I’m not much for right-wing politics in the US, and usually their talking points about Sweden tend towards the incendiary at the expense of the, ahem, facts. IT’S A SOCIALIST NATION!!! FULL OF GODLESS HEATHENS!!!! they cry from inside their padded cells TV studios.
STAY AWAY FROM THE BIKINI TEAM, FOR LO, THEY WILL TEMPT YOU UNTO WANTON BEHAVIOR!!!
Normally, I would laugh at them and their exaggerations, but just this one week, they are totally right.
Thanks to the annual double-whammy of Valborg and the 1st of May, we are about to be immersed in first, a wave of pagan celebrations and second, the worker’s holiday (a.k.a. the Communist’s Day to shine).
With the Swedish name, “Valborgmässoafton,” it’s a little tough to know what exactly we’re supposed to be celebrating. Other languages have a name that is more clearly connected to the holiday’s origins: Walpurgisnacht, Walpurgis Night, la Noche de Walpurgis, Noc Walpurgii, Valpurgiya gecəsi (ok maybe that last one is a little hard)—all honoring St. Walpurga, of course.
So here’s the deal with St. Walpurga (all of this is coming from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, so it’s approximately 10 times holier and more correct than what’s on Wikipedia).
Her father, Richard, was both a saint and a king, and her Aunt Boniface was also a saint, so the sainthood racket was a little bit of a family business. Her sister Winibald (couldn’t make these names up) also became a saint. One time, she sailing to Germany in some extremely adverse weather, but then she kneeled and prayed on the ship deck, and the weather calmed; the sailors proclaimed it a miracle, and now she’s the patron saint against hydrophobia.
In my ignorance, I assumed “hydrophobia” is fear of water, but it’s not. That’s aquaphobia. Hydrophia turns out to be the late stages of rabies in which the victim has “difficulty swallowing, shows panic when presented with liquids to drink, and cannot quench their thirst.” Catholic Online also says that she’s the patron saint of those with rabies, so I guess it’s not a mistake. I’m not sure what the connection is.
Additionally, St. Walpurga is also considered the first female author of both Germany and England (woop woop!), which I can’t believe I’ve never heard before. Maybe it’s the whole “look at me, I’m the patron saint against late stage rabies” thing that kept her from hitting the big time among all the other beatified dignitaries.
About 100 years after she died, Otkar, the Bishop of Eichstadt, started renovating the church where she was buried. The workmen desecrated her grave, so she started appearing in the bishop’s dreams and threatening him. (No word on whether she was foaming at the mouth or not.)
This resulted in her remains being transferred to a shrine, where she remained undisturbed until Bishop Erchanbold wanted to give some of the relics (a.k.a. HER BONES, didn’t you people learn what happened the last time?!) to Liubula, the Abbess of Monheim, and they discovered the body immersed in “a precious oil or dew.”
This was apparently not entirely unheard-of and is actually a thing among saints, who are then called the Elaephori, or “oil-yielding saints.” The oil “flows” from the Walpurga’s sacred remains, ”especially the breast,” and then is distributed to the faithful for healing purposes. This oil condition did not prevent St. Walburga’s body from being dismantled for religious purposes, and her relics are in Cologne, Antwerp, Fumes, and elsewhere.
Which brings us to today, Valborgsmässoafton, and the wild revelry that is taking place at this exact moment in Lund’s Stadspark. I have no idea why the poor woman got connected with the pre-existing pagan traditions around May 1, but one reason might be that she was at one time depicted holding stylized stalks of grain, which could mean that her image was (purposefully or not) conflated with the pagan Grain Mother.
In any case, poor Walpurga. Her legacy is now completely overshadowed by bonfires (with origins in Wiccanism) and wanton behavior (with origins in people drinking lots alcohol).
I “celebrated” Valborg for the first time last year, if “almost peeing my pants while waiting for a Porta-Potty, staggering home midday, and waking up later that evening with falafel in my hair” counts as celebrating a holiday. Never mind that the whole point of the day is supposed to be the bonfires that I slept through. It was a cultural experience.
Last year, Valborg won over me, but this year was going to be my year! Bonfires! Bad behavior! Revelry! I saw a bunch of girls on the train this morning with a bucket, A BUCKET I TELL YOU, of punch. How could this not be amazing?
Unfortunately, a wild Valborg will have to wait until next year. I’m hard at work in the service of teaching English to Swedes and proofreading translations. It will be a calm grill-party and then some rapt bonfire-gazing.
Unless I find a way to get in trouble after all…
Update tomorrow. And enjoy Walpurga’s special day!
To read more, check out these posts on Blogs.Sweden.se!
Good friends + sunshine + warm weather = one fantastic Valborg (the Expat Blog)
Spring in Sweden is a nonstop parade of holidays; this is not a joke (the Expat Blog)
The Good, the Bad, and the Aftermath (the Student Blog)
It was the night before Valborg (the Student Blog)
Valborg: Welcoming Spring with a Bonfire at Skansen (the Photo Blog)