Furious Host/Wild Hunt Representations in Deitsch Culture

Now, as we enter the dark half of the spiritual year, we are once again seeing costumes, marching in parades, and answering the knocks of trick-or-treaters on our doors. Heathens of all stripes know that we are witnessing the remnants of the folk symbolically taking part in the Furious Host, or the Wild Hunt.

Local Deitsch culture represents the Furious Host in several ways. The vast majority of people who engage in some of these traditions are almost certainly unaware of the Heathen origins of their parades or festivities, but some of the Braucherei practitioners reported the relationship of the traditions to the Furious Host and kept the true meaning of the traditions alive.

Unfortunately, the wider American culture's influence has seeped into almost all of the Deitscherei, particularly when overt efforts to assimilate the Deitsch began after 1911. Thus, some of the local culture's traditional practices have changed. Originally, Allelieweziel (October 31) was not a time of tricks-or-treats.... Well, it was a time of people dressing up in costume, perhaps for the "tricks" portion of it. More commonly, the belief was that it was more important to focus on the safe transition of the souls of the departed (which leads to the question of whether there is meshing or influence one way or the other with the Christian All Soul's Day).

The next appearance of people dressed in costumes is referred to in English now as King Frost. This was more a time of dread as the cold weather was setting upon the land. However, the local culture has lost most of this fear, with the only remnant of any aspect of the observance being a huge parade in Hamburg that includes costumes, etc. It is usually held in November (though this year it was in October), and the establishment of this parade was more for commercial celebration than for the faded ties to the local folklore. Urglaawer and Braucherei do not see this time as one of celebration at all; instead, we recognize the Frost Giants hold on our soil until Dunner beats back three of them (named, with varied spellings, Dreizehdax, Vatzehvedder, and Fuffzehfux on May 13, 14, and 15th respectively).

The next appearance of costumes is known since Christian times as St. Nicholas Day. This is when Der Belsnickel, who is almost certainly a Christian-sanitized version of Wodan, comes door to door all wrapped in furs and wearing a large hat, to reward good children and to punish bad children... But even in rewarding good children, the rewards often require the child to answer a riddle or to show some sort of wisdom. Children who grab for gifts or candies (traditionally, it was chestnuts) may have to dodge the whip of a switch. The Belsnickel tradition is on the upswing in several parts of Deitscherei, but in some places, it is becoming very Americanized, meaning that it is losing the danger of reaching for rewards without showing wisdom.

During Yuletide, children in Deitscherei would dress in costume and go out for tricks-or-treats. To this day, the practice is still called "belsnickeling," whether it happens at Yuletide or on Halloween. Much of the American secular Christmas concept came into being through the Deitsch culture with Santa and Mrs. Claus (read: Wodan and Holle) out on their journey through the sky.

Some of the other traditions that were present in the Colonies or the Early Republic have waned or disappeared. New Year's Day would bring about Mummenschanz parades (the roots of the big Mummers Parade in Philadelphia, though that is a later incarnation). Fat Tuesday costume parades were Heathen holdovers that had the Christian Fastnacht grafted onto them, but those have virtually disappeared from the Deitscherei. There are sparse records of people dressing in costume for small parades around April Fool's Day, but I do not believe this was a widespread practice.

The culmination of parades with their roots in the Furious Host would be Walpurgisnacht, which is when Holle returns to the Earth and the Furious Host ends. While in Germany, Walpurgisnacht celebrations are large events, they never seemed to have taken root in the Deitscherei. However, a volume of folklore and myths has surrounded a site in Northampton County since the Colonial Era. Local lore tells of strange experiences at this site, which is known as Hexenkopf or Hexekopp.

Hexenkopf is one of the sacred peaks or mountaintops in the Deitscherei. It is said to be spiritually active at all times, with animals behaving strangely (appearing and disappearing), shadowy figures approaching hikers and vanishing, etc. On Walpurgisnacht, the frequency of spiritual activity has long been said to be unusually high.

The Christian settlers feared the site and said that witches gathered there on Walpurgisnacht. Some practitioners of Braucherei, though, instead identified Hexenkopf as the home of Holle here in the new settlement. As such, Holle is viewed as the Mother of the Deitsch folk, and Urglaawer celebrate the return of Holle from the Furious Host at Hexenkopf. German Heathen groups have recently begun to make annual pilgrimages to the site as well.

One of the goals of Distelfink Sippschaft is to revive the other traditions of the old parades and to reattach the original significance to the observances that have not died out. We are fortunate enough to live in an area and to have access to a culture that has so much knowledge that was guarded by the practitioners of the old ways.


A part of Deitsch culture that is heard of very infrequently is the history of the Redemptioners or Redemptionists. These are the first-generation Deitsch settlers who placed themselves into indentured servitude (read: slavery) in order to afford the journey to the Colonies.

Numerous books cite the historical existence of the Redemptioners, but few go into detail as much as True Heroes of Provincial Pennsylvania, by Julius F. Sachse. This book is old and was not easy to find. Fortunately, however, it was digitized in 2009 with funding from the University of Pittsburgh Library System.

The piece describes very well the vagaries of the Redemptioner system, starting with the agents who were slick enough to convince Palatines to emigrate without having their fare paid. Thus, they were forced to sign themselves into slavery, and then their labor was sold, whether on shipboard, at the ports, or in caravans over the countryside. Resistance meant death or imprisonment. Sachse asserts that the conditions under which the Redemptioners lived were often worse than those of the slaves in the South.

Other books, such as William T. Parsons', Pennsylvania Germans: A Persistent Minority, cite the sympathy that the Deitsch had with the plight of the Southern slaves. One way to view this sympathy is from the shared experiences of the Deitsch pioneers, many of whom had lived in virtual slavery in Europe and were witnessing similar conditions in the South. Redemptioners who had paid off their bondage also would be sympathetic to the slaves of the South, too. As such, the first protest against slavery in the Americas took place in Germantown, PA, in 1688.

Many of us here in the Deitscherei have at least one ancestor who was a Redemptioner. Many, if not most of us, have no idea what sacrifices the Redemptioners made for their families. This cruel, exploitative practice, along with the abominable institution of slavery against which our ancestors shed their blood, should not be forgotten, lest we be doomed to repeat it.

Distelfink Sippschaft

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