The Invisible Web

Your Trip Into the Chapel Perilous

YuleTide: The Twelve Deities of Solstice #9 – BERTHA (PERCHTA)

Posted by invizweb on December 28, 2008

(C) Wikimedia Commons

(C) Wikimedia Commons

” There were beautiful Perchten with colorful clothes and glittering ornaments, and the Schiachperchten – bold forms, ghostly apparitions with masks of wood or bark, enveloped in furs, moss, lichen…demons represented by the inhabitants. ” (Michael Moynihan and Kadmon, Lords of Chaos New Edition, “Oskoriei,” 382)

Perchtenlauf, or the the Procession of Perchten is a tradition dating back thousands of years. Similar to festivities dedicated to Krampus, celebrants male and female, enshroud themselves in costumes of fur and wood to resemble the bestial Schiachperchten  (bestial Perchten), servants of the Goddess Perchta. Perchta , is the Goddess of the Wilderness to Southern Germany and the Alpine region. She also protects children that die during or before childbirth (in many cultures, such as the Mandarin Chinese culture, a child is not human until leaving the womb), and later after Christianity came (but when not demonizing her) children who die before Baptism. The meaning of her name is “Bright One,” as she appears as a pale beauty with snow-like skin in one of her forms. Her other form is a horned, fanged, bestial creature said to be terrifying. Also known as Percht, she is known by many other names (in English, her name is Bertha) and titles including “Lady of Ember Days” and “Guardian of the Beasts.  Jacob Grim,  believes she is the leader of the Wild Hunt, a pursuing party consisting of wraiths targeting either fleeing trolls or the deceased (when one of the more prominent Pagan blogs that uses the concept as its namesake suggest the wiki entry, then I would have to as well). Her feast consists of dumplings, fish, and gruel. To those she deem “good” she enters their homes and leave silver coins, whereas she slits the bellies of the “bad.” In some traditions, Perchta is dually male and female (note other hairy women who are intersex and possess power over the night and magic such as Lilith of the Abrahamic traditions and more recently Baphomet of Thelema).

The Perchten (which would translate to Berthen?) are members of Bertha’s entourage. They usually parade about town howling and scaring the crap out of people in locales such as the Swiss Alps and Salzburg, Austria and Bavaria, Germany. Mystery sects pertaining to werewolves and the “berserkers” who donned animal skins to be possessed by animal spirits during trances maybe related to the Schiachperchten.

“In this psuychodrama, mythology united with depth-drama.  In his consciousness, and that of the outer world, the psyche of th performer became one with the pscyche of the creature he represented.” (Michael Moynihan and Kadmon, Lords of Chaos New Edition, “Oskoriei,” 382)

To appease them, offerings of dumplings are made. The Perchtenlauf is celebrated between the last week of December and the first week of January. However, popularity with tourists has caused the parades to be held December 5th and December 6th.

An entity thought to be related to Bertha is Holda, a female spirit of the forest who is also known as a matron of spinning, domesticated animals, childbirth, winter, witches, and the Wild Hunt, in German folklore. Martin Luther, the German monk, was not a fan of hers. Her domain was areas in the North where Perchta was not as known.  She was also known in the British Isles.

(C) Thorskegga Thorn

(C) Thorskegga Thorn

Unfortunately, now that I know about so many wonder characters, it would not be a perfect winter holiday without watching a brawl in Union Square between the Schiachperchten and the Krampus(es).  Come on NYC, you can make it happen~!

For more information I implore folks to track down a copy of Oskorei which is translated into the English language in Feral House’s Lords of Chaos.  Kamon’s essay is a first hand account of the Perchten during his childhood, which first perked my interest on the subject of Perchten.

Historical resurces:

Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology

Christmas in Ritual and Tradition: Part II: “Pagan Survivals” : Chapter IX. “Christmas Eve and the Twelves Days”

Modern links:

Visit Salzburg

Fear the Austrian Perchten


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