Witch hunts are not of the distant past

I just finished the Dutch translation of Monica Black’s A Demon-haunted land: witches, wonder doctors, and the ghosts of the past in post-WWII Germany. Up until then I thought that Western belief in witches in the twentieth century and later was either based on wicca or based on individual cases of wise women or cunning men.  But no, Black’s book makes clear that even in our modern times, actual witch hunts can still take place in the Western world (I already knew they still happen in other parts of the world).

Black describes a landscape of war trauma, defeat, denial and suspision during the aftermath of World War II. This period is mostly known for the miraculous transformation of (West-)Germany from a war torn country to a modern, forward looking country that fully participates in the Western world. But WWII and the crushing defeat of Germany did not just disappear from people’s memories. And nazis did not just disappear either, despite a vigorous campaign of denazification. A lot went on behind closed doors, especially in the decennium or so after the end of WWII.

In this period as in every other period in human history, in their search for healing (mental as well as physical), people sometimes clung to wonder doctors in their uncertainty. Black’s book describes the case of Bruno Grüning, a German miracle healer opperating in the years after WWII who at one point drew thousands of people who were looking for healing. According to Grüning, some people were simply evil and could not be helped. Another folk healer, Waldemar Eberling, pointed to an accidentally passing neighbour, Frau Maassen, as the source of child’s disease. She was branded a witch.

These cases were not rare. It’s a strange idea that even in our so-called enlightened times, people can still be so scared and distrustful that they need an external source as the reason for their discomfort that they can exterminate. Think of the Satanic Panic of the eighties or people who are openly pagan or wiccan receiving threads even in the 21st century. Luckily we do not have an Incquisition anymore, but these cases could still be very harmfull. Poor Frau Maassen was treated as a pariah by many people in her community and became so upset that she lost ten pounds.  

These histories strike me as very important lessons even for today – especially for today. Here in the Netherlands, there is a tendency among a not-so-small subset of people to blame everything, from the lack of affordable houses to street harassment – on foreigners, especially non-western Muslim foreigners. They are not called witches, but the hate these people have to endure from a subset of my fellow Dutch people is sometimes downright irrational and certainly scary.

Despite what many modern day witches want to believe, many non-witches still see witchcraft and the word “witch” as something decidedly negative. I guess communities, at least most people, need adversaries, someone or something they can blame when something goes wrong.  Sometimes these are witches, sometimes these are Muslims, Jews or another group of people.

But I do not believe that is the whole story. There is also a sense of wounded superiority. Some people hold the conviction that that man is better than woman or white is better than black. When these ideas are attacked and/or proven false, someone whose worldview is built on these ideas could lash out. I do not have a solution for any of this. (Wouldn’t it be great of one person could solve this?) Some part of me thinks it is not just a social issue but also a personal issue – some individual will always seek ways to make themselves feel superior to others and will always seek external scapegoats for when something goes wrong. In a climate full of tension, this can ignite and  turn into something bigger. What we can do is learn to see this behavior and make a stand against it.

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.

The magic of landscapes


When starting this website, I wanted to focus as much as possible on Dutch heathenism, witchcraft and folklore. I soon stumbled upon a problem: ‘the Netherlands’ as we now know them are only 200 years old. The borders we have now were unheard of in ancient times. What’s more, many people who lived in this area a couple of thousand years ago, are all but gone. Many people who live here now don’t stem from Germanic tribes who lived here generations before. But they still consider themselves Dutch. Basically, the construction of ‘the Netherlands’ is relatively modern, quite arbitrary, and always developing.

National identity is a fickle thing. I’m still a sucker for it. When I walk around in the area where I was born and grew up, I feel a deep connection to the land. I know that this is a personal thing – even though my family has lived in Noord-Brabant for quite some generations. But there are many people who were born here, who don’t feel a connection with their homeland at all, and even actively want to leave to go and live somewhere else.


So where does this connection come from? For me personally, it’s the experience of walking through fields and forests, the many plants growing, blooming, sleeping then awakening again. It’s experiencing the wind, seeing beautiful skies and birds flying. Noticing the life patterns of the animals living in my area. This can be noticed in practically every other land on Earth, I know. But having lived her for almost all my life makes it much more intimate, as if I’m part of this particular land.

The connection is also created through a sense of history, the realisation that the land we walk on is so much older then we are. It literally contains the knowledge of the era’s that came before us. It makes us feel part of a bigger whole. This can especially be seen in the many legends that are connected to the areas over the world. From legends about ghosts and monsters to the folklore of places being fairy mounds or kobold dwellings. No one really knows how old these stories are and where they came from, but they give us the feeling, the idea, that there is more to the land than meets the eye. And I love how we give stories to the land. Maybe it’s our gift back, because the land gives us so much.


Many of the old Dutch stories, legends and fairy tales haven’t been translated into English as far as I know. Many of them are connected to particular places. I will start (roughly) translating them and putting them on this website in the near future.