Holda, or even Angels and Mary if witchcraft was suspected you were never safe. The Witch Finders would check in and over time, the fear and pain would drive women and men alike to confess.

In some cases, stating they would confess to whatever the inquisitor wished them to, even offering to merely repeat a previous Witches confession. Left hanging and in unbearable pain from their shoulders, whipped, prodded, needles poked into their genitalia, occasionally even raped by people who saw the women or men they held prisoner as nothing more than devil worshipers who bewitched and betrayed their neighbors, deserving of any suffering visited upon them.

As small bits of Witch lore combined with lore of Christianity’s older enemies, the folklore began to spread and bits of what a “Witch” was supposed to be, would trickle down to those accused. The prison guard or executioner may even feed them what they should say, eventually the accused would either confess or die as it was believed the witch would be protected from the pain and be unable to confess until the Devils hold over her was removed.

In cases such as that of Magdalena Bollman in 1747, who never confessed. She was tortured on the rack and on the block. Thumbscrews were put to her, and her genitals were pierced through with needles. The fact that her genitals were then found to be swollen was taken as proof that she had laid with the devil. When placed before the court in an unresponsive catatonic state she was decreed to be protected by the Devil. At which time they then continued her torture, tying a rope around her arms and pulling her down the stairs. She was later found dead in her cell from her injuries.

Yet this writing is not about the inquisitors, nor their atrocities. It is about the people whose very existence was considered a sin, an affront to the church. However, to understand the Witch Cult requires understanding the culture of the time, when a potluck and live music with a bonfire for light could be declared a Witches Sabbath if it strayed too far from what the Church decided acceptable. To acknowledge that when they didn’t get the desired answer, the church then commonly resorted to torture until the desired answer was received is important. As many of the confessions Witches told of their cults had to go through the Church first, who in many cases wouldn’t accept the answer they found to be incorrect. Another god could not be it must be the devil and his demons!

The Witches and pagans were not the only ones to feel the Churches close minded brutality. Before the true hysteria of the Witch Hunts took off, there were similar mass panics regarding Lepers, Jews, and Heretics. At the same time as Catholicism was finding its footing, other sects abounded and were subsequently squashed. Long after it had begun its first crusades in Europe, Catholicism then turned its attention to the small sects who had ended up combining the old and the new. Some heretical sects in the Alps even began honoring Lucifer as God of the Earth to Yahweh’s god of the sky, viewing them as brothers. It seems most likely this was a result of conflation of the church with pagan myth, or an attempt for the folklore to make sense of what was lacking in Christian lore.

The atrocity propaganda against all three, mimics much of the more nonsensical and demonic accusations against the witches, such as profaning the host and cross, worshiping a donkeys’ ass, cannibalism, and dark masses to the devil, as well as mass poisonings and plots. As such much of what the Church thought about these earlier threats it then attributed to the Witches centuries later. Most obviously in the names chosen for their get together, that of the “Sabbath” and of the Witches meeting places “Synagogues”.

In the Witch Cult, the complete inversion and perversion of the Christian faith was seemingly discovered. They supposedly swore allegiance to the devil, took unholy communion, were baptized in blood, and seemed to toss away any Christian morals, they were even renamed old names of gods such as Anna, Ellen, or any number of names cleverly disguised beneath innocuous names the Church had gladly declared identical to those of biblical figures or of Christian origin. Such a thing had to be stopped. The new converts to the “witch religion” from Christianity likely required some kind of initiation and swearing against the Christian god and Jesus who some members of the various ‘cults’ would call “That Cursed Prophet”. This was likely done as a sign they had truly left the religion, as far more women than men seem to have been converted back to the old traditions, it stands to reason that this was done largely as a means of marriage. As the men of the old religion found themselves requiring a wife the women they would court would then convert, these handsome gentleman callers would become “the devil” to the Witch when later confronted by representatives of the clergy. As such much of the “Sex with the devil” as described, was likely a result of conflating ones’ husband or wife with the devil, in addition to a bit of ‘fun’ in the woods around the holidays helped along with some alcohol and passion.

The Witch was also said to carry a mark on her body as a sign of her allegiance to this devil. Some of these were similar to warts or extra nipples, the Christian legend would claim these marks to be teats with which the witch fed her familiars or spirit helpers. Some women were so worried about having such a mark they would seek out executioners and other figures to check that a mole, wart or third nipple wouldn’t get them burned as a witch.

At the same time greedy or spiteful neighbors were all too happy to at times to send their fellow man down the river. In some areas during the witch trials the Witch would be looked over while naked by members of the same sex. Often times around the genitals, if “long strange nipples” were found they were then proclaimed as proof the accused were witches. Much of this was likely internal politics of the village taking hold and certain people paying with their lives.

Though there is some truth to the “Witches Mark” as members of the “Witch Cults” would often be marked through the use of tattoos or scarification to indicate their membership. Often the mark was so small that it could be easy to miss, located in places such as the upper thigh, foot, or another easily concealed area. In later periods the “witches” would often show up to the physical gatherings disguised as animals, wearing hoods, or both. This was in order to protect their identity as if the Church were to find them they would be tortured for names.

Records indicate more women than men ended up giving up others, as most men would choose death or execution over being caught or giving up their people. Similar in many ways to the current habit of men to go down fighting when confronted by the law rather than be arrested.

Whoever led the ceremonies and celebrations often wore the garb of an animal such as a bear or goat skin, often embodying the god or totem animal of the individual or people. The costume seems to have not always been worn by a single person, though individuals who more befit the witch role were often described using it or “in animal form”. As well as residing on the edge of the town; a common trope of Witches and Wizards in folklore and legends, these costumed figures often played fiddle or bagpipes at the celebrations, much as mummers or carnival goers may in the modern day. The role of the Witch was still as it had always been, a mediator of spirits, a seer, a spirit guide, a healer, and an herbalist. Yet just as with the Benandanti centuries later the Witch Cults in the Middle Ages began to be attacked by the common people as well, husband against wife, parent against child, neighbor against neighbor.

A Player with a Hermit by Moritz von Schwind 1846

Over time the churches view permeated society, and the Witches became blamed for everything wrong in the world. Famine, illness, barren women, bad luck, even erectile dysfunction, and spoiled milk. A total inversion of their old role as helpers and servants of the people. After plagues, famines, wars, and corruption became rampant the Witch became a boogeyman. They became an easy scapegoat despite a huge swath of the population keeping old traditions around in new forms. The pagans, witches and unlucky individuals caught in the crossfire were common victims for the angst and ire of people. Many may try to blame ergot poisoning, but drugs have never been needed to stir up a mass panic or delusion, people are good enough at doing that themselves, and the mob has never been known to be reasonable.

The True Witch

Yet behind such things there still exists the true witch. Not conflated with the dead, heretical atrocity propaganda, biblical lore or festive farmers who kept the old ways alive. A role of self-sacrifice and service to ones people, an often thankless position as people became scared or irked by the powers they supposedly possess. Many would exist on the fringe of society or travel, such as the Völva, who predominately served as seers and advisors. They would often hold a distaff or staff with distaff qualities and many tales recall them as “Sitting Out” a method of divination where one goes out into the wilds and sits, not eating or drinking until exposure causes a different state of consciousness. They are then said to be able to commune or peer through the veil or to the Web of Wyrd to receive their visions. Their ability was so renowned that gods such as Odin would even seek certain ones out to ask for aid.

Odin & The Volva by Lorenz Frolich 1895

Yet their role was often thankless, and it was dangerous as well. Traveling across the frigid unforgiving north, their gift often requiring them to put themselves in even further danger such as sitting out or going into an ecstatic state of near death, which left them open to being killed by simply being rolled over and their soul unable to return via the mouth.

Other witches would serve as herbalists or midwives, not bothering with magic so much as apothecary and medicine. Nicknames of plants like Eye of Newt (Mustard Seed), Bat’s Wing (Holly Leaves), Bear’s Foot (Lady’s Mantle), or Beard of Monk (Chicory) contributed to the common idea of the Witches cauldron full of magical animal parts. What was once used to make medicine became the bubbling Witches cauldron full of poisons and wicked potions in the imagination of the common folk.

Yet the story of the witch has so much more to discuss brooms, hats, trios, baby fat potions, black candles, familiars? What of them?! The Witches Broom? Quite likely a distaff, staff or perhaps simply a broom for cleaning. The hat? Perhaps it was the hat of an alewife or a traveler’s hat, maybe even a fashion statement of a specific time and place. The Three Witches so common in depictions? The Good women often appear in threes. Solution of baby fat? Salves and unguents for healing or with which the inexperience or ungifted may enter ecstatic states, these salves largely made using animal fat or lamp oil and ingredients that in lesser hands would potentially be a fatal poison such as aconite.

Then what of Black Candles? Celebratory lights for fertility celebrations. But the cats and familiars you ask? Spirit animals and misidentified farm fauna, or more likely the Witches pet. All of these things are window dressing, extra, small bits of the legend and role of the witch that has become prominent through successive retellings and the fantastical visions of authors and tellers of tales.

Like many parts of the ethnic culture and faith of Europe the Witch is a complex and multifaceted role, conflated with many things both related and unrelated. Their tale involved perseverance in a world increasingly hostile to their very existence. They became known as baby eaters, famine bringers, poisoners, monsters, devil worshipers, among many other less savory things. They faced torture and even papal decrees proclaiming them marked for death. Some fled to the edges of civilization others crossed the sea to America where a Witch Cult would take root.

Yet still just beneath the veneer as with all the aspects of our Old Ways is something beautiful. A role of self-sacrifice, healing, love, life, and magic! A role that was feared as well as respected. A role people may sorely miss, especially in a maze of self-proclaimed witches appropriating a history with candles, glitter, and chicken feathers. Once solemn and filled with trials each battled, in both the spirit and in the flesh, battles hard won and well rewarded. Perhaps the Witch may make a comeback someday. Their story never faded even if the role has. So, tell their story. Tell their purpose, and nurture hope for the future. For the spirits of the dead, for those who kept the traditions alive in remote corners of the shires and mountains of our lands, for those who were called charmer and werewolf, seer and spinner, mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, maiden and crone, the Hermit and Witch. There are those who need to hear it, so that those who have been, can be a part of those yet to come. For in the fields and in the family home, on the mountains and in the country shires, life truly does go on.

Herne’s Oak from the Merry Wives of Windsor by George Cruikshank 1857

Bibliography

Ginzburg, Carlo. Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath. Trans. Raymond Rosenthal. U of Chicago, 1991. Print.

Dashu, Max. Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, 700-1100. Richmond, CA: Veleda, 2016. Print.

Ginzburg, Carlo. The Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries. Trans. John Tedeschi and Anne C. Tedeschi. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 2013. Print.

Murray, Margaret Alice. Witch Cult in Western Europe. Pantianos Classics, 2021. Print.

Bailey, Michael David. Origins of the Witches’ Sabbath. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 2021. Print.

Roper, Lyndal. “Interrogation and Torture.” Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2006. 44-66. Print.

Goos, Gunivortus. Goddess Holle. BoD – Books on Demand, 2019.

Pagels, Elaine H. The Origin of Satan. Random House , 1996.

Larum, Darcy. “Please Pass Me the Eye of Newt; What’s Really in That Witch’s Cauldron.” Please Pass Me The Eye Of Newt; What’s Really In That Witch’s Cauldron – Dave’s Garden, 19 Oct. 2019, https://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/please-pass-me-the-eye-of-newt-whats-really-in-that-witchs-cauldron.

The Myth of Easter, Sleeping Beauty Remythed

By I.M. Knosp & Wylder Homes Project

There once lived a great Chieftain who was blessed with the birth of a most beautiful daughter whom he named Easter of The Dawning Light who upon hearing of her birth the people across his land rejoiced! Wishing to know her future the Chieftain called upon Three Sisters of The Good Women The Crow, The Raven, and The Magpie, all of whom arrived without delay riding the winds as swiftly as their wings could carry them, who upon landing took the shape of three regal women in dark flowing cloaks with their dark feathers strewn about them; their faces shrouded behind large dark hoods. These seeresses upon hearing the fathers request consulted the Wyrd foretelling a vexing prophesy, warning that in time Easter would incur a great harm from not but a splinter of flax.

The Chieftain and his people hearing of this doom which would assuredly fall upon the most beloved daughter of The Chieftain promptly banned all flax, hemp, or any other material or tool for the making of cloth from their territory disposing of it thoroughly so their beautiful Easter should escape her providential doom.

