On the last night of April, Prague got caught up in witch-burning mania.
By Barbora Netolická
Witch-burning night, the greatest of all pagan holidays, came to Prague on April 30, bringing a host of magical creatures out on the streets.
On this night, people who under normal circumstances are quiet Prague citizens lose their conventions with a crazy costume and a couple of beers, and gather for witch-burning celebrations that herald the return of spring.
|Witch-burning parade in Malá Strana|
Also known as Walpurgis Night or Beltaine, April 30 was in ancient times thought to be the night when witches would fly on their broomsticks to gather for a witches’ conclave. To protect themselves, people would light a fire in front of their homes. Over time, the tradition changed to burning statues of supernatural creatures, like witches, and then using the ashes as protection and the fire as purification. Then young girls used to jump over the fire to gain beauty and a good husband. Interestingly, these traditions have survived into modern times; the main difference now is that they include more beer and security guards.
|The crowd watching the |
witches dancing around
“I call all the witches,” said Stejskal, dressed in an executioner’s robe as the parade arrived at Kampa and the crowd wanted some blood. He announced that the Mayor of Prague 1 was absent for family reasons, so the witch would probably not be granted a pardon, and the burning would take place. However, he called for a vote on the witch’s fate.
“I am asking you, should we grant her a pardon or will she be executed,?” he shouted, pointing at the parade witch, and asking the crowd to raise their hands to vote for a pardon.
|High Witch-fashion at Kampa|
“This is the only night of the year that I feel like myself,” said Veronika, a young woman who joined the parade wearing a heavy witch costume. She reported that she was 890 years old.
“Finally, women have their own real holiday,” she added.
However, motivations to come to the witch-burning were diverse. “I hate witches, so I came to see some of them burning,” said Anıl Paçacı, an Erasmus student from Turkey. We can only hope he was joking.
Another Erasmus student from Turkey, Deniz Sun, said she came to see some Czech traditions and find out about the witch-burning, since in her culture there were no witches, and certainly no witch-slaughtering.
“There is a very pleasant ambience here – nice music, people enjoying the performance,” said Alain Alverado, a ČVUT student from Spain, as he watched witches of all ages dance in a circle around the bonfire. “It is a little like Halloween, but more traditional.”
Hana and Jan from Prague said they come to Kampa every year. Their costumes were magnificent – they were both dressed as pretty ugly witches. “We know the organizers, Sdružení Občanů a Prátel Malé Strany a Hradčan [Association of Citizens and Friends of Malá Strana and Hradčany],” said Hana, 38. “It is a good occasion to meet up with friends and have some unconventional fun.”
“I look forward most to the fire show at the end of the program,” added Jan.
“So where is the big fire?” wondered Lucie, 32, from Prague, as she waited for the bonfire to be lit. She said this was her third year coming to Kampa with friends for witch-burning night. She did not have a costume, but was supplied with a camera and planned on shooting some good pictures of the festivities.
|Bonfire in Ladronka|
As it grew dark, the firemen diminished the flames to a reasonable size that would not need such intense supervision. The rag-doll witch was burned, the dance was finished, and now it was time to eat sausages and drink beer while listening to guitar tones coming from a group of young celebrators sitting on the grass and playing.
|Miss Witch 2012 contestants vying for the title|
The winner, Witch Leni, 35, said this was her second Miss Witch award.
|The Miss Witch finalists leaving the|
stage after the competition
“It’s a very pleasant place to chill,” said Jelizaveta Lopatina, a high school student of Russian origin, who like many others at Ladronka used the occasion to dress up according to the latest magical fashion.
|Ladronka Park on Witch-Burning day|
However, the Ladronka event was primarily a family activity. “I was hoping all my witchy girls could stay here at the bonfire tonight,” said Petr, 40, from Beroun, holding his 3 year-old daughter-witch in his arms and waving to his wife. “But now it looks like I will have to go back home after all.”
For more on witch-burning night in the Czech Republic: