Walpurgisnacht and Hexenfeuer – 07/05/12
Fertility celebrations and witches fires light up the peaceful Saxony countryside.
Beltane (May Day) is a celebration of growth and fertility and the abundance of the height of Spring. At this time, plants are in full growth and our pasture is growing quicker than the sheep can eat it!
Traditionally, animals are driven out to pasture at Beltane, only returning at the time of the great fires of Samhain (Halloween), when light is gradually diminishing, cold is increasing and all but a few prepare for hibernation.
The fires of Beltane however offer us the opportunity to rid ourselves of winter gripes and welcome in new ideas and fresh energy for the busy months ahead. Here in Saxony, “Walpurgisnacht” – the German equivalent of Beltane – is celebrated with a ‘Hexenfeuer’ (literally ‘witch-fire’) in every village. Some even have life-sized straw witches balanced precariously on huge mounds of sticks!
We are invited to a neighbouring family for a small ‘hexenfeuer’ and are very glad of the invitation, as we end up getting the best of both worlds without the hectic clamour of fires too hot to come close to and crowds too loud and inebriated to keep track of the kids…
After our feast of grilled meat, salads and a shot of schnapps to settle things down, we stroll up the hill to be met with the spectacular sight of a dozen or so fires dotting the valley ridge and horizon beyond. The neighbour’s boys and our big girl excitedly take turns with binoculars in between bursts of chasing each other and hiding in the long grass.
At one point we all simply stand there, soaking up the peace, breathing in the scent of fresh apple blossom and revelling in the drama of bright orange light bursting out of the lush green landscape. The kids sit in the grass nibbling sorrel and daisies, teaching each other the names in their own languages, happy to eat salad of their own choosing!
These are the last big fires allowed in this area before the end of October. If you want to have anything bigger than a discreet camp fire, the village authorities have to be consulted and a small fee must usually be paid.
Now it feels like we have really arrived here. Every day the workload multiplies as everything grows faster than we can possibly keep track, yet the abundance brings with it a sense of purpose and satisfaction, adding meaning to the farm in the middle of Europe that we bought because we could afford it.
Inside, the end room of the flat is looking much more presentable with two of the three window frames sanded and painted with outdoor gloss paint and the interior walls plastered smooth and ready for some colour. The windows are old-style double glazed (typical of the former German Democratic Republic) whose wooden frames have remained untreated for a very long time. The wood is soft and porous, rapidly soaking up the paint. They now look set to withstand a good few more years.
The friendly neighbour whose sheep happily graze our overgrown pasture also happens to be a trained electrician who, as a friend of the original owners, installed the entire electrics back in the 1980′s! They turn out not to be as dodgy as we thought, only appearing to be so after the recent internal rearranging of walls and extracting of sockets by the previous owners. After a brief look round, shaking his head in disbelief at the haphazard changes, he quickly volunteers to sort out the dangerous elements and advise us as and when we’re ready on how best to proceed with refurbishments.