The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods
Also known as Holda, Holle, Frau Holle, Hulle, Mother Holle, Frau Wode.
Hulda, Queen of Witches, the Elven-Queen, was once a hearth deity who, through demonization, became associated with the fires of Hell. She eventually diminished into a figure used to scare children into good behavior although devotion to her never entirely disappeared. A revival of her worship is currently underway.
Familiarly known as Mother Holle, she is the leader of a band of spirits, the Hulden (Hill Fairies), who may be friendly or punitive. Mother Holle receives the souls of the dead and releases newborns from the underworld.
She is a weather spirit. When she shakes her featherbed, it snows on earth. Rain falls from her laundry rinse water. She may be a solstice goddess who births the New Year.
Hulda may or may not be identical with Hella, Perchta, Herta or Frigga. Her associations with rabbits also link her with Ostara. There are tremendous gaps in the surviving information and so this is subject to interpretation.
Hulda may appear in any of the three manifestations of women’s power: maiden, mother or crone. Sometimes she appears as a woman when seen from the front and a tree from the back. She guards and nurtures all the growing things of the forest. Mother Holle is followed by a retinue of torch-bearing rabbits.
In Lower Saxony, Mother Holle is known as the Waldmichen, the wood nymph. She lives in a grotto where the souls of unborn babies frolic, and she owns a mill where she grinds old men and women into new souls again. She has a retinue of rabbits: two hold up her train while two hold candles to light her way.
Hulda was known throughout Northern Europe. Holland is her namesake. She lives in mountain caves and inside wells, believed to be a source of children. She bathes at midday in a fountain from which babies emerge—a well of life.
Sacred Creatures: Wolves, rabbits
Plants: Holly, elder, juniper, flax. According to legend, Frau Hulda first introduced flax and taught women how to create linen.
Sacred Time: The winter solstice is Mother Holle’s feast day. The twelve days between December 25th and January 6th are also sacred to her.
Hulda is involved with spinning, weaving, ploughing, childbirth, and the planting and gathering of botanicals. She guards and releases unborn souls. One of her feet is reportedly deformed because of excessive treading of her spinning wheel. The deformed foot may also be an allusion to shamanism. She is “the white lady,” a snow queen who wears a mantle of frost while she spins destiny.
The mysterious Norse deity Holler (Uller, Wulder) seems to derive from the Vanir pantheon of spirits. He is the Frost King: when Odin leads his Host during Yuletide, Holler rules Asgard in his place. Holler may or may not be Hulda’s twin brother; in one myth he becomes her husband but before he’ll marry Hulda, he tests her with a riddle: she must come to him not dressed and not naked, not riding or walking, not alone or with company, not in light or in darkness. Hulda arrives at twilight, wrapped in a fishing net, perched on a donkey with one foot dragging on the ground, and accompanied by 24 wolves.
Mother Holle, once the provider of children, was transformed, post-Christianity, into a Teutonic demon-witch with disheveled hair and a propensity for attacking infants. The Hulden, once dancing hill-fairies, turned into a band of malevolent female spirits. Women suspected of witchcraft were said to ride with Hulde. Souls of unbaptized babies were condemned to her realm in the sky.
Mother Holle, a supreme and benevolent spirit, was transformed into the female equivalent of the boogieman. Country people warned their children that if they weren’t obedient, Hulde would “get” them.
Frau Holle was identified as “the devil’s grandmother”—the one who taught him everything he knows.
In Wurzburg, Frau Holle travels the streets on Christmas Eve in a hooded white cloak carrying a rod and sack with which to beat and carry off “bad” children, similar to Santa’s European helpers, Krampus and Black Peter.
Some see Santa as Odin in disguise; by the Middle Ages, Hulda was frequently identified as Odin’s consort and female ally. Sometimes she leads the Wild Hunt as his partner; other times she leads her own nocturnal host, accompanied by a host of dead souls including those who have died without being baptized. Her associations with Odin may go back further; in one legend, she was the one who first gave him his ravens.
While some feared Hulda, others, identified as “witches,” still adored her: she travels during the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany bringing gifts of fruitfulness, fertility, and abundance to people. Some fled from her but devotees of her cult wished to join her night train: the terms “Holle-riding” or “Holda-riding” were synonymous with witches’ flight in Germany as late as the nineteenth century.
Jakob Grimm reported that Hulda and her train of “elves” openly wended their way through Germany in processionals as late as the fourteenth century. She led a ring of dancers in what Grimm called “witch dances.”
See also Freya, Frigga, Hella, Herta, Lilith, Odin, Perchta; CALENDAR: Saint Lucy’s Day, Ostara, Yule; DICTIONARY: Elf; FAIRIES: Nature-spirit Fairies: Elf.