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On Frau Holle


Taken from: Otto Freiher von Reinsberg-Düringsfeld, "Aberglaube-Sitten-Feste Germanischer Völker, das festliche Jahr", Reprint-Verlag-Leipzig (reprint of the original 1898).

p. 22ff

... This is how, in many ways, we have kept the memory of the old heathen goddess of the Germans, Perchta or Perhata, whose name means the magnificent, the light.

Long ago, when the Germanic religion still honored Nature's power, both her blessing and devastating aspects, she was the rain-giving clouds, the spouse of the god of storms. Later, she became a sky queen who, besides mastery over clouds and winds, she also had the power of granting sunshine and prosperity to the fields, and also, as the motherly protector of women's life, she controlled feminine work, namely favoring spinning, and, as Frau Holda or Holle, she kept the souls of the unborn or dead children. In some countries it was said that her home was in a mountain, a magnificent cave, and still in some others, it was in the waters of some fountains or ponds, where it is still said that children come from [this water allows women to become fertile?].

At the turning of the winter sun, with her spouse Wodan, would she hold a procession through the land, which began as a blessing, turning later into a wild hunt.

In the Ukermark, under the names of Frick or Frau Harke, even today, she still haunts Christmas nights as a hunting cloud flying through the skies with a number of howling hounds. Also, she goes from place to place so as to check if the servants have spun all their flax. If she finds a spindle that is still full, she punishes the lazy worker by completely dirtying her spinning.

In the Priegnitz and the Mecklenburg, she takes the name of Fru Gode or Frau Gode and she appears particularly between Holy Christmas night and Three Kings day, in the form of the driver of a wild hunt with yapping and howling hounds. Doors are then kept shut, and nobody goes out in the evenings in order to avoid meeting her. She is often seen as a large and magnificent lady, driven in a car pulled by dogs and it is often said: "if a wheel happens to break, she gives the broken parts to the servant who fixes it, and they become pure gold after a few days."

In Lower Saxony, Frau Holle is a grey-haired old lady with long teeth, who dirties the spindle of the lazy weaver, hides a gift under the compartment of the spindle of the active ones [this piece of equipment is called wockenbreif in the local speech, in place of German Rockenbrief], brings new white shirts to children aged six, and who, in places where she used to be held in reverence, goes through with a car full of New Year gifts each new year's eve, between 9 and 10 p.m.. If she would crack her whip, only the devotees would hear it and go out to receive their gifts.

In the Hesse and the Thuringia, Frau Holle, Holde or Hulda, is described as a beautiful white shining woman with long golden hair of whom it is said, when it snows hard: "Frau Holle is shaking out the feathers of her bed". As the mother of all small creatures, or of the incarnated souls of dead non-baptized, but remembered, children, called "Heimchen" (small home) in Franconia, together with those souls, she takes care of the fertility of the fields that she plows with a golden plow, and she asks the "Heimchen" to irrigate those fields.

It is said that she had her old home in the Saalthal, between Bucha and Wilhemsdorf, but that she left this land due to the lack of gratitude of the citizens of Gosdorf? and Rödern. On a dark evening of the Kings day, she went to a river with her little people and asked for a ride. The driver was afraid at first of the high veiled shape that was surrounded by so many wailing children, but he did as he was asked at last. After three crossings, he found Frau Holla or Perchtha on the beach, busy at repairing her plough that the Heimchen were supposed to carry further. He was then told that his reward would be the shavings left behind. He took this with bad will, unhappy of a such a miserable reward. At home, he threw three pieces of shavings on the windowsill. In the morning he found three lumps of gold in place of the shavings. This is how Frau Perchtha rewarded all the help she received, and often she can still be seen, with her plow, on Three Kings' day, or Perchtenabend (Perchta's evening).

Three Kings' day, when these manifestations took place, was especially dedicated to her, as well as in Austria, Tyrol and Bavaria, under the names Perchtag or Prechtag (day of Perch or Prech) (earlier, in Zürich: Brechtentag), and in Swabia it was named Oberstag or …berst.

New converts to christianity, trying to shed horror on heathenism, described the formerly honored goddesses as bad spirits, and even Frau Perchtha or Holle, the sweetest and most beneficial goddesses, were made to become aggressive and punishing characters.

Frau Berch or Perch, in Higher Austria and near Salzburg [has been named Salisbury in English], started to kidnap children that were not quiet during the year, and, in order to please them, the little girls had to keep their games well ordered, and servants had to weave their whole spindle before Christmas night, and to hide it under the roof. If she found a spindle with some flax still on it, she would shout angrily:

As much hairs,
As much bad years!

In the Voigtland, on her feast's eve, fish and rolls have to be eaten. If not, Perchtha will come and cut the body of the disobedient one, fill him with chaff and sew him again with a ploughshare and an iron chain.

Carinthia is not any less mistreated, where often even the adults she met were kidnapped. She haunts places, like Frick or Frau Gode, heading a wild army, and in the morning she brings back the unfortunate she took with her, as soulless corpses, holding strange foreign flowers between their fingers and toes.

This is why Frau Holle is burnt each year at Eisfeld in Turingia.

The Sunday of Epiphany, after the divine afternoon service, young and old go to the marketplace, playing music. There, they sing a consecrated song, and they shout, by way of joke: "Frau Holle will be burnt".

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