Sunday, 30 August 2015

Frau Perchta, the Goddess Sacred to Berchtesgaden

It is well known that Adolf Hitler had a home and a retreat at Obersalzburg, called the Berghof in Bayern, Deutschland. The Berghof overlooked the town of Berchtesgaden. What is not so well known is that Berchtesgaden is linked to the Germanic Goddess Frau Perchta or Berchta.The original German name would have been Perchterscadmen, Perhtersgadem, Berchirchsgadem or Berchtoldesgadem. Perchta is derived from the Old High German beraht, bereht from the Proto-Germanic *brehtaz, meaning 'the bright one'. An alternative etymology points to 'covered' or 'hidden'.

Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology Volume 1 links this Goddess with Holda and believes that whilst She once had a:

"benign and gladdening influence, yet she is now rarely represented as such; as a rule, the awe-inspiring side is brought into prominence, and she appears as a grim bugbear to frighten children with. In the stories of dame Berchta the bad meaning predominates, as the good one does in those of dame Holda; that is to say, the popular christian view had degraded Berchta lower than Holda. But she too is evidently one with Herke, Freke and some others (see Suppl.)

Nigel Pennick in his Pagan Magic of the Northern Tradition. Customs, Rites, and Ceremonies (2015) refers to the Perchtenlauf, one of the ancient heathen carnivals of alpine Germany where the participants wore masks. He refers to Berchtesgaden as being the "spiritual home" of Frau Percht and the carnival there was not banned until 1601. This ban was overturned during the German Revolution of 1848, in which Richard Wagner was a prime mover. The Perchtenlauf is from late December to early January and thus is connected with the ancient feast of Yule. There is a link here with Woden who is also known as Grim.

"There was an especial hatred or fear of people wearing masks and putting on ritual animal disguise. One of the bynames of Odin is Grimnir, interpreted literally as 'the one with the grimy (blackened face)', or 'the masked one'. Grime means frost or dirt, and a grim face, and a grim face is one frozen in a forbidding expression. The Old Germanic words isengrim, a mask covering the head, or egesgrima, a 'terrifying mask', refer to this."

Of course masked processions or carnivals are common to all areas of Germanic Europe and guising continues up to this very day in England and other countries. Undoubtedly there is also a further connection with the Wild Hunt of Woden at that time of the year in which Woden's hoardes also wore masks. Isengrim is the name of the wolf in the tale Reynard and the Fox. Isengrim was also a name used by Tolkien several times in his Lord of the Rings mythology.

Grim or Grimnir is a significant byname for Woden. Rudolf Simek interprets the name as 'the masked one' (Dictionary of Northern Mythology). In England we have place names incorporating this byname for Woden: Grimsdyke, Grim's Ditch (Berkshire Downs, Harrow, Hampshire, South Oxfordshire, Grime's Graves, Grimsbury, Oxfordshire, Grimsbury Castle, Berkshire, Grimley, Worcestershire, Grimspound, Dartmoor, Grim's Cote (Grimm's Cott), Northamptonshire, Grimsthorpe (Grim's Thorpe).

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