One day as happens Easter had grown into a young and beautiful woman who gazing outside the grand roundhouse, she called home she beheld an old woman she had never before seen passing by spinning flax. Easter never having seen a distaff, nor a spindle was in awe of the spindle twirling like magic at the tips of the old woman’s’ frail old fingers and working up the courage she ran outside to ask the traveling crone to come inside and teach her to spin.

The Old Crone being kindly of nature and tired from walking joined young Easter in her round house and taking a seat began to patiently teach the girl the magic of the distaff and its spindle. Sitting patiently at the crones’ feet she absorbed in wonder all the old Woman had to teach in that moment, until all that was left was to practice on her own. Easter then carefully taking distaff in hand began twisting and spinning the flax as she had been shown carefully teasing it along the line, she had patiently formed but as was foretold by The Good Women of old a stray seed of flax was run under her nail and the girl fell down as though dead upon the floor. The Old Crone seeing what had happened became frightened for her life and quickly ran from the Grand Mound; some say she is running still to this very day.

When her father and people discovered what had happened a great keening went up and tears enough to flood the fields and forests were shed on that and following days. After the people had wept all their weeping’s and sang all of their mourning songs, they carefully placed Easter upon a throne of furs within the Mound as the final resting place of their beloved. Wishing to bury his heartbreak with his daughter and the desire that she not be disturbed the Chieftain with the strength of a bear quickly closed the mouth of their mound with a giant boulder shuttering it forever; or so they thought. The Great Chieftain and his people then left the place of their sorrow never to return.

The Myth of Easter by Arnau de Castro 2022, specifically commissioned in honor of this remything, it depicts the dying Easter protected by Wode, Perchta lovingly rests on his shoulder while her dark side carves a broken sun wheel, the Soul of Easter remains in the rose waiting to be revived. Externsteine can be seen in the background.

In time a large briar of thorns came to completely cover the mound pushing aside the boulder covering its entrance ever so slightly as they grew. As so frequently happens time passed and stories with all of their grief as with places come to be forgot. It was at such a time of forgetting that quite by chance the god Wode happened to be out upon a Wild Hunt and was passing near the mound. When suddenly one of his falcons leapt from his hand and flying high into the air seemed to spot something below and dove disappearing into the briar of thorns and entered the mound by way of the ancient doorway now revealed behind the boulder which was now askew. Wode called for his falcon, but it did not come so he and his host in search of his bird companion eventually came to the mouth of the mound, where Wode a giant himself easily pushed the boulder effortlessly away from the opening. The great god Wode pushed through the mass of thorns that had grown over and inside of the burial mound tromping them into the ground with ease. Looking in chamber after chamber, in every nook and cranny he found not a living soul, death and sorrow seemed to permeate every stone.

That is, until he came to the chamber containing Easter still, as if in deep slumber reclined atop her throne of furs. Her whole being seemed to shimmer filling the room and Wode who beheld her was instantly enchanted by her beauty! With the eyes of a skilled hunter, he saw her shallow breath slow but steady and so he called to her, but she remained still and did not stir.

Unable to contain himself any further he cried aloud succumbing to her magical charm, feeling his blood course hotly through his entire being he lifted her in his arms carrying her to a nearby bed chamber, where he gathered the fruits of love and laid his seed within her after which she yet slumbered on. Full of sorrow for such a beauty not awakening to his touch he left her within the mound returning with The Wild Hunt to his realm; where being preoccupied with the many duties and responsibilities of his station and thinking no more of what had transpired within the mound of thorns.

Many months had passed since Wode had given it any thought when Easter gave birth to two beautiful shining children, her son radiating with light as though he were holding a piece of the sun, while her daughter glowed subtly as if kissed by the moon itself. During this time The Good Women returned hearing of the births to tend the newborns putting them to their mothers’ breasts so they might grow strong and beautiful upon her milk. Once, however while seeking her mothers’ nipple the daughter took Easters’ finger into her mouth and suckling upon it, she removed the shard of flax which had cursed her mother to such a long slumber and with that Easter finally awoke from her enchanted sleep.

Seeing before her the two shimmering babes, she held them to her breasts to suckle these dear babes becoming dearer to her heart than her own life. Their beauty shone to her as though they were the celestial spheres of the Sun and the Moon themselves and so she named them for the East where they each rise above the horizon. Her son she came to call Oster and her daughter Ostara.

With Easters waking the thorns covering her hall had all come to blossom into a bountiful array of flowers, her own body had even come to be covered in amber waves of grain and beautiful pearls of edelweiss which grew into a light flowing dress upon her sleeping form after giving birth but before she had awakened. Save the children and the many flowers Easter seemed to be good and truly alone and so she came to love her children all the more. The Good Women unseen continued in their care of the little family however often sending stags, bears, rabbits, and many other beasts of the wild to bring her food and drink so that she should not want for sustenance.

Meanwhile Wode finally having a moment to reflect recalled the woman he had seen in the mound and said that he wished once more to go on a Great Hunt where upon returning to the mound alone he was astonished to find the thorns had flowered to blossoms and berries. Entering the mound to his joy he soon found Easter awake as well holding two gleaming offspring. His joy knowing no bounds at his happy and unexpected discovery he then approached Easter telling her of who he was and all that had transpired.

Hearing this she quickly realized that he was the cause of her slumber being lifted and so forgave him any trespass forming a friendship woven together tighter than the bonds of family alone. Wode remained with her and his children for several days, after which he regretfully bade her farewell promising to return soon to take his new family with him to his own realm.

Now as it would be Wode happened to already be married to The Great Goddess Perchta and it wasn’t long before she began to suspect that something was amiss. Her husband had been absent far too long and far too often on his little hunts and he had also developed the habit of mumbling in his sleep constantly calling out strange names she had no acquaintance with. Slowly at first then quicker as her long sleepless nights of listening to him call out these unknown names began to add up, she began to be filled with the wrathful flame of hatred and jealousy! Eventually unable to take the torment anymore she finally sent for one of the many farmers who while loyal to her husband had been with him on many a hunt.

When her husbands’ man finally arrived, she bid him stand before her and purred into his ear so that none might know what secrets might transpire between the two “Listen to me my son, you are living between two stones, between the post and the door, between the poker and the grate. If you tell me with whom your master, my husband, is in love, I shall reward you with treasures untold. If on the other hand you conceal the truth from me, you will never be found, alive or dead” the man began to tremble in fear becoming understandably terrified in the face of such power and malice. Quickly composing himself as best he could and being possessed by a mixture of fear and greed the man became blinded to his loyalty to Wode, any ideas of honor or justice quickly fleeing his heart. So, he told her, he told her all she desired to know and more, he told The Great Goddess Perchta all that had transpired with Wode, he told her of the falcon, he told her of the chase, he told her of the mound and the thorns and the stone and of Easter and his Lords’ lust upon seeing her, he even told her of the two young children Oster and Ostara!

Perchta’s heart grew colder with each word the farmer spoke and upon learning how the matter now stood she sent the farmer as a messenger to Easter in the name of Wode. The message she sent asking Easter to send the children before her because so strong was Wode’s desire to see them. Easters’ heart leapt for joy upon hearing the message and being unaware of any deceit she did eagerly do as her lover bade. Once the children arrived at their new home however Perchta her heart filled with ice ordered the cook to kill the children, no not only kill them but then also to cook them into several sumptuous dishes for her wretched husband to consume himself!

But the cook being a good and tenderhearted man could not do as he was bidden. Especially since upon seeing the two shimmering golden apples of babes he felt great compassion and sympathy in his heart for them. Quickly he decided and risking everything dear to him for these children he secretly whisked them both home to his wife bidding her hide them disguised as a rabbit and a lamb.

In the meantime, he would slaughter a real rabbit and lamb then prepare their flesh into a hundred different morsal laden dishes for his Lord. When Wode came into the dining hall that evening Perchta with great pleasure had his personal banquet served before him.

Wode ate with great delight exclaiming “By the light of the stars, how delicious this is!” and “By the souls of the ancestors, this is good.”

Each time he spoke Perchta would reply “Eat my dear. Eat. You are eating of your own after all.”

For the first, second and third times Wode paid her no heed but upon seeing that her words continued, he grew very angry and roared “I know perfectly well that I am eating of my own! As you have brought nothing of your own into this house!” consumed with rage he stood leaving the table and went out into the countryside to contemplate in solitude and alleviate his temper.

During the time Wode was gone cooling his temper; Perchta, not yet satisfied in her revenge sent for the same farmer who had revealed to her Wode’s secrets then ordering him to bring Easter before her. She then instructed him to tell Easter that Wode longed for her company and was eagerly awaiting her arrival. Easter wasted no time departing for Wode’s realm upon hearing these words of desire in the belief that she was following the dictates of her beloved as she greatly longed to see both Wode and her children; little did she know what had been prepared for her arrival.

Upon Easter’s arrival to Wode’s realm she promptly found herself greeted by Perchta whose face glowed like shimmering frost from the hatred she felt towards her husband’s lover. Perchta full of wrath addressing her coldly voice dripping like ice from eaves of a house “Welcome Madam whore! You are a fine piece of wares you ill born weed who pleasures my husband! So, you are the lump of filth? The cruel bitch that caused my head to spin? Change your ways or the underworld shall welcome you where I shall repay you for all the injury you have inflicted upon me!”.

Easter hearing these words began to tremble with fear and cold, trying to excuse herself pleaded “None of what had transpired was my fault! Wode husband of Perchta had taken possession of me and my lands as I lay sleeping!” But Perchta would not listen to her excuses instead having a large pyre lit in the grove of her grand roundhouse and commanded Easter cast into it for her trespasses.

The Lady of the Dawn realizing that matters had gone from bad to worse, knelt before Perchta begging to be allowed to at least remove the garments she wore. Perchta, not out of pity but out of greed agreed to the request as she desired Easter’s dress of flowers and amber grain to be her own. Perchta then bade Easter to undress herself though she wailed as if in pain as she removed each bit of her garment screaming the loudest as the last of the garment was removed from her flesh. As if answering her cries, the land seemed to wither within the grove the grass grew yellow and wilted as the flowers and trees lost their colors. Finally naked and bare but for her golden hair Easter The Lady of the Dawn was dragged towards the pyre to be cast to the underworld as her body burnt to lye ash.

Wode suddenly appeared and upon witnessing this spectacle demanded answers to what had been happening in his absence. Seeing Easter, he immediately demanded his children be brought into his presence fearing for their lives as Perchta reproached him for all his shameful acts upon her. As he demanded his children brought forth, she responded with a cold harsh laugh recounting for him the tale of her having had his children slaughtered and served to him as succulent morsels, no less during the last meal he had eaten!

Wode hearing this immediately gave into despair falling to his knees and declaring “Alas! Then I myself am the wretch who ate my own poor sweet cubs! Alas! And why did my own veins know not the offspring of their own blood? You renegade Bitch! What horrid deed have you done? Begone! You shall get your payment beneath the roots of the trees! I shall not sully war with such a monster as you!”

With these words he commanded that Perchta be cast into the very fire she commanded be lit and with her the farmer as weaver of this tragic plot. Wode was about to do the same to the cook, whom he believed to have slaughtered, butchered, and roasted his sweet children.

The cook casting himself to the feet of his master exclaimed “In truth my lord for such a deed there should be nothing else then to writhe flaming in agony with no easement of pain than a spear piercing my back! And were it true I would seek no honor more than to see the ashes of my lowly self mixed with the great goddess Perchta’s to be spat upon and forgotten! But this is not the reward I expected as savior of your children! In spite of the sheer gall of that wicked woman who wanted to kill them and return them to the flesh of their sire you my lord did I hide them away from her!”.

Upon hearing these words Wode was beside himself, it was as if he himself were in a waking dream! He could not believe what his own ears perceived. Therefore, he turned to the prostrated cook and said, “If it is true; that you have saved my children, be sure that I will spare you from the spit and the flame. I will put you in the kitchen to cook and bake to your hearts content and promise to give to you such reward as you may call yourself a content and happy man for the rest of your days in this world.”.

Externstine a Sacred Site to Easter that was Instrumental in Cracking this Remything

After Wode had spoken thus, the cook’s wife seeing her husbands need brought forth the disguised children changing them back to their original shapes. Oster and Ostara were mightily embraced by their father who from then on never tired at playing the game of three with his new wife Easter and his two beautiful children. He showered them with love and affection, kissing each one in turn. The cook became a man of great status within the household and realm of Wode. Easter, Wode and their children experienced a grand and merry life from then on. While Perchta found another place for herself deep, deep in the underworld eventually finding her own joys.

