Holda’s visit

Finally, winter has shown its pale face here in the Netherlands. Last week, temperatures dropped below zero (seems almost a miracle these days). The earth , plants and trees were covered in a glittering blue layer of frost, which became all the more enchanting when the rising sun shone its pink-golden light over the world.

Finally, Holda has shown her pale face.

Holda, die gütige Beschützerin, by F.W. Heine, 1882.

Holda, die gütige Beschützerin, by F.W. Heine, 1882.

Holda is a German folkloric figure slash goddess, who came to the Netherlands in the in the character of Frau Holle. At least, that’s how I came to know her as a little girl, when I was reading (and re-reading) the fairy tales written down by the Brothers Grimm. Frau Holle was one of my favorites. I loved the idea of a parallel world where apples could talk to you and where it would snow on earth if you’d clean up your pillows. And there was the enigmatic figure of Frau Holle, who lived comfortable in her little house in the underworld, and who would reward you if you were a good girl, but punish you if you were lazy and insufferable.

It was only when I grew up that I realized the many layers of this fairy tale, and the possible pagan and magical meanings of it. It was then too, that I learned more about Holda, Perchta and other enigmatic female folkloric characters. Many of them are thought to have pagan origins (possibly being ancient goddesses dimished into folklore).  Many are thought to be connected to death and fertility. Many are connected to the winter season, or to chaotic periods such as Carnaval. Many are seen as witch figures who ride with other witches to the sabbath, or ride along during the Wild Hunt. And many of them are also moral figures, who will reward you when you act well, and punish you when you act wrongly.

As central- and south German figures, Holda and her sisters are really just outside the scope of this website (see here for what this website is about), but I have such strong feelings towards Holda that I still want to honor her in this blog post. Holda is always there of course, in the otherworld that is just beyond our everyday senses. But sometimes she makes herself known. She is strong in the winter season, when the earth turns white and dark, and people light the fire in their homes when spirits of the dead wander outside. Meanwhile, under the earth and in the womb, she is creating new life that will bloom when the frost melts away.

It is especially during winter that Holda is venerated. Germanic traditions are familiar with the Nights of the Mothers, which is a time that is sacred to mother goddesses such as Holda. But also remember the Wild Hunt, which  takes place during the dark time of the year. As a goddess with many facets, there are multiple ways to honor Holda. Some ideas that I personally like:

  • Cleaning! Make a sacred act out of your everyday chores. Holda loves tidiness. (But note that during Yule/Midwinter, it is thought by some to be taboo to do any cleaning, or any work at all.)
  • Honoring your ancestors. Holda travels with the spirits, and among those spirits are the dead. She is a goddess who takes care of the dead, and your ancestors are among them. When you are on good terms with her, you can be (more) sure that your ancestors are having a good time – and might even communicate with you, if you are into that sort of thing.
  • Traveling between worlds. Holda doesn’t only travel with the dead; she travels with witches and fairies, too. She can take you on many an eventful and insightful journey.
  • Connecting with the earth. Go outside for a walk, feel the earth beneath your feet, really get to know your environment. Holda is an earth goddess, so going outside is getting to know her.

I’m sure you can come up with more. As for now, it seems winter has come and gone. The temperature has risen to an insane 15 degrees Celsius. Still a few months to go until spring, so my hopes for a layer of snow are still there…hopefully I’ll see Holda’s pale face again. And if not, I’ll remember that she is everywhere – in my work and dreams, in my beloved ancestors, and in the very earth itself.

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