The Brocken - Places: A witch’s Travel Guide

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

The Brocken
Places: A witch’s Travel Guide

At 3,747 feet, the Brockenberg, more popularly known as The Brocken, is the highest peak of Germany’s Harz Mountains and a fabled haunt of witches. (Older maps identify The Brocken as the Blockberg.) Alongside Bald Mountain, it is the location in Europe most associated with witchcraft and witches.

Prior to Christian influence, The Brocken was a sacred area. Rübezahl the dwarf lives on the peaks but the deity most identified with The Brocken is Freya. Allegedly, following the acceptance of Christianity, Freya didn’t disappear: instead she retreated to her old stronghold, The Brocken. Her priestesses sought refuge there too; those who wished to honor or petition her sought her in The Brocken.

Allegedly witches flew from all over Europe to dance atop The Brocken on Walpurgis Night (May Eve). Local lore reported that witches danced with such fervor and gusto they wore out their shoes by morning. Boys traditionally dressed up as werewolves to scare and drive off the enemies of approaching summer in re-enactments of Pagan rituals.

The region was closely identified with witches: medieval maps illustrate the area with images of witches riding broomsticks. In 1589, the ecclesiastical authorities of Quedlinburg, in The Brocken’s shadow, burned 133 women accused of being witches to death in one day.

Image A mass of huge granite blocks at The Brocken’s summit is known as “The Witch’s Altar,” or alternatively “The Sorcerer’s Chair” or “Devil’s Pulpit.”

Image A nearby spring is called the “Magic Fountain.”

Image A local anemone (wind-flower) is known as “The Sorcerer’s Flower.”

It isn’t only The Brocken’s height that earned its reputation as a magical, holy place. The Brocken is also home to a unique meteorological phenomenon known as the Brockengespenst (Specter of the Brocken). Given the right atmospheric conditions, this specter, technically an optical illusion also known as the anti-corona or glory, causes a person’s shadow cast from a ridge to appear magnified. Although really only a shadow, it appears that a specter walks alongside you. Rainbow-like bands or rings may surround the shadow.

Witches still really do meet at The Brocken on Walpurgis Eve. Walpurgis Eve (May Eve) is exactly opposite Halloween (November Eve) on the calendar. Now Halloween may be the witches’ night in North America, Ireland, and elsewhere but in Germany and Central Europe, April 30th is their special night. Beginning in the 1930s, a special steam train brought Walpurgis Night revelers up The Brocken, children and adults, many costumed as witches, especially red witches, although whether these disguises serve as masquerade or as ritual clothing are the secrets of individual revelers.

See ANIMALS: Wolves and Werewolves; CALENDAR: Halloween, May Eve, Walpurgis Night; DIVINE WITCH: Freya, Rübezahl.