But that is a story for another time……

Notes

  1. First I would like to thank Arca of the Blood Coven of Londor Artworks for his wonderful original artwork for this piece check him out on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/londor_artworks/
  2. It is important to note that as always this was our best estimate as to which gods fit which role, and the main attempt was to avoid changing as much as possible from the original story. Wode was the best fit, though other gods may fit the role, same with Perchta.
  3. We used multiple iterations of Sleeping Beauty, Briar Rose, and Sun Moon and Talia to remyth this story (the latter of which being the older version of the tale) Though in doing so the “Sun Symbolism” of the prince in the original Grimm’s tale was moved to Easter’s Son, there are many possible options for the variations on the myth, for more info check out our article on Easter Gods here:
    https://wylderhomesproject.life/2021/04/20/easter-the-goddesses-of-new-life/
  4. If you like our content you can support us in the Support link above or follow our Linktree: https://linktr.ee/The_Wylder_Folk or Paypal @Hypeboreanradio@gmail.com
  5. You can also find two other Remythings Snow White and Bearskin on older posts follow these links:

    Bearskin Remythed

    Snow White Remythed

Wojtek: The Happy Warrior

By I.M. Knosp

The sky was alight, the forests had been rendered down to ash with bombardments, in this moment among the mountains of Monte Cassino, a hero was born. Far stronger than his brothers beside him, he lifted hundreds of pounds of artillery shells, bringing them to his brothers amidst the battle. Placing the ammo beside them, the Happy Warrior roared forth, the boxes light upon his muscles. This hero was the most innocent and also one of the most tragic figures to be found here where his legend was born. The Happy Warrior would find his tale fill hearts with joy in the darkest times and be the subject of many tear filled nights over his fate. His name was Wojtek, and he was a bear. This is the legend of the hero bear of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, both the stories of his immense kindness and of his stories sorrowful end.

His story began with the death of his mother. Orphaned and captured, the cub’s chances seemed slim. At best, he could hope to be bought and turned over to the abusive life of a dancing bear. However, fate had another plan for the young cub. In a moment his life’s path shifted, and his life would become the stuff of legend. No one is sure how he came to be inside a sack carried by a young boy in Persia, the youth’s eyes sunken in and emaciated as much as the cub. A pitiful sight along the road where the cub and his future brothers would first meet. The men noticed the boy, then they noticed the sack, and then they noticed the cub. A woman of Polish descent that had been with the men amongst a group of refugees, she urged them to buy the bear, Irena, a distant relative of a Polish general. The soldiers bartered the boy for the bear, giving him rations, a pocket knife, though in the end it was a can of beef that sealed the deal as the boy traded the cub for the men’s items and ran off never to cross paths with the bear again.

The Cub in the Desert

The life of the young cub was now in the hands of the Polish soldiers, his brown button eyes full of hope and his emaciated frame a reminder of his dire situation. Irena and the men fed him, initially this proved a trial, but they soon found that the use of condensed milk in an old vodka bottle did the trick. It did not take long for him to end up in the company of the man who would be his closest companion and surrogate parent, Peter Prendys.

Peter had ingratiated himself to most of the young Poles in the camp. He was in his 40s, twice the age of most of the soldiers, and his ability to read and write had allowed him to aid the men in writing and reading letters to their scattered loved ones. Peter like many of the men had seen plenty of horrors and had lost loved ones. Either to the arms of death or into the perils of the unknown, most of whom he would never see again. It was to Peter that they would entrust the cub, and the men decided he must have a name, a name that would become one of the most apt ones ever given. Wojtek (Pronounced Voy-tek) a name which carried with it the meaning of, “Happy Warrior”. A name that Wojtek would embody for the rest of his time with the men.

Wojtek as a Cub with the Polish Soldiers

At first, Wojtek was much like a human child, at loud noises or the presence of another dangerous animal such as a bird of prey he would skitter along whining as only bears can and hide behind Peter, or in other situations crawl upon his lap and suckle a finger for comfort. At night he would sleep among the men, in Peter’s bed pressed against the man he would come to consider his mother, and who in Wojtek would find both a surrogate child and a friend. To feed the bear the men would spare rations and pass them along to Wojtek. Giving over honey, marmalade, fruit or whatever else they could spare.

As the cub grew, he began to mimic the men and would gleefully wrestle them, or sit around the fire quaffing beer, a drink he would grow to adore and longingly stare at until a pitying soldier would top him off, he also began to smoke alongside the men waiting for it to be lit before puffing briefly and gobbling it down. These precious war time comforts became the growing warriors favorite treats. It had not taken long for their superiors to discover the bear, and it hadn’t mattered anyway. The bear was seen as a source of light in a dark time, and the joy he gave the men was obvious. He became a mascot and a beacon of morale and comfort for his Polish brothers.

The cub grew quickly, becoming much harder to feed, though his playful and curious nature made him amiable even as he grew into what most would see as a fearsome predator. The bear learned to salute and march alongside the men and his claws were as deft as a man’s fingers. Before the fateful day that marked him as a legend, Wojtek would have many adventures on his journey through the Middle East. Including a fight with another mascot bear named Michael who unlike the gentle Wojtek was fearsome and violent, the bout between the two would end with Wojtek as the winner and the angry Michael fuming and envious of the Happy Warrior’s general freedom around the camp. Free to shower with the men and use far more water than they could truly spare.

This love of showers and the feel of water on his thick brown coat would lead Wojtek to one of his most notable moments in his adventures. Having since been barred from the showers for figuring out how to turn them on and get himself a free and far too long shower, the curious bear could not resist the door to the shower when he saw it open and found an Arab spy who upon seeing the large bear before him, answered every question the men put before him, for fear of being given back to the playful bear. Wojtek was rewarded with the longest shower the camp had ever seen, requiring a water truck to deliver a fresh supply. This freedom tended to shift back and forth as he grew. The destruction of food stocks by the curious and hungry bear would lead him to require an attendant and his freedom would be limited so that he would not be free to roam without a caretaker. Though Peter remained the one who was closest to him.

The bear still viewed Peter both as a close friend and a parental figure. With Peter often finding himself scolding Wojtek like a young child for his rash actions. Wojtek would hide his face behind his paws and whine, then occasionally peek through his claws at Peter to see if the show of regret and submission had worked, if not the whining bear technique would continue until it did. Along with the hijinks, marching, wrestling, and capturing of spies. Wojtek devoted himself to the men and often seemed to be able to sense their emotions. When the men needed him for emotional support, the bear would sit next to them as a comfort and they would stroke his soft coat, a kind comfort from a true friend.

Monte Cassino, The Legend is Born

Then the men were sent to Italy eventually to end up fatefully at Monte Cassino, but there was a problem. It was not an option to send Wojtek with them as a mascot. So the men enlisted the bear into the Polish military as a private, he had officially joined the 22nd Artillery Supply Company. On even footing with the men he saw as his family. They traveled across the Mediterranean sea landing in Italy and then after a few stops found themselves in the mountains for a decisive battle against the German forces.

Here is where the legend cemented itself, where Wojtek surpassed his status as a comfort and became a true hero, a symbol for generations to come. Driving the grueling and even deadly roads up the mountains was no easy feat, but it paled when compared to the charred and blood soaked earth that would become the battlefield. Some men even died just getting up the mountain falling to their deaths, when they finally found their way to their positions Wojtek at first would become terrified at the never ending sounds of the bombardment, being needy and terrified of going outside. However, he soon grew acclimated and eventually with no prompting Wojtek began to help carry the 100 pound boxes of shells, holding his arms out ready to aid them. He continued amidst the sounds of death and destruction and the scorched earth devoid of the lush greenery it had once had. The land smoked and the noise of bombardment was deafening. Wojtek soldiered on more and more with boxes of the heavy shells brought forth by him to continue the battle. Then the battle finally ended and Wojtek’s comrades wept for relief at its end.

Though over half of the men who had fought did not live to see its end. Here the symbol of Wojtek was born. A bear standing upright, holding an artillery shell, with a steering wheel behind. His brothers and many others would come to wear that symbol with pride. From then on, the legend of Wojtek was born. But it does not end there, like many of Europe’s heroes his story’s high point is not its end. Wojtek would travel with the men to Scotland. Promoted either officially due to his heroism or as a joke among his brothers to the rank of Corporal. Here in Scotland is where his story would end and where it would eventually awaken once more, the spirit of the Happy Warrior.

The Good Times in the Scottish Borderlands

Wojtek and his Polish brothers would find themselves at Winfield Camp at the borderlands of Scotland and England. Here Wojtek’s smaller stories grew in number. His misadventures in the river, his role as the wingman for the men to meet some lovely lasses, their key to interaction with the locals and the biggest supporter and the vehicle through which the Poles and the Scots would find themselves forming a community in the dark time.

As a bear, Wojtek loved water, showcased in many stories from before they had come to Scotland. Wojtek adored showers. He had once tried to leave Camp and was brought back using a water truck as a makeshift shower while still in the Middle East. While in Southern Europe Wojtek enjoyed swimming in the rivers of the area and gleefully played pranks on people such as several maidens swimming together in the river, who would flee startled and scared of the bear who had swum under them and risen right between them.

The Polish soldiers would use this as an excuse to meet the lovely lassies and introduce them to the bear. A technique they would use in spades once in Scotland. Here Wojtek made friends quickly, and had roughly free rein of the camp. Hunting birds, foraging, marking trees with his claws, some of whose marks are still on the trees to this day. Other times he would bound towards visitors from the local community, roll and appear before them with his belly in the air. Endearing himself to many locals, they would bring him sweets and other treats. Sharing a cigarette with the friendly bear.

Some even came to trust him enough that after Wojtek would enjoy their touch, he would give them his as well, taking his deft claws and feeling out their face. He was well groomed and proud of it. Some would even say he considered himself not only the same as the men around him, but a particularly handsome one. Especially given how much attention he could garner from the ladies. Like the men Wojtek loved going to dances, he loved the attention, the music of the band, the smell and taste of the treats that he would beg from unsuspecting wives as his gentle button eyes stared up begging for a piece of pie or other treat. He would attract the attention of women, that some of the men were all too happy to use as an excuse to meet a local lass. Then after playing with the children who would ride atop the great bear they had seen and heard so much about, he would pass the night away, swaying back and forth to the music on the ground before falling asleep on the floor of the dance. It was a time of socialization, satisfied sweet tooth’s and of music, the kind he had come to love while traveling in the camp with his brothers.

He was over 500 pounds at this point, the gentle giant had ingratiated himself to the villagers and many found themselves welcoming the Polish soldiers, though there was the odd gripe such as that of a local lad and a Pole who had both attempted to win the affection of a local girl. Though Wojtek was far more the focus of attention; it was hard to ignore him. Throughout the town, tales would be born, of Wojtek going to a girl’s house with the Polish men to apologize for scaring them, or the time he and the men had a night on the town and became drunk grumbling and growling all together as they groggily tried to make it back to camp. He drank, he danced, he played, he ate, and fought with his brothers. Often as a treat they would take Wojtek to the River Tweed near the Union bridge and with makeshift toys and with well prepared transport would go out to the river where the bear would play for hours. Swimming, splashing, and diving for so long his Polish brothers became worried. Often refusing to depart the river until they started to leave without him. Or else they’d have to try to lure or force him out, then Wotjek would run like crazy to shore and shake the water off his fur onto the startled Poles. For Wojtek this freedom may have seemed like paradise, his brothers with him, food, friends, music, rivers, and fields. But it was not to last.

The Impossible Decision

There were continued pushes to make the Poles go back to Poland, or what remained of it. The USSR had been cast as a great and valuable ally, and the accusations lobbed at the Allied power were often considered atrocity propaganda. But they were all too real to the Poles. Many still braved the journey back, hoping it would be better or hoping to find family, only to quickly disappear or be swiftly executed. Wojtek was difficult to care for, he had been a great boon both in their spirits and in their war. He had aided them both emotionally and physically. He was their brother, their friend and their comrade. A bear who considered himself human like them, a sort of werebear neither truly a bear or truly human. A fact that became blatant for the men when, after being gone for two weeks, Peter’s return was greeted by a bear hug from the overjoyed Wojtek that almost crushed his surrogate father. If Peter had been unable to knock Wojtek on his nose, the bear may have accidentally ended the life of his closest friend. These and other small incidents, as well as the rabidly dwindling numbers of men to care for him, was eventually brought to a head. Peter and the men were met with an awful decision for Wojtek, he could never return to Poland with them, the men weren’t safe, how could Wojtek be. So which would it be? A prison? Or a bullet…?

