Posted by: nicanthiel | April 30, 2009


Tonight (sundown April 30) is Witches’ Night, more properly termed Walpurgisnacht (or, since we’re dealing with Old English on this blog, Wealdburg(h)aniht); on this night, folklore goes, all the witches gather and go into the mountains to do magic and curse people. It is terribly unsafe for any “good Christian folk” to go out of doors until morning. The Saints’ Day following (May 1, Feast of St. Valpurga) banishes all evil back that had been loosed the night before.  However, that’s for the Christians.

Heathens, particularly Continental and Anglo-Saxon heathens, see it a bit differently. There is still the danger of running into roaming fairies and elves, and I believe one more danger that isn’t normally associated with Ye Olde Merry May Daye – the ride of the Valkyries (and no, not the epic Wagner bit).

First, let’s examine the name of the “holy-day”: Wealdburganiht. The last third, niht, is fairly obvious as “night.” The Old English Dictionary gives weald as two things: a forest, grove or wood (where we get our word wold froml the Anglian version was wald); or power, dominion, mastery (and possibly a pun for male genitalia). Burg or burh is the Old English word for a fortified town (where we get borough, burg, berg, etc.), but can literally mean a dwelling place. So, it seems that Wealdburgasniht could mean either “dwelling place in the night woods,” or “power dwelling in the night.”

The first potential definition is interesting: it refers to a grove or wood that people sleep in on this night. I have already discussed the apparent Vanic affinity for sacred groves, and on this night when the doorways between worlds thin, it is only natural that those seeking to commune with the Gods and spirits would go to those very same groves and sleep there (an echo, perhaps, to the tradition of sitting out on grave mounds)

Likewise, the second definition brings to mind the folklore tradition of the witches and elves wandering in the night, waiting to catch any unwary person. The Vanic women (and men) are very much affiliated with folk magic and wiccecræft, and it would be no surprise that several Vanic Goddesses show Their “spooky” faces this time of year, including Freya and Nerthus.

But there is one other possible definition that may be relevant to tonight. The first part of the Continental form, Wal/Val-purg, may probably be cognate with the Norse/Icelandic val- as seen in Valhöll and Valkyrjar, referring to the slain warriors. The Old English form of Valkyrie is Wælcyrge/Wælcyrige, which seems suspiciously close to Wealdburg. If there actually is any correlation, it would add the meaning of “night of the barrow-dead” (burg, or béorg, also means grave or burial mound, and is the ancestor of the barrow), a fitting name for the seaonal counterpoint to Hallows, when the dead ride the winds. (Interestingly enough, if you look back at the former definitions with this version of burg, you will find that the definitions change to “Barrow-mastery night” or “burial-grove night,” keeping with the general fear of necromancy and witchcraft in folklore for the night.

Just some food for thought.

Myrge Wealdburganiht



  1. From what I have been led to understand, St. Walpurga was likely an historical person but the practices of her feast day are quite Pagan and it seems likely there is a Goddess Walpurga. I’m of the opinion this may in fact be one of Freya’s bynames in Germany. I have addressed Her as such and She hasn’t complained. Yet.

    This is not to discredit or put down anything you’ve said here, just to say it’s possible to hairsplit too much and most of the Heathens I’ve spoken with honor the Goddess Walpurga/Wealdburg on this night.


    • No, I wasn’t trying to discredit or downplay the goddess; I was merely trying to open up some thoughts about what the name might be referring to, saint/goddess or no.

      • I know you weren’t trying to discredit or downplay Her, I just wanted to put in my own pedantic $.02. You would think there was something wrong if I didn’t 😉


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