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Weird but True: Festival of the witches

Last updated on: May 02, 2014 12:41 IST

Weird but True: Festival of the witches

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Legend has it that on Walpurgisnacht or May Eve, witches fly their broomsticks to meet the devil at the summit of the Brocken Mountain in Harz, Germany.

In towns and villages scattered throughout the mountain region, locals make bonfires, dress in devil or witches costumes and dance into the new month of May.

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Image: A woman holds a broom as she travels on the HSB light railway through the Harz mountains to celebrate the Walpurgisnacht pagan festival
Photographs: Thomas Peter/Reuters

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Weird but True: Festival of the witches

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Walpurgisnacht takes place on the eve of May Day.

On this night witches are said to ride to the Blocksberg mountain to celebrate the arrival of spring. 'Non-magicians', and other ordinary people in Germany, have parties called Tanz in den Mai ('dance into May') on Walpurgisnacht to welcome spring and the warmer weather with lots of singing and dancing.

But it's different for witches. They gather on the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz mountain range, in order to meet up with the devil.

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Image: Women dressed up as a witches walk at the summit of Brocken mountain in the Harz region celebrating the Walpurgisnacht pagan festival
Photographs: Thomas Peter/Reuters

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Weird but True: Festival of the witches

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On this particular night the mountain turns into the 'Blocksberg'.

It certainly has a very mystical atmosphere, since the mountain peak is often shrouded in fog.

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Image: Man with a devil make-up looks out of a HSB light railway carriage as he travels through the Harz mountains to celebrate the Walpurgisnacht pagan festival
Photographs: Thomas Peter/Reuters

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Weird but True: Festival of the witches

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Saint Walpurga (or Walburga) was an English missionary to the Frankish Empire (what is now Southern Germany). She was canonized on 1 May 870 by Pope Adrian II.

Walpurgis Night is held on the eve of St Walpurga's day and coincides with May Day.

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Image: A HSB train travels through dense forest covering the Harz mountains near Wernigerode
Photographs: Thomas Peter/Reuters

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Weird but True: Festival of the witches

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As a result, what was formerly a Celtic festival was transformed into a Christian Saint's day.

St Walpurga is said to be the patron saint against evil spirits.

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Image: A woman dressed up as a witch walks at the summit of Brocken mountain in the Harz region celebrating the Walpurgisnacht pagan festival
Photographs: Thomas Peter/Reuters

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Weird but True: Festival of the witches

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In northern Germany, many people dress up as witches and celebrate on the Blocksberg mountain.

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Image: A man with devil make-up poses for a picture on a HSB light railway carriage travelling through the Harz mountains during celebrations marking the Walpurgisnacht pagan tradition
Photographs: Thomas Peter/Reuters

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Weird but True: Festival of the witches

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For the first officially organised celebration of Walpurgis Night in 1896, only male guests were allowed to be present.

However, today the witch is often thought of as a symbol for independent and strong women.

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Image: A man dressed as a devil is bathed in red light at a Walpurgisnacht pagan festival in the town of Stiege, in the Harz mountain region
Photographs: Thomas Peter/Reuters
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In the Rhineland, in west Germany, boys decorate birch branches with ribbons and secretly put them up outside their girlfriends' houses.

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Image: A man dressed as devil towers over revellers as they watch fireworks explode over a Walpurgisnacht pagan festival in the town of Stiege, in the Harz mountain region
Photographs: Thomas Peter/Reuters

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All over Germany, towns and villages put up a Maibaum (maypole) -- a pole or tree, decorated with ribbons.

Some people also light May bonfires to chase away all of the 'evil spirits' of winter.

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Image: A woman holds a broom as she travels on the HSB light railway through the Harz mountains celebrating the Walpurgisnacht pagan festival
Photographs: Thomas Peter/Reuters

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