Lupercus und Bacchus

In Germany the time is set for Carnival season’s peak this weekend.


Ecstatic Bacchantae enjoying wine.
Lupercalia ©scrano 2014

From “Fat Thursday” over the weekend’s parades in the cities along the Rhine, to “Death of Prince Carnival” on “Fat Tuesday” and washing out the purse on the shore of a river or in the fountain on the marketplace on Ash Wednesday, it spans a lot of customs.Many are related to Roman and Greek festivals, which had been hold in February – the Lupercalia. The months name itself stems from the custom of cutting the skin of the sacrificed animals (goats and a black dog, who represented winter) into throngs used as whip cords –> the februae.

Girls and women stood on the sides of the processional routes to get a quickening with these whips, carried by the priests of Faunus and Lupercus. Lupercalia was a week long holiday around the ides of February (13-15th) that honored the God Lupercus. Lupercus was a fertility god, granting full bellies to human women and full fields of harvest to the men. The holiday centered around this god could be considered typical of Roman liking of excess.

Like later during Carnival festivities of today, patrons gorged on delicious foods, drank a little too much, and honored the god’s gift of fertility by indulging in pleasures of the flesh. Bacchantic rituals for Dionysos were also held during that period, blending the Greek festival of the god of dance, wine, ecstasy and theater/mask play  with roman traditions.

It was the last of winter festivals, that started with Saturnalia in mid-December. This is analogous to the christian liturgical calendar, where Christmas festivities start also in December and end at Candlemass, which was initially held also mid February, before Christmas was moved from January 6th to December 25th. Part of these customs went into “St. Valentine’s Day” also, which wasn’t very popular with the clergy.

Similar rites to invoke Spring and the return of life are known from southern Germany (Alps) where hazel rods are still used for the quickening, a tree formerly sacred to Thor, who was primarily a fertility god, with goats as his symbol.

In Germany some customs on “Fat Thursday” have feminist origins: The wives of the festival committee members wanted to have women participate in carnival activities, so “Weiberfasnacht” was born in 1824. On this day women cut ties of unsuspecting men – so beware! A bit Dionysian fears for the men folk … lol! Freud would have a field day! The festival starts in the morning when city mayors have to hand over the keys of the “City Hall” =”Rathaus” to the women committee leaders. Many of the celebrants like to wear witch costumes on this occasion.

BUT – they are not to be mixed with another type of Carnival Witches: Men disguised as very ugly old women witch wooden masks and behaving very wild, unruly and even naughty. It is a custom mainly in formerly Alemannic regions, like Baden-Württemberg and parts of Switzerland or even the Alsace. Historical witch masks can also be found in Tyrol (18th century) and other regions of the Alps. It is not quite clear where the origin of these “Wild Women” lies: Personification of Winter, like Frau Holle, the “Wild Hunt” or just overstepping boundaries and taboos during turbulent days of an upside-down world at the end of a long, cold Winter.

By Photo: Andreas Praefcke (Own work (own photograph)) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Schwäbische Narrenzunft: Wild men disguised as witches.
Narrenzunft Aulendorf, quelle: wiki

 Burying “Prince Carnival” or burning an effigy on the last day of the festivities is a typical custom to drive the cold Winter away. It seems to have prechristian roots, which could be celtic/germanic.  Symbolic burning of Winter is reminiscent of Imbolc, a fertility and fire festival, celebrated on the second full moon of the year. Nowadays it has a fixed date: Like Candlemass it is held on February 1st or 2nd.

In general, Carnival season covers a threshold between Winter and Summer, so it is about lifting of boundaries, too. A very Saturn/Uranus theme, which is expressed most directly by the Roman name for the first festival of this time: Saturnalia. The male witches and their raucous behavior are also symbolic for this, as was the Roman custom to invert social hierarchies: The slave is served by his master. Everything is out of balance. Rebellious women are on the loose, holding the reigns of the world. Men wear women’s clothes. These days of libertinism were also used to express political views and mock those in power. It was a less dangerous way to escape censorship. This is why the roots of current Fasenacht/Karneval along the Rhine date back to the time of French occupation of the 17th-19th century. Its opulent costumes are a parody of uniforms of French officers. Rhine Carneval blends political opposition with Christian Traditions: Especially for Catholics, Carnival season represents a last time for “letting it all out”, drink alcohol and also feast on fatty food, like meat, before fasting in preparation of Easter starts. (Carnival=carne levare, refrain form eating meat). Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Schmotziger Dienstag, this is all about rich food. (Schmotzig in old German means fat, not dirty!).

Well, then let’s have a nice time of food and wine!

Alaaf, Helau and Merry Meet!

You are wondering, why this article is in English? Now, we want to encourage writers, who can read both languages, but are more fluent in wrinting English posts. See “Autoren” on the Menu for more information.


Pretty Carnival Witch: Weiberfastnacht.


… and, well it’s Uranus time: Things HAVE to be different!

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This entry was posted on Samstag, Februar 6th, 2016 at 02:15 and is filed under Alembik, Galerie, Geschichte, Humor, Kulinarisch, magisch, Planeten-Archetypen, Ritual, Saturn, Seasons Greetings. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


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