Cylch Blodeuwedd

Druidic Grove in North-West Wales

Frau Holle – much more than just a fairy godmother!

by Oak King - July 29th, 2014.
Filed under: Article Archive.

In Grimm’s fairytale she is depicted as a mainly benevolent wise old woman who rewards industrious maidens and those who keep their household affairs in good order but who does not tolerate laziness.

Known in Germanic countries as Mother Hulda, Holda or Holla, she is an extremely ancient Germanic supreme goddess who probably predates most of the Germanic pantheon, including Odin, Thor, Freya and Loki, continuing a tradition from pre Indo-European neolithic Europe. She is associated with ploughing, one of the oldest activities of humankind, and with spinning with its magical connotations. The cultivation of flax is assigned to her. She haunts lakes and fountains and although in the fairytale is residing at the bottom of a well where she is obviously guarding the threshold to the otherworld, she also rules the weather for when it snows it is said that Frau Holle makes her bed, fog is the smoke from her fire, thunder occurs when she works her flax and rain when she is doing her washing. Here we have clearly a sky goddess, contrasting the later patriarchal view that all female deities are ‘Earth Mothers’ while sky gods are always male.

Her name means ‘gracious one’ and although she shows attributes of the Maiden and the Mother as well, she is most striking as the Crone who comes into her own during the twelve days of Christmas, likely to originally have been the days following the Winter Solstice, known in Germany as ‘Rauhnaechte’ (lit. ‘rough nights’). Then she leads the Wild Hunt, riding the sky in a wagon, pulled by many different animals of the woods. During the twelve days she directs it towards human dwellings where she leaves presents for children who well behaved over the past year.

She is protector of childbearing women and small children and it is to her where the souls of infants go where they die early. Brides used to bathe in the Frauhollenteich (Frau Holles’s pool) near the Hohe Meissner in Hesse to ensure fertility as wives and through the pool children were said to be born. In some areas of Germany, her wagon is followed by a host of children and in others, where she rides the wind leading the Wild Hunt, by twenty-four daughters.

She is connected to crossroads where she tends to stumble and her wagon breaks down, requiring a peasant to repair it. Having carved a linchpin for her she pays him with the wood chips or with dog dung from her pocket which he reluctantly accepts, only to find they have turned to gold once back home. Returning to the place to find more he then finds no trace of her ever having been there.

Elder is the tree of the Great Goddess once known as Holla in northern Europe. The tree’s High Old German Name holun tar simply means Holla’s tree. Elder was widely seen as the dwelling place of the good house spirit that protects house and yard. Related customs and traditions reflect the notion that Elder is the threshold to the subterranean world of Faery and Frisians used to bury their dead under it.

As mistress of the Wild Hunt Holla is also known as Frau Gode or Gaude, derivations of Wodan/Woden, the old German name of Odin and in Northern Germany also as Frau Freke or Frikka, variants of Frigg, strongly suggesting her being an older form of Odins wife. At the end of harvest farmers used leave the last bunch of grain standing in each field as ‘fodder for Odin’s horses’ or declared it to be ‘Frau Gode’s portion’, thereby preserving the memory of a Mrs Odin at work in the field beside her husband.

Demonized by the the church and her worship denounced, people accused as witches were said to have ridden in the Frau Holle’s Wild Hunt. The reason for her rejection by the patriarchal new faith may well lie in Frau Holle being protectoress of housewives through her association with spinning, the only occupation able to give them a little income and some form of independence from male domination.

Much more could be said about Frau Holle/Hulda who appears to us as a very powerful goddess with a wide range of responsibilities, presiding over the whole cycle of life, from birth to death and rebirth. Records of countless local folk customs and traditions, some of them still observed in the 19th century, bear witness to the failure by the church to quell the belief in this grand lady of high rank in her robes as white as the snow that she covers the earth with in winter. Even today she is still much revered not just by children – and long may it be so!!!

Holger Burkhardt (2013)

 

 

1 Response to Frau Holle – much more than just a fairy godmother!

  1. Hallo Holger,

    schöner Artikel 🙂 Du scheinst ja völlig von der Bildfläche verschwunden zu sein. Ich würde gern mit Dir Kontakt aufnehmen, wir kennen uns doch noch vom OBOD?

    Lieber Gruß,
    Almut

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