Night of the Witches: folklore, traditions & recipes for celebrating Walpurgis Night (Llewellyn, 2011) Illus right: Linda's greening candles.
BHPL: Welcome. I was not familiar with Walpurgis Night until I read your book because it is not commonly celebrated here in the States. How did you get interested in Walpurgis Night?
Linda: I think it might all have started years and years ago with a postcard my aunt and uncle sent us from their vacation in the Harz. There was a nice picture of the mountains and a little note on the back about how the region was famous for its witches. I'd never heard of a place famous for its witches, except Salem and Bernalillo, so I kind of filed that tidbit away. Then later, I got a subscription to German Life magazine. Every couple of years they do a piece on Walpurgis Night celebrations in the Harz, so there were those witches again. While I was working on a book about Halloween, I got the idea that it would be fun to write a whole book about Walpurgis Night, something that hadn't been done yet in English.
Linda: It's outside of Albuquerque, but that would be another book.
BHPL: a clarification for our readers: the Harz is a mountainous area of northern Germany with the highest mountain being the Brocken.
BHPL: Okay. You've described Walpurgis Night as the European Halloween. Is it as popular there as Halloween is here?
Linda: Well, Walpurgis Night is exactly halfway around the year from Halloween, and in many ways it's the inverse of Halloween, even though it looks a lot like it. In America, we've been consistently trying to kill Halloween, but it's a very organic festival, so it keeps coming back and now it's even spreading. Halloween is centered on the very real tradition of trick-or-treating, while the German Walpurgisnacht is really based on rumors- - rumors dating to the time of Charlemagne. There were supposed to be strange pagan things going on in the Harz, witches were supposed to fly to the Brocken every April 30. There were accepted ways of scaring those witches away, such as noisemaking and bonfires, but nothing so standardized as our trick-or-treating. The traditions were very localized, varying from village to village. In fact, in the extreme northern part of Germany where all of my relatives are, it isn't celebrated at all, though they've now adopted Halloween.
BHPL: Are we trying to kill Halloween?
Linda: Yes, I think we are. Mischief Night has really taken a nose dive, and now we're telling kids, don't wear masks, don't wear scary costumes, don't go trick-or-treating in your neighborhood; go to the mall because it's oh so much safer! Walpurgisnacht, on the other hand, is a holiday that people have consciously revived. By the 1800's, when people were starting to lose their belief in witches, the concept of Walpurgis Night started to look very romantic and they worked hard to keep it going. Walpurgis Night in the Harz is now a big tourist attraction. But if I could give an award to the ballsiest celebration of Walpurgis Night, it would go to the villages of the Czech Republic. They don't call it Walpurgis Night, but it's the same day. They celebrate by eating, drinking and building really, really big fires. And then jumping over them. Even in Prague, they try to get as many people as possible to dress up as witches. They even hand out free besoms.
BHPL: Besom being a twig broom, right?
Linda: Right. The besom is the quintessential witch's broom.
BHPL: How did you come by the recipes in the book? Are they family recipes?
Linda: For the most part, no. The Quarkkeulchen comes from my grandmother, and the Rote Grutze, or Berry Porridge, has been made forever on my mother's side, but I used a slightly different recipe from hers. For the traditional Scandinavian recipes like the Sima, for instance, I consulted as many recipes as I could, then cobbled together the easiest version. There were many failures in my kitchen, most notably the Finnish May Day fritters. Big mess there the first time around.
BHPL: On to the crafts in the book: how did you come up with the craft ideas?
(Illus left: Linda's smudge sticks/Walpurgis wands.)
BHPL: I know that some people have asked you why there is no dedication in your book?
Linda: Basically, because my editors didn't ask me. If they had, I'm sure I would've come up with something, but I'm not sure what. It amazes me how many authors dedicate their books to members of their families. I love my family, but they're not much help when it comes to writing books. In the dedication in Smoke and Mirrors, Neil Gaiman says something to the effect that he wrote the book in spite of his family, rather than thanks to them. I should say that my sister was a big help with the technical aspects of formatting the book after I had completely screwed it up in Google docs, but she already has the photo credit for taking my author photo, and I figured that was enough. Plus, I gave her a Starbucks card.
BHPL: What was your favorite part of the book to write?
Linda: The glossary! After I had met my deadline and submitted the completed manuscript, my acqusitions editor, Elysia Gallo, said, How 'bout a glossary? I asked her if it should be dry and scholarly or if I could have fun with it and she said absolutley have fun with it. So I did. Aside from that, my favorite part was the entry on the Valkyries. As I write that word, I know people will be thinking, Oh, valkyries, horned helmet, big boobs, blond braids. I enjoyed trying to blow that image out of the water. The valkyries are so much scarier than that. Truly terrifying. I really hope I run into some this April 30th.
BHPL: What books are you reading right now?
Linda: I'm listening to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie and I'm reading the Chalice by Phil Rickman
BHPL: I'll have to try those. I've really enjoyed your book recommendations in the past and I think you were the one who started the cult of Kate Atkinson here among the library staff.
Linda: Yes, I'm on the holds list for her Started Early, Took My Dog.
BHPL: Thanks for visiting our blog. I loved your book and recommend it highly. I also want to remind our readers and library patrons that you will be doing a program at BHPL tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM when you will share some of your delicious food and teach us how to make an origami kitchen witch - which I'm hoping will work some magic on my cooking skills. You will also be having an exhibit related to your book in the display case at the New Providence Public Library for the month of April which I'm looking forward to seeing and in the interest of full-disclosure: I have contributed two witch boxes which were really fun to make and were inspired by your book.