In a decision that had no happy outcome, they chose the former, and Edinburgh Zoo was chosen as his home. The men had dwindled, but still the arguments and anger at such a decision, the grief, the sorrow were written on them clear as day. Perhaps as a mercy Wojtek did not notice, or perhaps he did and wished not to worry his brothers anymore than they already were. His usual empathetic way of knowing when his brothers-in-arms could use a gentle comfort of his soft fur and presence was not there that day.

Peter took Wojtek up into transport one last time and traveling through to the cage that Wojtek would reside in, Peter led the bear who had been his friend, his son, his family, and his closest companion and in a heart wrenching moment when they were both in the cage and Wojtek looking around, Peter took out some of his old clothes and placed them for Wojtek on the ground, then he turned around in tears and left as the gate closed behind him. Wojtek came bounding towards the gate looking out from it, waiting for Peter to return, waiting for his closest friend to be with him again. Though he never would, the pain was too great.

Some of the men would come to visit, throwing cigarettes or other treats, climbing the bars to wrestle with him like they once did. Over time Wojtek grew acclimated to his new home, and would perk up in joy whenever he heard Polish spoken. Years later, as he grew old and frail, he was released from this life at age 21. He never forgot the time he had been free beside his brothers, frolicking, and fighting, and foraging with those he loved most. Those early years stayed with him for the rest of his life as he would wave and be greeted by children who would learn the story of the hero bear, and see for themselves the Happy Warrior. Though the cub that had nearly died had been given a family and a home, he had lost it due to bureaucracy and the tragedies of war. In his later years he lacked the thing he most desperately wanted, the human connection he had known since he was a little cub sucking on the thumb of Peter.

The Legend Lives On

For most stories that might’ve been the end, but it wasn’t. The legend of Wojtek did not end there. His saga had more parts yet to be written. The story was almost forgotten, like so many others in the war Wojtek had begun to fade. However, just as fate led Wojtek to his brothers, a little girl would be led to Wojtek, one whose grandfather had been one of the Scots to visit and smoke with Wojtek, Aileen Orr. As a young girl she had seen the bear in the zoo, she had spoken Polish to the Happy Warrior, his curious eyes had met hers. She had known the stories, known the tragedy. Decades later she would see the disregard of Wojtek, yet also the hope and meaning of such a tale. She put her nose to the grindstone and worked to cement the legacy of the hero bear she had met. In her own words, it was as if the spirit of Wojtek guided her. Even when she had a small mock up made to show the monument to Wojtek she hoped to build, young children would chat with the bear’s face, and Poles from younger generations would exclaim their love of Wojtek. Elderly men who would come to her aid would speak sorrowful Polish to pictures of the bear. After years of hard work, Wojtek found himself immortalized in a statue in Edinburgh with one of his Polish brothers right beside him, a hand on his beautiful coat. Another statue would then be built in Poland. Wojtek had come home, the spirit of Wojtek had guided himself to be beside his brothers once more. In the borderlands he had lived so well and in the homeland of his Polish family, Wojtek once more looks out with curious eyes at the world around him, and once more we can touch the gentle face of the hero bear.

Morris and Steedman Associates|Powderhall Bronze|Herriot, Alan Beattie; Wojtek the Soldier Bear Memorial; ; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/wojtek-the-soldier-bear-memorial-297127

Bibliography

Orr, Aileen. Wojtek the Bear: Polish War Hero. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2010.

Simple History (Content Creator). (2017, September 23). The Soldier Bear (Strange Stories of World War II) [Video file]. Retrieved 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lu4rW0xaZQ

The Story Behind (Content Creator). (2019, January 27). The Heart-Melting Story of Wojtek, The Soldier Bear [Video file]. Retrieved 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twr38iHXYVw

The Infographics Show (Content Creator). (2020, April 2). Bear Who Fought Alongside Soldiers in World War 2 [Video file]. Retrieved 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAkVb74vBEY

King Groundhog: The Origins of Groundhog Day

By I.M.Knosp

A bonfire burns, dances are danced, songs are sung, hot food and warm drinks populate the hands of many as they wait for the seer of seers, the prophet of prophets, the prognosticator of prognosticators. In anticipation the people crowd around and chant the seer’s name, effigies and writings pepper the crowd, with eager anticipation they assemble around the ceremonial stump. The caretakers and most trusted of the seer stand around in formal wear, their leader with his magical cane standing proud. Then…. silence coats the celebration. As a speech is given, scrolls are procured and the stump is tapped with the cane. Then they reach inside to present the immortal king of all weather prophets, lifted high to the sky to his adoring followers whiskers, winter weight, and wide eyed. Is a Groundhog.

This is no ordinary groundhog though, this is ‘The’ Punxsutawney Phil the one true prophet groundhog. Or so he claims. Octoraro Orphie supposedly has called Phil a sell out, while Punxsutawney has labeled Orphie and his home of Quarryville, upstarts. Which is before additional “upstarts” such as Confederate General Beauregard Lee in Georgia who waddles out of his southern mansion as if to address the people like a noble lord of old and deliver his prophecy. There are even more “pretenders” to the throne of the prophet groundhog such as Wiarton Willie in Canada, the only Albino prophet groundhog. Or Jimmy in Sun Prairie, Staten Island Chuck, Dixie Dan, Buckeye Chuck, Ridge Lea Larry, Connecticut Chuckles , and many many more spread across North America. Each one greeting their adoring fans on Groundhog Day to answer with their oracular gifts, the question on all of their minds. Will there be an early spring?

Yet of all these Groundhog prophets it is arguably none of them that holds this true title, The Groundhog itself is considered far older. While Punxsutawney Phil is immortal, The Groundhog itself is eternal. The only true seer as proclaimed by Mother Earth herself, emerging from the primeval storm, controlling the weather and possessing the gift of prophecy. Punxsutawney Phil whose fame has grown so much as to become synonymous with the holiday itself has even been “hung” in some plays at Groundhog Lodges places where followers of The Groundhog pledge themselves to him as “Baby Groundhogs”. It is here Phil was hung for being a pretender to this powerful entity. In this way none of the Groundhog prophets are “The Groundhog” itself. Yet instead they act more as the Oracles of Apollo once did. Proclaiming in place of the godlike being that is The Groundhog as the Oracles once did for Apollo. Carrying messages through their burrows connecting to other realms through their many tunnels. These messengers of the gods carry the truth before the people across the North American continent, with Phil taking the role of the most popular much like the Oracle of Delphi once did in the days of legend. In this sacred duty they carry on their charge before adoring fans. Yet it was not always this way. Long before it became a household name, long before Deitsch men in hunters outfit consumed the flesh of their totemic animal, before the Mayflower touched the beaches of North America, before the Holy Roman Empire fell, before Herman defeated legions of Rome, there was an animal who held such sway in Europe and its form was just as round and brown as The Groundhog.

That animal was The Bear. An animal so important to Europeans before the spread of Christianity that the Church had to attempt to wipe it out for fear of competition. The Bear was said to be a god in physical form and have many of the powers that The Groundhog now possesses. After The Bear had been extirpated from much of the Church’s lands, it was to other hibernating animals that these same traditions then passed to. The Hedgehog was one such animal, but to the ancestors of the Pennsylvania Dutch it was at the Badger’s feet the torch of tradition was passed. The animal predicted the weather when it left its burrow at the Quarter Month period between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. A time that combined with Celtic Imbolc traditions and Christian Candlemas traditions to eventually transmogrify into what we call Groundhog Day. For as the Germanic settlers of the Deitsch nation crossed the Atlantic carrying old traditions from before the conquest of Rome, from the time of Catholicism and the time of the Protestant Reformation. Here it was not back to a bear that the honor fell, nor at the feet of the American Badger but to a small rodent. An animal whose original scientific name of Arctomys Monax translated loosely to, Rodent-Bear. It was in this pint size ursine impostor that the spirit of the tradition would continue. Long after Imbolc was a historical memory, and Candlemas faded from common memory on these shores. The Groundhog would reign supreme, a god amongst men.

As the farmers and villagers of the Deitsch nation grew and spread their culture the belief in The Groundhog grew and spread with them. Even the pious Amish found themselves retaining The Groundhog in their traditions. He became grander and was embodied in the groundhogs who burrowed in the farm fields, and frolicked and feasted upon wild clover. Each one of them both The Groundhog and not The Groundhog. He became the lord of weather and bit by bit this animal was recognized as godlike becoming the totemic animal of the Pennsylvania Dutch rivaled only by the distlefink in this place of honor. As the holiday grew an entire week in Punxsutawney enveloped the celebration as Old Home Week, which featured a celebration of the town of Punxsutawney which had become “The Weather Capitol of the World”. With the now world famous Punxsutawney Phil as the focal point of the whole celebration. Weather and season symbolism was rife in this week long cavalcade culminating in the slumbering prophet greeting his adoring cult of followers. Yet it was not always such a celebration. Before the grand parades and fanfare were humble beginnings in Pennsylvania. As a fraternity of men would hunt and consume The Groundhog.

Rather than top hats and suits it was in traditional groundhog hunting uniforms that the now well known inner circle of Phil would celebrate. Only a few men outside of the circle and perhaps some visiting dignitary would arrive at the field of the hunt. Often consuming Groundhog flesh in a stew, or roasted, a taste which some describe as “heavenly” while others warn of it as being too “greasy”. Yet this continuation of ancient tradition with the bear-rodent would eventually become the celebration now renowned across the globe.

Bit by bit, little by little, The Groundhog would win the hearts of America and Canada and become a household name beside Mother Earth, Jack Frost, and Old Man Winter. In 1952 the hunter outfits were swapped for the suits and top hats, his hunters had become his honor guard. Gobblers Knob had gone from a field to a veritable throne and he had become almost as famous as The Groundhog itself. Though The Groundhog’s roots were not with Phil, no, Phil had spawned from the older lore of The Groundhog itself, and at least within the Pennsylvania Dutch he would not subsume it.

While Phil’s Inner Circle would dress in formal wear, his most notable rival Octoraro Orphie would find his Quarryville group adorned in a night shirt and top hat. This represented the slumbering Groundhog this attire being one of the defining differences of the Quarryville celebrators when compared to Punxsutawney. While many other towns have spawned Groundhog Day celebrations it is between Quarryville and Punxsutawney that the true rivalry has been formed. Orphie’s group had arisen after Phil’s, when some Deitsch men had met to discuss Groundhog lore and decided to start their own celebration. Which grew and grew into what is now, alongside Punxsutawney’s revelry an exemplary spectacle of Groundhogism. The Inner Circles and members of the respective Groundhog Lodges of the Deitsch would take nicknames upon themselves with Phil’s inner circle taking names such as Iceman, Thunder Conductor, Stump-Warden, and Cold Front. While Orphie’s took an even more playful crack at epithets: Guardian Against False Weather Forecasters, Bifocal Shadow Gazer, Dr. of Arctomys Physics, and Superintendent of Mediocre Entertainment, among others. Each serving a role as keepers of the Godhead.

These clubs hold up The Groundhog and care for The Groundhog prophets. Keeping Punxsutawney Phil young via the magical Groundhog Punch or tending to the successors of his numerous rivals. All this spawning from the Groundhog traditions and continued in the Groundhog Lodges of the Pennsylvania Dutch. A place where The Groundhog is honored in a fraternal order not dissimilar to the Order of Elks, though with a much more Tongue-in-Cheek approach to tradition. Here the language of the Deitsch is preserved, the traditions kept, the stories told, and even new poetry and plays are written in what would otherwise be a dead language keeping the flame alive of tradition.

Here the “baby groundhogs” are sworn in as new members, their paws before them as if groundhogs themselves. Here pledges of property, duty, and life are made to The Groundhog. A giant statue of The Groundhog is crowned in ceremony, and a stuffed effigy of The Groundhog serves as a focal point of pomp. These Versammlinge’s or “meetings” preserve the culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch. It is from them this tradition has spawned and rooted across America.

