The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Perchtentanz or Perchta’s Dance
The Perchta in question is the Germanic witchgoddess who is now among the leaders of the Wild Hunt. Perchta leads a horde known as the Perchten.
In Austria and southern Germany, Twelfth Night is Perchtennacht, when Perchta leads that horde across the night sky. At some point during the twelve days of Christmas, the dance known as the Perchtentanz is traditionally performed on solid ground. The Perchtentanz is a masked, costumed, choreographed performance, now much beloved by tourists. Scholars and historians love it too: the Perchtentanz is classified among sword dances and is related to the so-called Moorish dances, which typically re-enact battles between the forces of good and evil, light and darkness, as personified by Christians and Moors. Out of all of these dances, the Perchtentanz is believed to have retained the most pagan elements. The performance is believed to contain vestiges of pre-Christian German devotion to Perchta. The original intent may have been to drive out the forces of winter, dispel malicious spirits, and stimulate the coming harvest.
There are regional variations in the way the Perchtentanz is performed; as an example, the Perchtentanz of Salzburg, Austria traditionally features two factions: the “beautiful Perchten” have elaborate headdresses and are bedecked with bows, bells, ribbons, and flowers, while the “evil Perchten” wear grotesque masks and tattered rags. They engage in hand-to-hand combat, reminiscent perhaps of the Italian Benandanti, the “good walkers” who magically battle the forces of evil. (See CALENDAR: Walpurgis; DICTIONARY: Benandanti; Wild Hunt; DIVINE WITCH: Perchta.)