Last night, I celebrated Walpurgisnacht with my family — my mom, sister, brother, their partners, and my kids. We had a cookout around a fire pit, and we drank beer and wine and listened to music and talked and laughed as night fell.
Yesterday, as we were preparing for the festivities, my son asked me why we celebrate Walpurgisnacht. I told him that it marks the end of the frost and the beginning of the planting season; it’s the start of agricultural summer. We celebrate it a couple of weeks earlier than the traditional date for Walpurgisnacht — between April 14-18, rather than April 30 — because it’s the last frost date for our region.
For some time now, I’ve envisioned the spirits of warmth and wetness — the qualities that we associate with summer — as goose women. Like swan maidens, they are shapeshifters: woman-shaped one moment, goose-shaped the next, and perhaps sometimes fog or mist. They are fierce feminine spirits who accompany Thunor, the God of storms and fertility and defender against the frost spirits. In some ways, they are reminiscent of the Slavic rusalki — their love of music and dance, and their fertile powers — and the Norse valkyries — their fierce warrior nature and connection with the otherworld.
I’ve had this mythic narrative in my head for a while of the goose women battling the spirits of frost that take over during the winter. Last Imbolc, during my private ritual, I heard the honking of geese as they passed in migration from the south to the north. It was a sign to me that the warmth was coming sooner rather than later. As the spring develops, I envision these spirit warriors advancing and receding against their enemies. Eventually, inevitably, they overwhelm and beat back the winter spirits. The frost spirits retreat underground, waiting to reemerge during the harvest when the goose women return to the otherworld to nourish themselves and their fertile powers.
So, the last frost date marks the final battle between the frost spirits and the goose women. The latter fly through the air on their wild hunt, chasing the frost spirits underground. They’re popularly called witches, but really they’re powerful beneficent spirits of Summertide. We burn fires to help them drive the frost spirits away, and we toast them and honor them and (I, at least) give cult to them.
For more Walpurgisnacht inspiration, read this prose poem.