Berchta, Mistress of Destiny
Submitted by: swampy
“Hallowed Woman of the Earth
We give this gift to you
Frau Holda, riding forth this night,
Look kindly on our work,
Berchta, beldame of the wheel,
Spin us good wyrd tonight
O Mighty Mother of us all
Pray, fill our house with joy!”
Berchta (also called Perchta) is a Teutonic Goddess whose worship originated in the southern part of Germany in what is now the German state of Bavaria. Berchta has been called by names in other parts of Europe (some scholars feel that these are Berchta herself, others feel that they are similar goddesses that are at least are closely related to Berchta): Holde (`merciful’), Holla, Holda, Huldra, Frau Holle, Mother Holle, Perht, Berta (`Bright’), Queen of the Estantigua (Spain), and Frau Freke (a name connected to Frig). Berchta’s name is connected with words meaning “bright, luminous or glorious.”
Berchta, is the “White Lady” who spins destiny. In the Teutonic rendering of what is considered to be ‘Norse’ mythology, Berchta is usually said to be the wife of the god Woden (also known as Wodan, Wotan, Oden, or Odin). The name ‘Woden’ means ‘Fury’ or ‘Frenzy’ and He is associated with otherworldly beings and flying at night with horned animals. Woden is considered to be the Master of the Wild Hunt and Berchta is its mistress. The Wild Hunt, full of ghosts, trolls, and other outdwellers, occurs during the days immediately following the Winter Solstice. In some of the Old Germanic sagas, Berchta is seen in the forests and winter snow with 24 spotted hounds, and She leads the ‘Wights’ (Spirits) through the winter time season back unto the resting places in the spring.
Berchta is described as an old woman with long teeth and tangled hair (and sometimes depicted with a long iron nose and one large foot), and other times she is described as a beautiful dark haired woman dressed and crowned in white! Berchta is shown travelling either in a wagon or bearing a plough and attended by the spirits of unborn children. Sometimes She is shown flying through the air accompanied by a goose, which always flies in front of Her (making Berchta the original Mother Goose). Berchta is mainly associated with the winter season and She is also believed to be the cause of many natural phenomena. Snow is caused by Her shaking Her feather bed, and fog was the smoke from Her fire.
Berchta is a Mother Goddess and a fertility goddess who rewards the good, but also punishes the lazy and cruel. Many tales are told of Berchta to frighten children into behaving when they are unmanageable. Berchta is said to come at night and drag the child off in a sack or stamp on it with Her foot. If the child is especially naughty She might cut open its stomach and fill it with chopped straw and dirt. Berchta’s dark side is evident in Her role in the witches’ ride, an equivalent of the Wild Hunt.
‘Mothers Night’ is a festival held the night before the Solstice (ca. Dec. 20) that is sacred to Berchta and other Mother Goddesses. Lore says that on this night no spinning is to be done, for this activity is holy to Berchta. In fact, Berchta often comes to inspect the spindles. She rewards diligent spinners by making their work easier; She punishes lazy spinners by soiling or fraying their yarn. It is traditional to eat a simple meal of fish and porridge on Mothers Night, for these foods are holy to the Mother Goddesses.
Berchta descends on the nights between December 22 and January 6 and travels the countryside in Her wagon, unrecognized, bestowing gifts to those who have been generous and punishing those who have been greedy or lazy. Variations have Her flying on Her broom accompanied by the spirits of dead children, elves and faeries. But in all the tales She goes up and down chimney’s to bring gifts to the children in Her worshipped households.
The tradition of honoring Berchta may be the clearest survival of a cult connected to a Teutonic deity. While the worship of other gods has been suppressed into silence for so many centuries Berchta’s legends have adapted from age to age. Christianity left its mark on Berchta’s image, in many post-Christian tales Berchta is no longer a Goddess but rather an ugly old woman and patron of witches. This is in keeping with the concept that as a heathen goddess Berchta is a demon and the transformation from goddess into demon witch wife is clear. As the ‘witch queen’ of the time after Christianity, it was said that Berchta claims the souls of unbaptised children for the old gods, plus it was said that Berchta also punishes women who work over the Christmas period, on Sundays or on saints’ days in a like manner. This gives us the rather ironic picture of a Pagan goddess protecting a Christian tradition, but it clearly shows how old legends can adapt to new ideas if given the chance.
Berchta’s sacred color is black; Her herbs are Storax and Myrrh; Her animals are the wolf, the goose and the bear; Her stones are onyx, jet, obsidian, black agate, and lead; Her trees are beech, elm, ivy, linden, juniper, mullein, blackthorn, willow, yew, and elder; Her day of the week is Saturday; and her runes are isa, hagalaz, and ehwo.