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Frau Holle or Mother Frost is the ancient germanic pagan goddess of spinning, weaving and snowfall. She is also the guardian of children killed in winter. Her association with the highly skilled domestic crafts of spinning and weaving link her to witchcraft and to La Befana of italian folklore.
As early as the beginning of the 11th century Frau Holle appears in Christian texts as the leader of women and female nocturnal spirits who leave their homes via hearths and closed doors in the silence of the night, leaving their sleeping husbands behind and travelling vast distances through the sky to great feasts, or to battles amongst the clouds on their magical spinning distaffs, closely resembling the brooms of later witch mythology. In other texts she is associated with the Diana/Artmeis and even the Virgin Mary.
Mother Holle's festival is at Epiphany in the middle of winter when humans retreat indoors from the cold and when in ancient Celtic traditions the dead were thought to roam abroad. She's the spirit of nature and the promise of renewal in the depth of winter. Sometime she is cruel and sometimes kind. Her kinder aspect Holda is the goddess of women, the household and domesticity, with gentle dominion over winter. When she airs her bed, the feathers from her pillows and eiderdowns fall to earth as snow. Her crueler aspect Perchta is the upholder of the domestic order vital to survival during the harsh winter months in the mountains. Perchta is sometimes known as the belly slitter because on Twelfth Night she visits children in their mountain villages and those that have behaved well and worked hard all year she rewards with a silver coin and those that haven't, have their bellies slit open, their guts removed, and replaced with straw and pebbles!
During the 12 days of Christmas masked processions impersonating Holda, Perchta and their followers are still held in some alpine regions of Germany, Tirol & Switzerland.
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