The holiday has been on a millennia long journey to its present state from the ancient forests of Europe to the silver screen of America. Yet it has become a sensation. Groundhog Day is no mere sideshow attraction. It is an international holiday that has dignitaries the world over keeping their eye on it. While The Groundhog may have been usurped by Punxsutawney Phil as the focal point of the holiday and lore, the heart of the holiday remains. In the cold nights of the year the followers of this “Cult of Groundhogism” come together. Bonfires are lit, carols are sung, ceremony is held, music is played in the spirit of a holiday that is older than history. To a being who is eternal. Whether Phil, Beau, Jimmy, Orphie, or any of the prophet groundhogs are correct has never been the point. Perhaps there was some logical reason for looking to hibernating animals once, but that was not the spirit nor the point of the holiday. It was in the time we spend together, when it seems the sun may never return. When Jack Frost bit at our neck, Old Man Winter blew piercing winds, and Mother Earth is asleep we wake and we wait for a small source of joy. In the darkest time the little lights of a small pudgy rodent can mean the world. For while much of the ceremony is tongue-in-cheek, do we not all believe just a little, or at least wish The Groundhog to be true in its powers. The whimsy and joy passed from one smiling face to the next, bonfires burn and songs are sung as they were eons ago before bears and godheads, and in the small hands of our young no bigger than the groundhog itself, for a moment their eyes are full of wonder and magic. In them, the legend of The Groundhog lives on.

Bibliography

Reader, J. (2020). The story behind Groundhog Day. New York: PowerKids Press.

Pulling, A. F., Sr. (2001). Images of America Around Punxsutawney. Charleston, SC: Arcadia.

Donner, W. W. (2016). Theatricality: Performing Tradition. In Serious nonsense groundhog lodges, Versammlinge, and Pennsylvania German heritage (pp. 63-77). University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Kalapos, G. (n.d.). GROUNDHOG DAY February 2nd. In Fertility Goddesses, Groundhog Bellies & the Coca-Cola Company: The Origins of Modern Holidays. Insomniac Press.

Schreiwer, R. L. (2012). A Dictionary of Urglaawe Terminology. Lulu Com.

Schreiwer, R. L. (n.d.). The Legend of Delbel de Butzeman. In The First Book of Urglaawe Myths (pp. 15-27).

The Story of Wiarton Willie. (n.d.). Retrieved February 01, 2021, from https://visitwiarton.ca/explore/the-story-of-wiarton-willie/190/

AnydayGuide. (2020, February 02). Marmot Day in Alaska / February 2, 2021. Retrieved February 01, 2021, from https://anydayguide.com/calendar/3833

Every Day Is Groundhog Day For Punxsutawney Phil’s Caretakers | TODAY Original [Video file]. (2020, February 1). Retrieved February 1, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKQhYPcNhx0&list=PL0IsLiQJnTeKKrxTfEOhU2JOMa6bNpG8m&index=3

Tales of the Frauen: Holle, Frikka, Perchta, Harke, Gaude, and more.

By I.M.Knosp

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.

Mother Holle

…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.

Queen Berthe Instructing Girls to Spin Flax on Spindles Using Distaffs by Albert Anker 1888

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.

Frikka for Wagner’s Operas by Arthur Rackham

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.

Perchten March in Austria

Frau 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

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.

German Carnival Fastnachtsumzug

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…….

Painting by Emil Rau

Bibliography

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Wolves In European Spirituality

By I. M. Knosp

In Europe there are many animals of note; the Bear king of beasts, the Eagle regal symbol of empires, the Stag whose antlers adorn gods and kings. Yet there is one animal whose history and impact upon Europe has enjoyed a state of infamy. Some may say he is big and bad, bewitching and wicked, yet in the paw prints of this animal we find a trail of European lore going back to the point of myth and wonder, a point where the soul beckons us to follow the pack as they run through the woods and mountain peaks, their chorus lighting the sky, and haunting us in moonlit nights, suckling babes and fighting devils. I speak of course of the Wolf.

The wolf has always held an important place in the lore of Europe though intentional meddling by the Church relegated it to a less honorable even despicable station. No longer was it an honored creature, totem of warriors and spirit workers, instead merely a beast, another demonic creature that prowled the forests eager to greedily consume whatever it could spread its maw around. Tales of Wolves became more about how wicked they were often portraying the antagonist to a hero in more modern stories such as those of Reynard the Fox where the Wolf Ysengrimus often fills this role. Or even in films such as Disney’s Robin Hood or Old Yeller.

In folklore the wolf is often made the fool by the Fox, being treated as foolish more akin to a brute than the proud animal he once was. This attitude is often placed backwards onto the Pagans of the areas as if the Christian idea of the wolves was prevalent and the animal was but a monster to be slain.

People still quake in fear of the wolf coming and consuming their sheep or chickens or gods forbid their children. To the point even the idea of the animal being near is enough to rally cries of extermination of the wicked beast. Such is the fear placed upon the animal, while like any predator there is always the concern if they are hungry or desperate that they will attack, on average wolves have little interest in going toe to toe with another predator, of which we are ourselves a rather dangerous one, this sheer terror we see has been placed there. While in Pagan beliefs Europeans were strong relatives of the bear, wolf, boar, stag, horse, or any number of powerful northern animals. Under the church we became the sheep for them to shepherd and in doing so, the symbol of all that was wrong with the world all that could corrupt or consume became seen in the Wolf. This conditioning still lingers to this day.

The Evil Wolf & The Lamb of God

To understand what the wolf once was we must first see what it became. The Wolf had already had its more negative attributes accentuated in the folklore of Greece where the forces of civilization and the influence of cultures further East had begun to force the wolf towards a darker role. Greece was not without positive depictions of wolves (Which will be discussed later) but plenty had been done to shame them up to the time of Christ and the subsequent birth of his revealed religion.

The myth of Lycaon depicted the form as a punishment for the cannibalistic tendencies of the egotistical Lycaon. Via Aesop’s Fables we find a myriad of tales that depict the wolf as symbolic of everything wicked. The Wolf devouring the lamb or the flock, the famous tales of the boy who cried wolf or that of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The sheep was also sacred to several gods including the popular Hermes. Greece was becoming civilized and its interactions with its neighbors had inevitably shifted its culture.

Yet in the other half of what we call the Classical world, Rome, this change was not so easily done. The Wolf was far more entrenched for the very founding of Rome was tied to the nurturing She-Wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus. Though this very element of the wolf, and its ties to the very being of Rome, would seal its inevitable role in Christian symbolism centuries later. Who or what Jesus Christ actually was has very little bearing on the Mythic Christ, or as he was called “The Lamb of God” Jesus was a shepherd and his flock of sheep needed to be protected from the wickedness of the devil. A symbol that the Wolf fell so naturally into representing. Not only was it the constant antagonist of sheep in folklore of the time it was also the symbol of one of Christ’s and his followers earliest antagonists (And ironically eventual benefactors) Rome. The Christian Sheep stood stalwart against the Roman wolf and was (seemingly) victorious.

The Wolf would then become something driven out by the “civilized religion” of Christ. Alongside the bear and any other animal that posed a danger either physically or spiritually to the Church. Though the Church would flirt with a more positive association over the centuries, notably with Saint Francis of Asisi, patron saint of animals. Who would protect and even care for a wolf, discouraging villagers from attacking the starving creature. Though largely the Wolf had been vilified and buried. Saints would appear often filling the void left by the Wolf. Saint Blaise is a notable one, a Wild Wizard of a Saint who would live in caves and cast spells. Reminiscent of an animalistic wild man or animal god in the Celtic world. The Wolf had been shifted from animal of renown to a servant of evil, and so he would remain…..

The Wolf as God

But peeling back the years to before the reign of the church, or parallel where their influence had yet to be felt, the Wolf was still a being of renown. Magical, majestic, powerful, and commanding. It is unclear how much wolves were understood by our ancestors in Europe, but we know that there was an element of the divine found within them. Greece itself had its share of divine wolves notably Lycaon in his role as a culture hero, which predated the more negative and despotic king presented in the well known tale, Zeus in Arcadia was even venerated not as a bearded king but as a Wolf. A clue to a different possibility for the supposed cannibal king. Zeus was not alone in the Greek pantheon to have wolves in their association. Apollo was also associated with wolves, as one of his Epithets was “Apollo the Wolf Born”. A reference to a version of his and his sisters birth via the goddess Leto. A version where Leto takes the form of a she-wolf. Some versions even have her children born as wolf cubs, only later taking human form. As mentioned above the association of Wolves would eventually sour in Hellenic culture, yet it is undeniable this was a later development and not some long standing grudge and disgust. Nearby in Dacia (Modern day Romania) one can find another wolf legend. That of Zalmoxis and the Big White Wolf.

he story goes that before Dacia was invaded by the Romans, the Dacians had their god Zalmoxis (Bear Skin) and he had a priest who despite his youth had pure white hair and beard, he would go around tending to the people and the animals, Zalmoxis asked him to come and stay with him. Eventually Zalmoxis saw how well he treated the animals, but the wolves were the only ones without a leader. To fix this and to provide the land with a protector he offered his priest the chance to change into “The Big White Wolf” and in doing so he became the leader of the wolves and with his wolf pack he would often run forth into battle with the Dacians, him and the wolves fighting beside them. Eventually the change was permanent and The Big White Wolf would continue to fight, but when the Romans invaded many cowards became scared and began to kill the wolves in hopes of offering the head of the Big White Wolf to the Romans, to save their own lives. With tears in their eyes Zalmoxis and the Big White Wolf fled into the Sacred mountain, it is said the Big White Wolf is still in Dacia (Romania) and appears time and again in the folklore, and that to this day you can hear his howls from the sacred mountain.

Without leaving the Southeast corner of Europe we find yet more deities associated with wolves. In Serbia the god Dajbog functions as a wolf Shepherd, tending the forest animals especially the injured wolves who become his loyal companions. Nearby another Slavic deity, Weles, was also associated with the wolf. His head was even that of a wolf in depictions of the deity. In Russian mythology the Demigod Volga often transforms into a wolf, in Poland the Moon goddess was associated with wolves as was the Mother goddess of the area (Perhaps Marzanna). Just beside Poland in the Baltic we find the goddess Medeina, who was often seen as a she-wolf, or surrounded by a pack of wolves around her voluptuous and youthful visage. Across the Baltic sea we find the Nordic pantheon replete with wolves.

Hyndla, a giantess, sleeps in a cave filled with wolves and travels across the realms astride one. There is also Angrboda the Wolf Chieftess who tends the Ironwood full of Witches, Troll Women, and deities in the shape of wolves, she is mother to the Great Wolf himself, Fenrir, and by extension related to his children Hati and Skol. Among the Aesir Odin is sometimes considered a wolf god, for he is accompanied by his two wolves Geri and Freki. Across the sea in the British Isles we find deities such as the Morrigan taking the form of a wolf, across the straits the Continental Gauls possessed numerous gods associated with wolves, one of which though unnamed was covered up with St. Blaise during Christianization. Other deities included Cernunnos who some claim road atop a wolf, while Sucellos was at times depicted wearing a wolf skin. The Iberians further West had a wolf god themselves, Vaelico, a god of the underworld, who was depicted simply as a wolf. As we come full circle and arrive in Rome we find the aforementioned legend of Romulus and Remus and the mother wolf. A festival, Lupercalia, was even held every year to honor the twin founders and the she wolf who suckled them. There are many many more examples but suffice to say pre-Christian Europe was replete with gods who appeared as wolves, used them as messengers, or had them as companions. The wolf was neither evil nor greedy often serving as an honored being with a myriad of associations.

Romulus and Remus by Josef Binder 1850

The Wolf as Ancestor

Many tribes of Europe trace their lineage through to the gods. Creating a divine wing of our various families, and from here the wolf becomes the symbol of a divine ancestor. A role much more commonly held by the bear yet not unknown in Europe. The modern day Romanians continue the ancient veneration of Wolves that the Dacians practiced long ago. The howls of wolves across their mountains are constant reminders of the wolves who they consider their divine ancestors, even leaving out offerings for the wolves many of which are ancestors in spirit form. In Poland a tradition exists where young children are passed through a wolf skin after which it would be proclaimed they were “Born of the she-wolf”. An Earth goddess of unclear name who remained in the folklore as a shape shifting she-wolf.

Tales of her remain and some resemble those of the Selkie in Ireland and Scotland, with her removing her skin to change from wolf to human, only to have her skin stolen and forced to marry the man who captured it. Much as with Romulus and Remus, and the tale of Leto and Apollo, this She-Wolf too had two sons who grew into strong men. They would eventually find their mothers skin and after taking it from them, she would return in wolf form to run amongst the trees once more. Her children much like Apollo were descended of a wolf, a divine one at that. Tales such as these are fairly common as origins for a people, hero or clan. Just as with tales of Heracles, Perseus and other demigods the descent from a divine god in human or animal form, or the animal itself often served as the founding myth for an entire culture.

