In my previous blog-post (Mom’s Home!) I have written about how the Goddess, the Great Mother, is welcomed to our homes in the Alps every year on the Eve of Jan 6th. Still, two thousand and sixteen years after the beginning of our current way to count years (at least many of us do so, and all the computers (remember the Y2K freak-out)).
The choice of date is not arbitrary, of course, but due to January 5th being the day when the magical time of the Raunächte end. At night, the Goddess comes for a last visit in the guise of Mother Perchta, until her return in Spring.
But who is this Percht? And why do we call parades of furry monsters with scary masks, usually taking place on January 5th, or the closest weekend, or sometime between the Winter Solstice and January 5th, Perchten-Runs? Why do we associate these fearsome creatures with the Goddess? Why is she often described as an old, ugly hag in the stories of not-so-old?
It is exactly because she is the Goddess! Well, her crone-aspect, to be precise. As such she may not only have been viewed as old and withered already in pre-Christian times to begin with, but she certainly was made into a dreadful figure by the Church, to turn people away from her and her consorts, the Maiden and the Mother. She was called Borbet once, her name derived from the Indo-European/Proto-Celtic term BORM, meaning something like warm, but also womb. As the crone-aspect of the Goddess trinity, she was the psychopomp, receiving the bodies of the departed in her womb, and accompanying the spirits into the Otherworld. The association with death, which was just seen as a transition into another life back then, but in Christianity became the final destination with certain torture and possible doom, made is easy for early Christians to decry her as scary, ugly, if not plain evil.
But people clung on to her and her sisters for dear life even until the 12th century CE, which prompted the Bishop of the German city of Worms to decree that worshipping the old Goddesses is forbidden. It is somewhat ironic, though, that this happened in Worms of all places, because the settlement was known as Borbetomagus (“Borbet’s Field”) in Celtic times. In other words, this bishop’s residence was in actuality a place dedicated to this Goddess.
So, when you viewed the video attached to this blog-post and watched these furry creatures and those tree-like figures, even the witches – all together called “Perchten” – you were really looking at the Goddess. In a much distorted way, I admit. The term Percht itself may be a dialect corruption of “Borbet”, by the way.
The Perchten don’t run around bonfires just to show off their masks and costumes, however, for there is a deeper meaning of the Perchten coming to your village. When the Perchten-groups (called Pass) visit villages in the traditional way, they would enter people’s homes and the witches would sweep out “the old year” (i.e. the spirits of it) from the home. The rest of the group do their dancing and noise-making to expel such spirits that way, and some of the Perchten would hit the (younger) members of the households with horse-hair whips to induce or increase fertility. In at least one area of the Alps, such a Perchten visit it played out even more intricately. There, first the “ugly” Perchten storm into the house, do their shenanigans, and then they are driven out by “beautiful” Perchten, who then dance to ask the house to be blessed. And then they all drink some Schnaps with the folks of the house.
This is it, folks, about the crone-aspect of the Goddess. She’s gone (not really, though) until summer’s end at Samhain. Soon, we will be talking about ways we can awaken the Maiden to get ready to blanket the Earth with green and colorful flowers in spring with more dancing (and more Schnaps).