Tonight’s the night…. when witches assemble and revel on the Brocken (the highest of the Harz Mountains in north central Germany). They dance and fly over a huge fire – and the devil is the guest of honour.

The Rattles – The Witch (1970)

In some parts of northern Germany (certainly in my home village!) the custom of lighting huge fires is still kept alive to celebrate the coming of May – the Maifeuer, not to be confused with the Osterfeuer (the latter takes place at Easter and has a more Christian connotation).

It truly is a ‘bewitching’ night and can be dangerous and sinister, as well as seductive and lustful. In Goethe’s Faust Part one, the devil (Mephistopheles) takes Faust along to the Brocken, and it marks the moment Faust chooses evil. The last chapter of book five in Thomas Mann’s  Magic Mountain also references this special night, as does Edward Albee in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Die kleine Hexe (Ottfried Preussler), illustration by Winnie Gebhardt-Geiler

I much prefer the story of the ‘kleine Hexe’ (the little witch), who, at a mere 127 years of age is deemed too young to be allowed to dance with the others on Walpurgis Night. After many trials and tribulations (she is a ‘good’ witch, which is her main problem), she manages to take the magic away from the bad ones and can enjoy her very own dance above the fire.

So, sleep well!