Horselberg - Places: A witch’s Travel Guide

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

Places: A witch’s Travel Guide

The Horselberg, also known as the Venusberg or Mountain of Venus, lies in Thuringia, between Eisenach and Gotha in Germany. Witches from Eisenach accused of venerating Hulda allegedly celebrated sabbats here, but the Horselberg is now most famous as the location associated with the legendary German knight Tannhäuser.

The story of Tannhäuser describes his visit to a deity called “Frau Venus”; it’s unclear whether this deity was a euphemism for Hulda or Freya or even whether the story was inspired by tales of Sibilla and just transposed to Germany from Italy. (See DIVINE WITCH: Freya, Hulda, Sibilla.)

A cavern near the summit is known as the Horselloch or Venus’ Cave. Sounds resembling subterranean waters emanate from this cave so that it is reminiscent of a grotto. The Horselloch is allegedly an entrance to Frau Venus’ palace.

Tannhäuser was a celebrated minnesinger, a German minstrel knight, similar to the French troubadours of the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. The minnesingers were among those who composed tales of the Grail Knights but they specialized in romantic sagas like those of Tristan and Isolt. They composed elaborate, flowery love songs, although whether these were inspired by individual women or by the Goddess remains subject to speculation. During their own time, minnesingers were frequently accused of having Pagan sympathies and eventually fell from favor.

According to the legend, Tannhäuser was riding past the Horselberg at twilight when an incredibly beautiful woman mysteriously appeared and beckoned to him. He left his horse, joined her and discovered that she was none other than “Frau Venus.” He accepted her invitation to enter her palace in the very heart of the mountain. Before he knew it, seven years of pleasure and happiness had passed.

For whatever reason, after these seven years, Tannhäuser was suddenly stricken with pangs of homesickness and remorse. He longed to see sunlight. In some versions of the story, Tannhäuser just bids farewell to Frau Venus and leaves. In others, he prays to the Virgin Mary who releases him from Frau Venus’ spell. Tannhäuser immediately went to a church seeking absolution. After hearing his tale, the local village priest doesn’t know what to do with him and sends him to a superior who does the same. Tannhäuser goes from priest to priest, bishop to bishop, confessing to all: none grant him absolution until finally he goes to the Pope. He begs for absolution but the Pope rebukes him, telling him that guilt such as his is unforgivable. The pope declares that his almond wood staff will flower before Tannhäuser’s sins will ever be forgiven.

Tannhäuser, despairing, returns to the one place that will welcome him with open arms: the Venusberg. Three days after his departure, the Pope discovered that his staff had budded and flowered. He realized that he was wrong to reject Tannhäuser’s repentance and sent messengers after him. But it was too late: observers described seeing Tannhäuser reach, ascend and enter the mountain.

Several other mountains in Germany had reputations as “witches’ mountains”, including:

Image Heuberg Mountain, near Balingen in the district of Baden-Wurttemberg

Image Huiberg Mountain, near Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt

Image Koterberg, in Westphalia