Yet perhaps the most notable Wolf ancestor is Lycaon himself. Both barbarian and civilizer, a king of Arcadia, and grandfather of the origin of its name Arcas. There is little doubt that the role Lycaon and his descendants played in Arcadian mythology was important, yet one cannot help but wonder if something has been done as the more prominent Greek cults subsumed the other cultures especially in the literature that has come down to us from Ancient Greece. Lycaon is considered at once a near cannibalistic barbarian and a civilizing force that brought the worship of Zeus to Arcadia. Suspiciously Zeus is in Wolf form, something that isn’t really common in other parts of Zeus’ legends. Rather one wonders if these three generations that of Lycaon, his daughter Callisto, and his grandson Arcas are not something more important than at first glance. Perhaps Lycaon truly was a culture hero and king, who became a wolf. Just as perhaps Callisto is just a princess or nymph turned into a bear by Hera for being seduced by Zeus, and then giving birth to her son as a bear. Her son Arcas would go on to found the very Kingdom that she and her father supposedly already lived in and ruled. Greek myth by its very nature is somewhat contradictory. It is not a single tradition but a myriad of tribal ones whose cults and regional traditions slowly melded, and in the literature the confusion is dialed up heavily. Many of Zeus’ regional wives, were goddesses of high import that had been dominated by larger city states and were often relegated to affairs and little more. Though the culture heroes and mythic founders they produced were a bit harder to downgrade so they were often made the son of Zeus. All of these odd traits together make it hard for me to believe what has been presented to us about Lycaon and his line. I think much more is here than at first glance. Especially as via their founder Arcas, the Arcadians effectively were descended not only of a deity, but a bear and wolf respectively. Something that would become much more pertinent as we discuss the wolves functions beyond a godhead and ancestor.

Warrior Wolves

Perhaps the most notable reference to Wolves is as a symbol of Warriors. The Wolf was a fierce and cunning fighter. Being the totem animal of many warriors most notably the sub-class of Berserker known as Ulfhednar, Who adorned themselves in wolf skins before heading into battle. There seems to have been little difference between these wolf-berserkers and werewolves by the time the Nordic myths were put to writing. As in the Volsung Saga Sigmund and his son Sinfjotli kill men who wear cursed wolf skins. After putting them on they are cursed with a kind of Lycanthropy. Earlier in the tale an enemy of theirs would come in the form of a She-Wolf and consume and kill all nine of Sigmunds brothers.

Though the Ulfhednar is not the only place in which “Wolf Warriors” or werewolves would serve as powerful combatants, this was also seen in Ireland where entire tribes of Werewolf warriors lived. Two of the most notable groups were the Laignach Faelad of Tipperary and the Ossorian werewolves of Ossory. The former was known for their immense battle prowess. Considered people who were “Half Men and Half Wolf” they could be hired out as warriors but at a steep price, as they demanded a human infant as payment. The legends say that these pagan warriors ate these infants. Yet especially given when the legend was written down, the Medieval Era in the text Coir Anmann, it is far more likely these pagan warriors would take infants as payment to replenish their numbers in a time where the land was increasingly hostile to pagans and their culture. Most likely bringing the child up in the old ways and perhaps teaching them to be Wolf-Warriors as well.

The latter Ossorian Werewolves were not much different. Though they are never mentioned as taking the flesh of infants as payment. They dressed in Wolf Skins and adopted lupine haircuts. They would go on raids known as “Wolfing” This was not a unique ability as it was said that everyone in Ossory once had the ability to turn into wolves at will. As such the totem animal of Ossory was of course the Wolf. Though like much of European lore of Werewolves, the physical transformation seen in modern film was not so literal. Two other forms of shape-shifting existed that were far more common. One involved the casting of ones consciousness into another being or “borrowing” as one might call it. Odin is seen doing this in Ynglinga Saga. Another much more common version is that of casting ones soul out into the world where it would take the form of an animal. The Werewolves of Ossory were likely the latter as the idea of the human body laying lifeless while the Wolf ran around or fought is mentioned in their legends. Implying that the spirits of the Ossorians were those of wolves. Their dress and actions of embodying the wolf in their styles and by wearing the animals skin calls to mind the Ulfhednar of the Nordic tribes, yet the casting of their soul from their body is much more well known in the more spiritual side of the legends of Werewolves.

A Depiction of the Werewolves of Ossory in a 12th Century Illumination

Wolves and Spirit Walking

The traditions of war and spirituality are not separate entities but interlinked, the Wolf functions as both. It is both a being of immense spiritual connotations but also many warlike ones. Both of these traditions fed into the legend of the Werewolf. Among those who were spiritually inclined whatever their title or their tribe, a common element appears across Europe of the casting of ones soul out in the form of an animal. Though as mentioned above there were two main forms of shape-shifting in Europe. Before getting into those it is important to look at one more, a version that occurs in a land we have already discussed, Arcadia. Here the legend of the Werewolf is rather ingrained, it is the heart of the very word Lycanthropy, and Lycaon was not the only one to “turn into a wolf” nor were his sons. Rather here we find an old legend concerning the changing of a man into a wolf. It is said that in Arcadia a tradition exists where a person takes off their clothing and hangs it on a tree, they then swim across a small lake, at the other end they emerge a wolf, and must spend nine years as a wolf without harming another human being. These legends tell of them living amongst wolves as one of the pack, changing not their bodies, but their inner selves, their souls. This trial, if it can indeed be called that, resembles the trials faced by Berserkers and Ulfhednar such as those seen in the folklore in tales such as Bearskin. The abilities, information, and skills picked up in this life as a wolf (whether truly in wolf form or merely clad in skins, or even buck naked) could then be brought back to the people. The idea told in the common tale of Lycaon’s transformation as a punishment doesn’t seem to truly hold up when this practice is taken into account. Rather Lycaon becomes more an arbiter between the animal side and human side, perhaps a culture hero who understood some secret of the wolf, or perhaps he was a deity supplanted by Zeus and then vilified. Perhaps Callisto the Bear mother of the Arcadians was in fact his mate or if still his daughter, definitely a goddess herself. Or perhaps in the cultural elements of Lycaon, Arcas, Callisto, and Pan (who was also Arcadian) we find remnants of an animistic tradition that dominated much of Arcadia in the time of myth and legend.

Regardless, the Wolf transformation in Arcadia was by no means a negative punishment but rather an odd blessing or helpful curse. Perhaps even a trial, for what exactly who can tell. Though the transformation from man to wolf is far less physical in other parts of the lore. Throughout much of Europe Wolves were associated with witches. For good reason, the same people demonized as witches were often the same who could be considered werewolves. Able to cast their soul from their body and partake in spiritual combat for the good of the people. Others would ride them such as was a common depiction of Wolves in folklore, especially in Scandinavia where two Witch like goddesses Hyndla and Hyrrokin rode wolves, and many witches shape-shifted into or rode atop wolves. The same beings who would be the wolves with Angrboda in the Ironwood.

Werewolves were not always something feared or even considered odd. Some areas would not even bat an eye if one were to suddenly cast their soul as a wolf, casually remarking that that was a werewolf battling spirits. A more detailed account of such an individual comes from “The Land of Werewolves” the Baltic Land of Livonia. This is the account of Old Thiess, an eighty year old man who claimed to be a werewolf along with many others who were “The Dogs of God” they would transform into wolves equip themselves with Iron whips to do battle with devils and sorcerers at the edge of the sea to take back the fertility of the fields. A common practice of spirit warfare for the fertility of the land found across Europe. Old Thiess was whipped for his insolent beliefs, even if he framed them in a positive and pseudo-Christian light that he probably believed. These werewolves and witches were an ancient custom and in some cases priests of a god, such as with the Slavic god Simargl. They did not have nearly as many negative connotations as they do today, yet this is where once again we must look to the evil wolf that Christianity so arduously built, only then can we begin to see how to move forward, from where we once were.

A German Woodcut of a Werewolf from 1722

The Demon Wolf

As mentioned before The Wolf came to symbolize everything the church loathed, while its fall from grace was not quite as dramatic as say the bear, we still see it all the time. In the lore Ysengrim who was the wolf in the tales of Reynard the Fox is often made the fool by his clever counterpart, including castration or disfigurement, and is even made the cuckold by the smaller canine. So the ferocity of the Wolf had been dealt with, where it could not be removed however, it was vilified. Wolves are by no means dumb, brutish or violent creatures, they will help humans at times, and are capable of getting help from us when they truly need it, they have devoted family structures and unlike domestic dogs who can end up killing an entire coop of chickens if improperly trained, wolves tend to kill only what they need. As such Wolves were once easily placated by the weaker members of a farmers herd. Being given the stillbirths, unfit calves, or elderly offering themselves up. As such the domestic herd could be guarded by the wolves similar to wild ones. Though with the added benefit of the farmers protection. The Wolves placated would then guard the flock from other potential predators.

That is the way wolves are, now what did wolves become?

Wolves under the rule of the church and of the soft and civilized Greco-Roman cultures of the time of Christianity’s inception were not so disciplined or understood. Civilization had long ago pushed away the Wolf and people no longer understood the animal, they only feared the pack of large predators. Armed with claws and a maw of sharp fangs. To the shepherds of late stage Greece and Rome, The Wolf was certainly a very dangerous animal. It would consume their sheep they feared, their whole flock devoured by the blood soaked maws of the wolves at the door. Combining the hysterical fear of the wolf, with the spiritual devotion it had in the North. It was inevitable that just as the association with their old enemy of Rome had led the Wolf to being the symbol of all that was wrong with the world, that the Wolf found its vilification and eradication continue as the Church went North. Step by step the wolf was killed, dismissed, and made increasingly monstrous to the point the line between Wolf as animal and Wolf as demon was incredibly blurred. It became the quintessential villain of folklore, save the odd survival of pagan beliefs. The Wolf had changed from ancestor, deity, guide, respected fellow being to monster and demon. It was truly at this point that “The Big Bad Wolf” would come into being.

Yet even in the most famous instance of the Big Bad Wolf in folklore we find an animal not malicious, but simply hungry. The tale of Red Riding Hood (AKA Little Red Cap) involves a little girl with a Red Riding Hood, cloak or cap and food for her grandmother traveling down the path in a wood to deliver said food. During this errand she encounters a wolf, the wolf is clever and beguiling and tricks the girl after finding out about her grandmother into wandering off the path. The Wolf then consumes the Grandmother, and then Red Riding Hood herself. Only for them all to be released by a Woodsman later on, the Wolf then tries to consume them again but this time is tricked into falling down a chimney into boiling water, and is himself killed as a result. This common tale combines both the foolish wolf that had been built in literature and the monstrous man eater that had been cultivated in the minds of those who never saw the animal itself.

Yet, there is an older version, one where the Wolf is far less the monster of the tale. In it the Wolf hungry and afraid of the Hunter (in this version a thinly veiled deity) he asks for her cloak for warmth and after rejection leaves only to return to ask for food. Eventually desperate, hungry, cold, and afraid for his life the Wolf finds the Grandmothers house and consumes her and Red Riding Hood. Though he himself is later consumed by the Hunter along with the contents of his stomach (The Hunter here is far from a humanoid god). We can see how easily the tale can be twisted to serve the idea of “The Big Bad Wolf” as opposed to a more balanced view.

This effect was not only in Christian lore and post-Conversion folklore. It is also found in the lore of various pagan traditions. The Celtic Pagan werewolves mentioned before were plenty vilified by the Church, and the Wolf gods of Norse Lore were framed squarely as the villains of the tale. Fenrir consumes Odin, Hati and Skol the sun and the moon, the giants many of which rode wolves are pitted against the gods in Ragnarok. Yet Hyrrokin a giantess is placed on a runestone to honor the deeds of the dead on the Hunnestad Monument. Hyrrokin, a giantess who was almost killed by Thor for helping them bury Balder, such is the distaste shown for her in the Eddas. It doesn’t require much thought to see issues begin to brew with how the primary Norse sources deal with certain characters. The Wolves by this point had been so thoroughly demonized even the Pagans who had once honored it so, could only be allowed to have thought of it as a monster.

