The Harz in Germany, witches and devils

The Harz region is located in Germany. This area is known for its steam trains, hills, the Iron Curtain and its witches. But where do these witches come from? What is the reason that the Harz is so dominated by witches? You can’t pass a village without there being shops that sell witches or have a restaurant or bar with the name witch or devil in it. A witch dancing place (Hexentanzplatz) has even been set up on a mountain near Thale and tourists eagerly take advantage of the options to buy witches or other things related to witches.

Table of contents

  • Witches in the Harz
  • Witch persecutions
  • Walpurgis festival
  • Tourism

 

Witches in the Harz

Witches lived in the Harz from the sixteenth to the early eighteenth century. At least, until then there have been witch persecutions. These witches would worship the Devil instead of god. This mainly involved women who often came from poor families and were widows. They were easy for the Devil to manipulate. They had already lost everything or had nothing to start with.
Source: Pixaline, Pixabay De Brocken
According to the much-told legend, witches’ meetings took place on top of the mountain the Brocken on the Sabbath. The leader at these meetings was of course the Devil who had the appearance of a black goat. Here it was mainly told how bad the Christians were and how bad it was that they believed in God. After the service, the witches ate corpses and other unappetizing dishes together with the Devil. After which all the witches went to bed with the Devil one by one. After these meetings, the witches flew from the Brocken back to their homes on their brooms to make it as difficult as possible for the other inhabitants of their villages and towns.

Witch persecutions

From the sixteenth century onwards, witches were persecuted throughout Europe for their belief in the Devil and in herbs as medicines. If a harvest failed or someone died too early, it was the witches’ fault. This had to end and all witches were persecuted. This is also the case in the Harz. Many documents from these prosecutions have been lost or destroyed. It is known that there have been twenty-one convictions in Wernigerode and forty convictions in Quedlinburg. These persecutions were not gentle. Most women had no choice and were forced to confess through torture and long interrogations. Once arrested for witchcraft, it was clear that this woman was convicted and murdered as a witch. As punishments, the judges could torture, banish or burn a witch at the stake. This last punishment is the most common punishment in witch persecution: death by fire.

Persecuted women

Anna Suprang
The witch persecutions are kept quiet in most countries and areas. No one wants to relive this page of their history. Yet there are documents of witches who have been convicted. This also applies to Anna Suprang from Wernigerode in the Harz. After months of torture, humiliation and conversations, she confesses to making a pact with the Devil. For years she has tormented people around her and mixed poison. On July 17, 1583, she was burned at the stake.
However, she is not the only woman prosecuted for witchcraft who is certain to have been convicted. On the same day as Anna Suprang, Metta Fliss and Margaretha Ludwig were also burned at the stake.
Catharina Berenburg
On June 6, 1597, Catharina Berenburg was burned at the stake in Wernigerode. In 1597 she fled Westerburg from the witch persecutions. Thirty women had already been tried for witchcraft in Westerburg and she did not want to become number thirty-one. She fled to Wernigerode where she was arrested. The mayor of Wernigerode extracted a confession from her through torture, allowing her to be tried as a witch. At first Catharina denied that she was a witch and nothing showed that she was. But that didn’t help her. The mayor continued to torture her in Wernigerode until she confessed.
Source: Mattias F, Flickr (CC BY-ND-2.0)

Walpurgis festival

Every year in the Harz, on the night of April 30 to May 1, the Walpurgis Festival is celebrated. Especially in the towns of Bad Grund, Braunlage, Hahnenklee, Sankt Andreasberg, Schierke and Thale, this festival is celebrated around witches’ cauldrons. Traditionally, this festival is a spring festival. The name Walpurig comes from the Christian saint Walburga who was canonized on May 1, 779. But in Germany there was a popular belief that the air on the night of April 30 to May 1 was full of magic. The gods Wodan and Freya are said to have driven away the winter demons that night and thus brought in spring. Out of anger, all the witches emerge on this night to move (in whatever way) to the top of the Brocken to celebrate the witches’ ball there together with the Devil. Only on this one night were the witches who had been banished allowed to return to celebrate their festival.

Faust

The reason that the Walpurig festival and witches have become such an important part of the culture of the Harz is partly due to the book Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. This book is based on the life of doctor Johann Faust. Faust is said to have entered into an alliance with the Devil. He is said to possess supernatural powers for a number of years and everything goes well until the Devil takes his soul as previously agreed in the covenant.
In one of Goethe’s lines in the book the Brocken is mentioned: Now the witches ride to the Brocken

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