Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Door Into Summer

For some, April 30 means Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht). It's a traditional religious holiday of pre-Christian origin, celebrated by Christian as well as non-Christian communities, past the stroke of midnight and through "The Door Into Summer", also known as "May Day". It's probably the one day of the year that Catholics, pagans, witches, Satanists, and anarchists all almost see eye-to-eye. The phrase "The Door Into Summer" also turns up as, of all things, the title of one of my favorite Monkees songs.

Walpurgisnacht is named for Saint Walpurga. The earliest representation of Walpurga, from the early 11th century, depicts her holding stylized stalks of grain. The grain attribute has been interpreted as identifying Walpurga as a Christianized protectress of the grain, the Grain Mother. Farmers fashioned her image in a corn dolly at harvest time, and from this tradition also comes the real origin of the Scarecrow figure in the fields - scaring birds was never its original intention.

Other traditions call this time, midpoint between the vernal equinox and summer solstice, Beltane. And still others - such as the Vikings - called it "The Feast of Valbörg". In ancient Mesopotamia, this orgiastic fertility rite was known as "Zagmuku", while in ancient Egypt, this Spring fertility festival was known as "The Festival of the Joyous Union." According to Janet and Stewart Farrar, in their book Eight Sabbats for Witches, this time has historically been, and I'm quoting here, "a festival of unashamed human sexuality and fertility." This is probably why Anton LaVey chose this date for the founding of his Church of Satan, and possibly why Adolf Hitler chose it as the day he committed suicide (that is, if you believe everything you read in history books and I'm not entirely sure I do.)

I've seen it said elsewhere that May Day customs include walking the boundaries of one's property, repairing fences, and boundary markers, performing chimney sweeps, participating in archery tournaments, dancing, feasting, music, drinking, and indulgence. Hunh. Okay. I dunno about archery and chimneys, but I got those last five items down cold.

"The Door Into Summer" just happens to be the name of a 1956 novel by Robert Heinlein. It's a peculiar story of an engineer and an 11-year-old girl who, thanks to the magic of time travel, end up marrying after jumping around in space and time to a point where their ages match up. Heinlein apparently was unaware of his title's relevance to Beltane, because as he tells the story of its origin, his wife made an offhand comment about the family cat at wintertime "looking for a door into summer." (Did his wife know the real meaning of the phrase? I suspect so.)

Unfortunately, any such calendar date that is fetishized by occult and occult-wannabe types is going to attract bad mojo. I find there's a rather high quotient of unsolved "cold case file" murders and disappearances that took place on April 30/May 1, and especially in Florida.

Stay frosty out there tonight, y'all.

(Illustration above by Stefan Eggeler, for the 1922 edition of Gustav Meyrink's Walpurgisnacht.)

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