In bestiaries the Wolf was given many nonsensical beliefs more befitting some kind of mythic creature than the animal itself. Including if a man is seen by a wolf before he sees the wolf he will lose his voice, at the tip of a wolf’s tale is a hair that can be used for making a love potion when captured the wolf will bite it off so no man will have it, the wolf kills everything it walks on, its breath is evil, that Wolves only mate for twelve days (probably a hold over of Werewolves being active on the Twelfths). The animal is even directly compared to the devil as the congregation is to sheep:

Like the wolf, the devil always sees mankind as prey and circles the sheepfold of the faithful, that is the Church. As the wolf gives birth when thunder first sounds, so the devil fell from heaven at the first display of his pride. The shining of the wolf’s eyes in the night is like the works of the devil, which seem beautiful to foolish men. As the wolf cannot turn his neck, so the devil never turns towards the correction of penitence. Like the man who, because of the wolf has lost his voice, can save himself by removing his clothes and banging two rocks together, so can the man who is lost in sin be saved by stripping off, through baptism, his worldly self and then appealing to the saints, who are called “stones of adamant”.

The Wolf was no longer an animal of renown gone were its roles as ancestor, deity, messenger, guide, or honored beast. Instead it was the Big Bad Wolf, a dog of Satan, or Satan himself. Werewolves too had changed from their role of Spirit Warriors to monsters to fight even being used as the psychosis for serial killers such as Peter Stumpp “The Werewolf of Bedburg” who killed eighteen people in Germany during the 16th century. He claimed he had received a belt that turned him into a werewolf from the devil when he was twelve.
In the 18th century we find most likely the most famous of the “Killer Wolves” or Demonic creatures that are described as wolf-like, The Beast of Gévaudan. With over 300 victims, a varied description that sounded like everything from a Chimeric monster of Arthurian or Hellenic lore, to a large wolf, sometimes the beast sounds closer to an overgrown Pine Marten.

Some theorize it was a Hyena that had escaped from a Menagerie. Whatever the case the general fervor, eventual finale, and cultural impact of the legend of this beast has cast it as a wolf or group of wolves, sometimes even a Werewolf or Wolf Whisperer (One capable of controlling wolves). The horrific deeds of the beast, seem an outstanding example of the evils and horrors of the Wolf. Yet looking closer we see that Gévaudan was an area very much Wild, it is certainly possible that a rather large amount of fully grown wolves would have caused the deaths of all these people. Yet I have to wonder if that is truly the case. Partly I suspect this is a situation similar to Stumpp where many were in fact victims of serial killers and murderers who used the hysteria surrounding the beast to hide their crimes. The fact most of the victims were women or children also points to either a Human killer or an animal disinterested in taking down stronger prey. Wolves would not leave most of their kill to rot, nor would they kill the way the Beast did. Its description of Reddish fur, with a heart shaped mark on its chest is indeed closer to a Pine Marten as is the method of killing and consuming the victims. While more than likely some of the victims were a result of Wolves, the chance of a successful kill for wolves being mostly wasted is just unlikely for them to be the main culprit. Though the rather large wolves of Gévaudan were indeed hunted, and the death of the animals supposedly stopped the killing. Today the Beast plays a role in many fictional werewolf mythologies and has become something of a landmark for such conceptions. The fully formed Demon Wolf.

Engraving of The Beast of Gévaudan from C. 1765

With this much against it one would think the Wolf had lost, no way would it ever again reach its heights of spiritual and cultural influence. Doomed to be a boogeyman, a monster, a terrifying carnivore, the Devil itself! Yet…. as the Church lost power their efforts began to falter, the wolf would not stay down, though the damage done would take forever to begin to heal, bit by bit the Wolf reclaimed ground.

The Wolf Today

As the years passed the Wolf did not easily regain its positive associations. In C.S. Lewis’ novel The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Wolf is firmly on the side of the White Witch. Wargs (named after Wolves of Norse Mythology) are ridden by Goblins and Orcs in Tolkien’s Middle Earth series of books. Cartoons often depicted the wolf as lecherous, greedy, and foolish often lusting after a female character. Disney often placed the Wolf in a more negative light with its films. Their version of Robin Hood casts the Sheriff of Nottingham as a Wolf against the Thief and Hero Robin Hood who is the Wolf’s nemesis the Fox. Time and again the Wolf is the bad guy. Recent films such as The Gray even cast the Wolf as the villain themselves. With the main character hounded and being forced to fight for his life against a pack of wolves. The fear that had been ingrained in the civilized and soft area that birthed Christianity has continued to the modern day. Routine culling of the Wolf is performed despite its status as an endangered species. Just this year (2021) a culling took place of numerous wolves in Idaho over fears of the population growing too large. Farmers worry over small animals like badgers and weasels, the idea of letting a wolf near their farm fills them with fear and anger. Time and again the Wolf continues to take a beating, but as time has gone on the Wolf has seen its prominence arise once more. No longer merely a monster the Wolf was able to slowly but surely fight back, and cracks have begun to appear in the story of the Churches Evil Demon Wolf.

These changes have happened gradually but surely. Perhaps due to the nature of Wolves of living in the woods, fields, and other wild places it was natural that it would take a land where the churches reach was minimal and wilds were plentiful to begin the repairs, America.

Early American settlers were not immune to cultural biases regarding animals, but those who came across the Atlantic were somewhat self selected to fit well over here. As they were those who could not thrive or fit in, in a Europe in the grip of the Christian Religion in one form or another. So early on in American folklore, the Wolves role would begin to again take prominence. Folkloric heroes such as Johnny Appleseed; friend to animals, hermit of the woods, the American Dionysus. This Wandering Wise Man burly chested and wild bearded traveled with a wolf at his hip, a loyal companion who had joined him in one of his many adventures. Other folk heroes like Pecos Bill would be raised by a pack of Coyotes (The Wolf’s notoriously sneaky and rather cowardly cousin), a clear continuation of children raised by wolves in the folklore of Europe. Which appears not only in folklore but also in literature, perhaps the Jungle Book despite its setting could not help but mimic the European mythic traditions that its author Rudyard Kipling would know and love.

An Illustration for the Jungle Book by W.H. Drake 1895

Even recent shifts in culture have begun to repair the perception of Wolves. Films such as Balto began to turn the tide of the Wolf from monster to regal respectable beast. The idea of the lecherous beast began to fade as scientists proved this supposedly lustful animal was actually a devoted parent and mate. Perhaps most notably the Wolves near extinction forced people to decide whether to allow its end or to protect it. The idea of losing the wolf was too terrible and it became a protected species though outcries against it from those who never knew them still continued.

Yet the proof of the Wolves true nature is coming about bit by bit, scientific study and human interaction is forcing a new viewpoint of the animal into focus. Their importance in the ecosystem let alone the culture has begun to be recognized. As famously in Yellowstone when the elk and deer were left alone the land began to grow barren, as the herbivores greedily picked it clean. When the wolves were reintroduced, life returned. The Wolves kept the population of the deer species at healthy levels and kept them on the move so they never destroyed an area completely.

The Wolf bit by bit crept into the hearts and minds of people once more. A veritable wolf cult began to develop once more in various forms, conservationists, pagan practitioners, and even just fans of Wolves and Werewolves began to consider the importance of the Wolf, rather than its former demonic self.

The Werewolf had seen a similar return to form as film and literature began to view the monster with renewed vigor. Films such as the Wolfman laid the groundwork for all that came after it. Though films like Teen Wolf, Twilight, and a number of supernatural shows, films, books, and comics have made what was a terrifying monster into almost an attractive proposition. People even form “werewolf clubs” pretending to be werewolves. While much of this can be relegated to teen angst or running the gambit of all possible ideas for an overdone premise. I would argue the very saturation has forced people to look further into the lore in hopes of putting something ‘original’ out and behold Werewolves as sacred guardians, Werewolf or “Wolf Walkers” as a form of spirit walker. In recent years stories more true to the lore of Europe have become more and more prevalent as films like Wolfwalkers and shows like The Order come out. Only time will tell how much of this repairs not only the idea of werewolves but of wolves period. How far out of the mire that the Church cast the wolf can the Wolf climb?

A Howling Conclusion

The Wolf is not alone. The wolf is never alone. To quote one of the most positive turns for the wolf in recent history “The Lone Wolf Dies but the Pack Survives”, it may be a line from Game of Thrones yet it is the truth. The Wolf remains because people demanded the Wolf stayed alive. Among the anger and fear of billions enough spoke up to guard the wolf that it remains. Now that it can catch its breath, even if barely, and now that it has not only its fellow wolves in its corner but those who have lived next to it for eons it can finally begin to regain some ground. From its place as demon and fool of proverbs, fables, film and literature it can return to what it once was. The Kin of Man, the Messenger of Gods, or even a god in its own right. The likes of Vaelico, Hyrrokin, Fenrir, Dajbog, Weles, Romulus, Remus, Lycaon, Apollo, and many more are still there in our lore and in our hearts. One day, with the force of legends, lore, history, and science the Wolf and ourselves will run free once more.

A Pair of Wolves

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Turning of the Tides

By William McThunder

Pagans have always guarded their folk-traditions closely and have understandably been deeply suspicious of anyone seeking to record their history. This is not just the aftermath of oppression, persecution and marginalization, but they are a big part of our past. Traditional heathenism, even in its modern form, can be spiritual or non-spiritual because it is not a religion, per-se but a state of being, or a way of life. It is, in fact, who we are and as such can co-exist as a folk culture, with any spiritual dimension or lack of it.

In the early years of interaction between the Celts and Christians it would have been more reasonable to define a pagan as someone who is “non-christian” meaning indigenous, pre-christian Celtic beliefs, especially associated with nature. Later the church assumed the right to define “pagan” as one who was ‘anti-christian’. This label was intended as a slander to belittle adherents to the old ways as people who are anti-religious, or superstitious. This is far from the truth and in light of actual historical fact these accusations were used to establish spiritual domination and social control, spreading the idea that heathenism is a lower level of human existence, and an inferior worldview, than universalistic belief.

Arcadia by Thomas Eakins 1883

These effects are still felt today.

Don’t believe me? Just mention to an Abrahamic family member or friend that you are a heathen. See the disgust in their eyes, change in demeanor and utter horror. Instead of accepting you for the person that you are, you will be viewed through universalistic-tinted spectacles.

This is an aftereffect of the stranglehold universalistic religion has upon Hyperboreans, turning one against the other, but now we see in modern times that eyes are being opened to the dangers of abrahamism, and the rich beauty that goes hand-in-hand with ethnic faith. Church pews are being opted out in favor of seeking out forefather gods, cultural enrichment, ancestral heroes and a spirituality born out of the wilderness.

As people of the North, we would do well to remember this as we approach the end of the year. The tide is turning, and our people are going back to the old ways as the death throes of organized religion howls through the land, crawling on its last leg in defiance.

Get together with friends, family and pagan acquaintances during the time of MidWinter to celebrate and invite as many of our people as you can. The heathen community is regarded in many ways as an extension of the family, in which all contribute, support each other in their daily lives and make lasting friendships that will allow us to thrive.

Julaftonen by Carl Larsson 1904 


You Can find more from William Here: https://t.me/EuroPagan and https://t.me/GeeDunkNautica

Conquering Fear

By J.A. Coburn

During the time of year when the veil is at its thinnest and the spirits freely walk this, our mortal plane. The air turns crisp, biting and gnawing at the flesh of the unwary. When the sun glows red as blood while retiring early, the moon climbs higher to shine bright and eerie. Clouds skitter across the sky like great hounds pursuing their prey. The time of year when the shadows come to life and the blood runs cold.

This is the time of year when the Haunted house we are all familiar with becomes a most prominent feature in our lives and minds. The haunted house or castle, forest or trail has been with us for several centuries at least and the oldest descriptions hint at this custom being the continuation of a much older tradition itself. This is when we get to test the courage of our young and possibly ourselves.

So why do we do this? Well because it is fun of course! The thrill of the unknown, the what if, the maybe and the unseen!

While we know the spirits are not evil and most are not malevolent, only coming to our realm to teach and remind us of who we are. We find ourselves also acknowledging that maybe just maybe, some are. “Perhaps we might not know the lessons to be taught!”, we might think, beginning to doubt ourselves. “What if that means… oh no! Monsters are real!”.

The monster under the bed coming to devour our soul or to hunt us through the forest like a great wolf stalking its unwary prey! What tricks might they play? Some haven’t been alive for quite some time others may never have been. What could they possibly think a lesson worth teaching is? If they consume me might the lesson be for others who witness my slaughter at the hands of the unseen? Worst of all… what if they come to steal all my candies and cookies and things!

