The Witches of Baden-Württemberg

by Die Shriftstellerin Hexe

February is carnival season in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg in Germany.  This Swabian-Alemannic celebration, called fasnet or fasnacht, happens annually and local guilds of performers plan all year for the festivities.  The carnival begins on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, and consists of many parties, parades, and public events.  Scholars still debate the origins of Swabian-Alemannic fasnacht, and whether the local practices are descended from pre-Christian pagan fertility festivals that were co-opted by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.

Witches and all things witchy play a big role in the local carnival tradition, especially in the region around Freiburg im Breisgau and in the Black Forest.  The village of Waldkirch is famous for its annual Hexensabbat (Witches’ Sabbath).  On Fasnet Saturday, huge crowds gather in the main Market Square to witness the “witches’ dance,” complete with brooms and bonfires.  The local mountain, Kandel, was traditionally believed to be the home of powerful witches, and witches loom large in the folklore of the Schwartz Wald.  Indeed, the University of Freiburg was home to the two German theologians who wrote the Malleus Maleficarum, and Freiburg still has plaques commemorating the accused women who were burnt for being witches in medieval times.

It is not surprising then that many local performance guilds chose to be witches for the fasnet celebrations.  These costumes are locally made, and the masks are hand-carved from wood and painted by skilled craftsmen and craftswomen.  Each mask is unique.  These photos were taken during the 2015 celebrations in Waldkirch and Freiburg im Breisgau. The images included in this photo essay testify to the diversity of representations of the Swabian-Alemannic carnival witches, and the enduring appeal of all things witchy in the contemporary German imagination.


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