Working With The Gods: Holda II Part

Yule, the longest day of winter, was her holiday, and until recently she was one of the Christmas gift-givers in parts of Germany. There she was pictured as a red-cloaked witch on a broom who would fill children’s shoes with goodies and then move on. German children left milk and bread for her, in hopes of better presents.

The earlier myth had her leading a Wild Hunt at Yuletide, rife with the howling spirits of her aforementioned dead children, quite different from Odin’s Wild Hunt with its dead warriors … yet, to my thinking, even more horrific. A Middle Dutch term for the Milky Way was Vroneldenstraet, the highway of Frau Hulde.
Some scholars equate her with Perchta, another Germanic goddess with similar attributes, but much crueler and bloodier. Some of the worshipers of Perchta say the two are the same, but some (especially those who work directly with Perchta) say that they are two separate goddesses who happen to have overlapping areas of expertise.

Third, Holda is a goddess of witches. While many modern Pagans find this to be an insult, created by medieval churchmen who tried to vilify an old and revered goddess by associating her with witch-cults, I am not so sure that this is an insult. Certainly as someone who is a kitchen witch myself, and a former British Traditional Wiccan, I find Holda’s patronage of witches to be comforting and a great honour. During the Middle Ages, instead of leading her Wild Hunt made solely of dead children, she added the ride of the flying witches to it, along with other random heretics. They may either have been the last survivors of a Pagan tradition or simply rebels against the restrictive medieval church, harking back to a more magical time that still bubbled in their blood.
Accounts of these witches claim that they used various methods to leave their bodies and journey to Holda’s mountain, where they hailed her as their queen. In this, we can see that Holda is a goddess who can be called upon for aid in journeying, faring forth in trance. She is also associated with the witches’ work of knot magic (sacred fibre arts), potions (sacred cooking), and shapeshifting into cats or livestock. Every kitchen witch who has found magic in the normal arts of domesticity has entered into Holda’s realm.

Fourth, Holda is a goddess of the Underworld, but despite what some scholars claim she bears no resemblance to Hel. The myth of Frau Holle shows her in a mysterious world reached by falling down a well; other myths show her inside a mountain. This is not Underworld as Realm Of All The Dead, as ruled by Hel, but of a very specific sort of underworld. Both Holda and Hel were associated with the Elder tree,Hollebier and Holantar in German, whose spirit (also seen as a dignified old woman) is said to guard the road to the Underworld … be it quiet Helheim or Holda’s magical realm. The Elder tree was known as the“medicine chest of the common people” because its leaves, flowers, stems, and berries were all useful for different ailments. Like the Elder spirit, Holda was also associated with bodies of water such as fens, bogs, springs, wells, and ponds. Newborn children were said to have been pulled wet from Holda’s pond. Her Underworld is more easily achieved by falling through the water than walking the road of the Dead.

If anything, Holda’s underworld realm bears more resemblance to the faery realms, the People Under The Hill. This brings us to another point: Holda is a goddess of the faery folk. At least one race of faeries, the Huldrefolk, may be named for her. They were woodwives, fair maidens with cow’s tails which they endeavoured to hide from potential human suitors. In other folktales, Huldrefolk included a number of different sorts of elves and faeries, all under Holda’s protection. In medieval times, faeries were often thought to be the reborn souls of dead unbaptised infants, which brings us back to Holda’s retinue again. Indeed, she is said to ride in another kind of procession, dressed in grey and holding a milk bucket, at the head of a flock of Huldrefolk. In this aspect, she has a special sad music that is sung for her, known ashuldreslaat.

Holda certainly has this love of wagon processions in common with the Vanic Gods, who were also often carried about in wagons. Also similar to the Vanic Gods, Holda’s mortal processions sometimes carried either a plough or a ship to symbolize her help in both agriculture and navigation, reminding us or Frey and Njord.
In Nordic literature, there is a giantess named Hulda in Sturlunga’s Saga who may be related to Holda (or may be Holda). In the Ynglinga saga, the Völva and Seithkona named Hulla may be related to Holda. She also may be related to a woman named Hulda who was said to have had an affair with Odin, bearing the goddesses Thorgerdhr and Irpa who appear in various Germanic sagas. They may have been local land-goddesses in Germany, giantesses who had cults in their own right.
Holda is a magnificent Goddess who managed to hold her own throughout the darkness of the Middle Ages, a versatile lady with many different sides to her worship, who deserves all due credit.

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One response to “Working With The Gods: Holda II Part

  1. I love your posts about Holda, who doesn’t get enough attention, in my view. Your idea that Holda’s wagon procession and attributes go back to the Vanir is interesting. Her association with magic, and women’s magic in particular, would fit as well, connecting her to Freyja and Gullveig.

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