Also known as: Bertha; Perchta; Frau Berta; Eisen Berta; Berchtli
Bavaria is the ancient stronghold of Berchta, goddess of abundance. Allegedly whatever you give her will be returned many times over. Berchta rules a sort of transit area for souls, caring for and guarding those who died as babies. Depending on the version, they either stay in her garden forever or she tends them until they reincarnate and receive new life. She protects living children, too: German folk tales describe a beautiful lady dressed in white who mysteriously appears in the middle of the night to nurse babies.
She was an immensely popular goddess, and so post-Christianity she was aggressively Demonized by the Church as a Queen of Witches. She evolved into a bogeywoman still invoked as a threat to make children behave before Yule. She allegedly punishes “bad children” but gives gifts to good ones. People were told to baptize their babies because otherwise they’d end up in Berchta’s realm, not in Heaven. She is among the leaders of the Wild Hunt, usually leading a parade of unbaptized babies.
• Unbaptized babies
• Stillbirths; miscarriages; abortions
• Those driven to suicide by broken hearts or despair
• Dead souls who lack people to remember them
• Dead souls who have not received proper, respectful burial
The types of dead souls Berchta protects have a tendency to trouble the living by manifesting as destructive ghosts. Should you be afflicted by such a ghost, petition Berchta to soothe and remove it, escorting it to her realm, where it will be much happier.
Vestiges of devotion to Berchta survive: in some Alpine villages it’s traditional to place offerings of food for her on roof ops so she finds them while riding by.
Manifestations: As a beautiful woman with pearls braided into her gold hair. A white veil obscures her face, and she wears a long, white silk dress. She has another look, too: an old decrepit hag with long, wild grey hair and disheveled clothes.
Attributes: When she’s young and beautiful, she carries the keys to happiness in one hand and a spray of mayflowers in the other; as a hag, she carries a distaff.
Realm: A subterranean palace with a fabulous garden where she welcomes souls of children who died in infancy. She maintains other homes within hollow mountains.
Spirit allies: Perchta travels with a retinue of spirits called the Perchten. Christian legend says the devil rides in their midst, but this may indicatethe presence of a male deity who accompanies her.
Sacred plants: Holly; mayflower
Sacred creatures: Crickets, swans, geese; Berchta may be the original Mother Goose; she sometimes manifests with one webbed goose foot.
Sacred time: Berchta is celebrated throughout the entire Yule season. Post-Christianity, Yule became synonymous with Christmas, but in its original Pagan context it was a lengthier season. In German tradition, the Feast of the Epiphany (6 January) is Berchtentag—Berchta’s Day. The preceding eve is Berchtennacht. The festival is celebrated with processions characterized by grotesque masks.
Sacred places: Berchtesgaden in the Austrian Alps means “Berchta’s Garden.” Many springs near Salzburg are named in her honor.
Offerings: Leave offerings out for her on Epiphany Eve, the way offerings are left for Santa. No milk and cookies, though. Berchta likes a hearty meal: herring and dumplings is her favorite. Give her schnapps or other alcoholic beverages.
See also: Befana; Ghost; Hulda; White Lady; Wild Hunt
From the Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.