Fear. Fear allows not only the birth of but the growth of courage. This is the true point of the Haunted House. We know the danger is false, yet we all enter with that sense of dread and wonder, that tiny thought of “what if this time it is real?”. We all take count of how many times we jump or give that involuntary shriek of fear mixed with delight. We keep track of who can stride boldly through the darkened corridors or round that corner with confidence only to be jolted with the unexpected causing our spines to clatter to the floor. We laugh and make merry at the fear and unexpected delights of these places where we might test our metal. We congratulate each other for successfully resisting the urge to run or scream or jump out of our skin. We congratulate and honor those who play the part, those who don the likeness of the monsters that drive fear into our hearts for a part well played.

Truly in the end, this time of year is about bringing us together, both the living and the dead. A time when we might all remember. A time for developing and showing our courage not only to ourselves but each other. Many might think this time of year is about fear and tricks and candy. I however would argue this time of year is about family and friends and the courage of giving. The most loving time of the year because all we need to give each other is the most precious of gifts, ourselves.

Group of children and their parents playing trick or treat on Halloween.

The Tale of Winter’s Sleep, Snow White Remythed

By I. M. Knosp

In the middle of winter a woman sat by the window and embroidered. The land was covered in snow and her embroidery frame was of ebony. Just then she pricked her finger and 3 drops of blood fell from her onto the snow. She saw how beautiful and crimson it was upon the snow and said to herself “Would I had a child as red as blood, white as snow, and black as the ebony frame.” Then from the blood rose a young maiden as beautiful as her mother had described, her lips red as blood, her skin white as snow, and her hair black as the ebony of the frame. She named her Winter and the cold serene beauty of her namesake followed her wherever she went.

It so happened that as summer and fall had begun their slumber and winter approached that Idunn saw her beautiful orchards and the fruit rotting and frostbit on the ground and she wept tears of great rage. “This is Winter’s doing!”, she cried. When nothing was left but winter apples she felt she had had enough and went to the hunter deep in the woods. She exclaimed loudly and with such passion at the thievery and ruin of her labor never before seen as a result of Winter. The Hunter took pity on Idunn and she asked of him to bring her the heart of Winter in a small box so that she knew she had truly perished. She presented the box before him carved elegantly from part of one of the trees that had fallen to Winter’s chill.

The Hunter quickly found and cornered Winter telling her that her thievery of Idunn’s orchard had come to an end. She began to cry and beg for her life.

The hunter looked at her and found he could not bring himself to kill her. She was the most beautiful maiden he had ever seen. Her hair black as the night in which he stalked, her skin white as the snow of a good hunt, her lips red as the blood of his prey. Finally Winter exclaimed “Let me leave, I will go far away to another land!” The Hunter motioned for her to leave and head to another land far away. She ran through the forest out of sight upon the snow covered land. Just then a young boar ran across his field of vision the hunter loosed an arrow sailing past the leafless trees for a quick kill. He took out his knife and carved out the boars heart and placed it in Idunn’s box. Then presented it to her a smile on her face. Idunn hoping that such an action would bring her beautiful orchard back to her.

Winter fled, she fled until she came across a cottage, she was tired and half starved. So she entered and found it had seven chairs at the table with seven plates of supper and seven cups of wine. She ate a bit of bread and veg from each plate and a drop of wine from each cup so as not to take too much from any one individual. Then she saw seven beds and lay down to sleep trying each til she found the seventh to be just right. Then when night fell the masters of the house came home. Seven dwarves who spent their days mining for gold and jewels among the mountains. They lit their seven candles and found the house not as they had left it.

The First one exclaimed “Who has been sitting in my little chair?”

The Second one exclaimed “Who has eaten from my little plate?”

The Third one exclaimed “Who has eaten of my little bread?”

The Fourth one Exclaimed “Who has eaten of my little vegetables?”

The Fifth one exclaimed “Who has used my little fork?”

The Sixth one exclaimed “Who has cut with my little knife?”

The Seventh one Exclaimed “Who has drunken of my little cup?”

Then the first dwarf looked around and saw through the hollow in his bed frame and said “Who has been sleeping in my bed?” All seven of the dwarves crowded around the sleeping Winter the fire of their little candles casting light upon her great beauty. “By god, by the lord” They said never had they seen a beauty such as her. The dwarves took great joy in her and to avoid waking her the first slept in the beds of his comrades taking turns in each til the sun came up.
When Winter awoke and saw the seven hairy dwarves before her she was quite frightened, but they calmed her and were very friendly. They asked her name and where she had come from.

She told them her name and how the wrath of Idunn had forced her to flee. They told her “If you will keep our house a home, cook and wash, knit and sew, we shall gladly allow you to stay here. Dinner must be ready for when we arrive back from working all day in the mines for we shall be very hungry.” Winter agreed for all these were things she excelled at.

Now Idunn had hoped her orchard would regrow with winter dead but no blossoms had arisen from the branches of her trees. The snow had not let up upon the ground and her store of apples dwindled. Not sure of what actions to take she took the box containing her enemy’s heart and left for the three sisters’ well. Roots covered it and the waters of the well reflected in the light as if it were a mirror. “I have come to ask a question of you”, Idunn said her voice cracking from her pain. Just then a woman rose from beneath the surface of the water. She was young and plain her face stoic and serene. The next one of matronly sophistication with slight wrinkles at the edge of her eyes and purpose glittered in her stare. The third rose, her face was crone like, a long nose adorned her visage and thin pale hair fell behind and her eyes were near blind. “Then ask” said the three Norns their heads floating just above the water. “Is the heart in this box the heart of Winter”, Idunn said holding the box aloft. The two elder heads fell below as the maiden stayed aloft. “No, the hunter has placed the heart of a young boar inside in its place” said Urdr. Idunn’s face glowed red as an apple in rage. “And where is winter now!”, she demanded.

The Three Heads of the Well by Flora Annie Steel 1922

The maidens head fell below and the matron floated above. “She has gone away to a land of dwarves, where she stays in the cottage of seven miners”, said Verdani. “I shall find her then” exclaimed Idunn. “Then take her life as she has taken my orchards” The matron fell below as the crone floated above a slight smile upon her face “And you shall succeed that much I have seen”, said Skuld right as she fell back below the water the smile never leaving her face as all three sank back to their work in the well.

Idunn went back to her home and quickly disguised herself placing old ash on her face and branches and twigs to mess her hair.

Appearing as an old peddler woman she went to the cottage and knocked at the door “Fine wares for sale” she exclaimed in a hoarse croaking voice. Winter peered through the window “The masters of the house are away come back later” she said. “Oh but such a beautiful lass deserves beautiful lace”, said Idunn. She reached into a basket and pulled out beautiful lacework brightly colored and intricately stitched. Winter couldn’t help herself and thought that the old woman was merely a nice old lady, and the lace was so beautiful. She let the old peddler woman in and they sat down to talk and Winter inquired after the lace. Idunn took it out and offered to put the lace on for her. “Now you shall be laced properly my dear”, she said and laced Winter so quickly and tightly that she fell over as if she had died. Cackling Idunn sped away back to her orchard, waiting for the first blossom to come back to her.

As night fell the dwarves came home and finding Winter on the ground as if dead went to her and cut the lace and Winter sprang back to life. The dwarves then warned her to be careful to not let anyone in as the old woman had been Idunn and she could not risk another attempt on her life. Idunn saw that her orchard had not returned and reasoned that her attempt had failed. She disguised herself again this time slightly different and took a piece of pear wood normally set aside for her husband and carved it into a comb of magnificent quality. She then poisoned it so as its use would cause Winter’s death.

She knocked on the door of the cottage “Fine wares for sale” said Idunn. Winter looked through the window “I was told not to let anybody in”, she said. “But I have such lovely items for sale”, said Idunn as she pulled a comb out of a bag beautifully carved with ornate designs. Winter longed for that comb and thought to herself that this was clearly a different woman than before and could not be Idunn. She opened the door and bought the comb but barely had she put the comb in her hair that she fell over as if dead. Idunn cackled and fled back to her orchard waiting for the flowers to bloom on her trees. The dwarves arrived and after checking her lace they searched and found the comb in her hair and tossed it away. Winter arose and was chastised for disobeying and allowing herself to nearly be killed yet again.

Idunn found her orchard barren yet again. Enraged and out of patience she went to her storeroom and got one of her few remaining apples from the harvest. She took it and using magic she turned the apple to poison creating a pale white apple with a rosy red blush on one end. She disguised herself yet again and went again to the cottage. “Lovely apples for sale”, she called inside. Winter looked through the window. “I cannot allow anyone inside nor open the door for anybody”, said Winter. “But I have such lovely apples”, said Idunn holding out the beautiful pale apple. Winter was mesmerized, for she had never had an apple especially one of such beauty. “Are you worried of poison?”, said Idunn “Here I shall take this white half, you have the beautiful rosy half” Idunn cut the apple in half and bit into the white part. For her magic had been so clever as to put all the poison in the rosy side. Winter could not hold herself back. She took a bite of her half and quickly fell over as if dead. Idunn fled back to her orchard as the Dwarves arrived soon after. Seeing Winter on the ground they checked her lace and her hair they looked all over for what had been used against their maiden. But finding nothing they resigned themselves with tears in their eyes to her fate.

They could not bring themselves to bury or burn her so cut a tree and carved a beautiful altar for her to lay on. With runes of luck carved on to the side they placed her and as she lay there as if dead she did not age nor fade but was as beautiful as if alive. The orchard bloomed again and Idunn was overjoyed in her success. The thief of her efforts was gone and she could reap the rewards of her hard labor. But as Winter had been gone a long time her brother Jack Frost had gone about looking for her. He flew to his sisters’. He stayed briefly with Spring, then Summer shooed him along, til he came to Autumn who spoke of Winter’s feud with Idunn and how she had sworn revenge. Thinking she knew of what had become of Winter, Frost flew to Idunn who was not happy to see him. He stood there and asked “Where has Winter gone?”. “Gone?”, said Idunn “She has gone nowhere, for that is where she is. Look around, no more is Winter here nor will she ever come back”. Frost knew Idunn knew where Winter was and worried dearly for his beloved sister. He decided to play a ruse on Idunn in hopes of learning where Winter had gone. “Good riddance”, said Frost. Idunn looked surprised yet pleased. “She was never well liked by me or our sisters. If I were to see her again I would cast my spittle upon her”. Idunn laughed at this “If that is what you wish to do then I say go to the land of dwarves you will find her at a cottage of seven miners”, a smirk creeping across her face.

Frost flew off then. To find Winter he came to the cottage and told the dwarves he was looking for his sister Winter. The dwarves all looked sorrowful and pointed him towards the altar they had laid her on.He went to her and Frost overwhelmed with grief upon seeing the corpse of his sister Winter, lain out in loving respect inside the heart of a fallen tree and held her cold hand within his own and gently kissed her upon the brow. Frost patterns cascaded down her hands and her face. Finding their way into her mouth they froze the apple til it shifted and fell out of her mouth of its own accord, hard as stone. Winter rose her face glowing in the shiny frost of her brother. He was overjoyed and snow began to fall in beautiful downy patterns around them.

Idunn found her trees one again wilting and being nipped by ice as both Winter woke and Frost returned freezing her crop with frostbite. Idunn shook her fist and screamed “I will find her again as many times as it takes”. And Frost called back chuckling as he said it “And I will find my sister again as many times as it takes for that is our way”.

Grimm Remything Project

This was the second finished myth of a larger project concerning the mythology hidden in the folklore. As Christianity spread across the land many of our gods and myths were hidden in our folk tales. Behind saints, faeries, spirits, devils, and so on. The goal of this project is to show what could be hidden in the fairy tales we all know and love. While we do our best to see what could be hidden, we do not claim these to be the original versions – far from it. Our goal is to show what lies just beneath the page in the fairy tales we all know and love.

Frost and Winter by Arca of the Blood Coven

Notes


It was fairly obvious that this was a seasonal myth, though this draft is over a year old and better gods than Idunn such as Holda or Perchta would probably do better in place of Idunn, though than again perhaps not.

Jack Frost is a fairly common spirit/god and the decision to use him was based on him fitting the theme best, as always the Remything is designed to show what could be beneath not to show exactly what it once was before Christianization.

If you Enjoy the Original Art at the end you can check it out here at Arca’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bloodcoven_art/