The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Places: A witch’s Travel Guide
Bald Mountain is perhaps the most famous “witches’ peak” on Earth. The name is sometimes used generically to indicate any mountain associated with witchcraft, however, the original Bald Mountain is in the Ukraine.
Bald Mountain is a nickname for Mount Triglav near Kiev, also called Bare Mountain. Russian, Belorussian, and Ukrainian witches, plus those from much further afield, allegedly applied ointment to their bodies and rode broomsticks, pitchforks or chimney pokers up chimneys to journey to Bald Mountain, especially on Midsummer’s Eve, known in Russia as the Feast of Ivan Kupalo.
Bald Mountain is more than just a place to hold a party, however: Bald Mountain was a pilgrimage point for collecting magical supplies. Witches and others journeyed to Bald Mountain on Midsummer’s Eve because that was the sole time and place where one could collect Earth’s most magical plants. The fact that they were collected at the magical conjunction of Bald Mountain and Midsummer’s Eve (space and time) was what gave these plants their immense power.
Bald Mountain is crucial to the concept of the Russian magical plant. According to the tenets of Russian botanical magic, it isn’t sufficient for a plant to be of a magical species. For instance, in other parts of Europe rowan or elder is innately powerful: any rowan twig possesses incredible power. Obviously it can be enhanced through ritual and spell-casting, however the plant itself is inherently powerful.
Not so with Russian magical plants. It is not the species alone that creates power. For maximum power, a botanical must be picked at a specific place and time, and often specific rituals and incantations must be incorporated for magical activation. Rituals and incantations may vary but the best place and time is invariably Bald Mountain on Midsummer’s Eve. This is true for witches but also for anyone wishing to obtain such a plant: one must go and gather among the witches, a civilian amongst priestesses.
Bald Mountain has historically served as an artistic muse, inspiring Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky to create “A Night on Bald Mountain.” Mussorgsky claimed to have been inspired by the confession of a witch who was burned at the stake in the 1660s as well as by Nikolai Gogol’s novella St John’s Eve. The piece did not meet with immediate critical success, originally rejected as too “raw.” Five years after Mussorgsky’s death, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov completed his own orchestration of the work. It is among the works featured in Disney’s Fantasia.
Another Bald Mountain is also identified with witches’ revelry: Kopasz Tetö (literally “Bald Head”), is a peak in the Hungarian Tokay hills, in the shade of the Carpathian Mountains. Tokay is famous for its wine, which once held a reputation almost as magical as absinthe. Presumably it was on the menu at the witches’ sabbats allegedly held there.
See BOTANICALS: Elder, Rowan; CALENDAR: Ivan Kupalo, Midsummer’s Eve; CREATIVE ARTS: Films: Disney Witches, Literature: The Master and Margarita.