Walpurgis Night is a night of celebrations on the last day of April to welcome the springtime in the Nordic countries, not so much a family celebration as a public. People gather round the “May bonfire”, singing and enjoying and students prepare for the exams and graduations and everybody is happy. “May bonfire” comes from an old Norse expression, “to may” that means to dress a maypole with green grass and flowers. As with the may pole in Midsummer, even the bonfire in April was a pre-Christian fertility ritual. In Pre-Christian history people prayed to the gods to bless this year’s sowing and harvest, and they also asked the gods to bless the fertility among women. Procreation of man was also crucial for the survival of mankind.
The Swedish word “mässa”, as in Walpurgis Mass, was used in older time also as a title of an ecclesiastical feast in memory of Saint Walpurga or Walburga (Old English: Wealdburg; c. 710 – February 25, 777 or 779). Walburga, or Valborg in Swedish, was an English missionary to the Frankish Empire. Is it not strange that we mix pre-Christian pagan rituals with Church saints? But that is VERY common in the Nordic, as well as north European countries. All our holidays are in that same manner. People are in general not aware of the tragic history behind many of our “Christian” holidays that have a pre-Christian pagan history.
I am thinking of Christmas celebrations for example, and other traditions associated with Christianity. The Saturnalia, for example, was a forerunner of Christmas and was celebrated in the Roman Empire, which had just adopted Christianity as their religion.
Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25. The festival began when Roman authorities chose “an enemy of the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule.” Each Roman community selected a victim (preferably a Jew) whom they forced to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week and let him run through the streets while people made fun of them.
The same goes for our bonfires in April that has its pre-Christian origin to burn the evil forces away from the land, people were also sacrificed during these traditions. I think it is important to have the historical facts while studying different kinds of traditions and celebrations, though it is not my intentions to be a negative killjoy, but many of our pretty innocent traditions have a more sinister background.
The reason why Christianity grew so quickly, was not through persuation and belief. The Roman emperor Constantine was the ruler of the known world. In 325 C.E. he became a Christian and he forced virtually the whole world to convert to Christianity! He realised that there were a lot of power in religion and government together that he could have ultimate power. And since he was the ruler of the known world, he forced the whole world to convert. However, that was not a big deal for these pagans, because what they believed wasn’t of any substance anyway! So when he presented Christianity at the edge of a sword, they said ”Okay, fine”, so they decided to convert. It was not a hard sell!
© 2012 Jonathan Axelsson
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