Shooting the Witches on New Year’s Eve (From Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough)

On New Year’s Eve, which is Saint Sylvester’s Day, Bohemian lads, armed with guns, form themselves into circles and fire thrice into the air. This is called “Shooting the Witches” and is supposed to frighten the witches away. The last of the mystic twelve days is Epiphany or Twelfth Night, and it has been selected as a proper season for the expulsion of the powers of evil in various parts of Europe. Thus at Brunnen, on the Lake of Lucerne, boys go about in procession on Twelfth Night carrying torches and making a great noise with horns, bells, whips, and so forth to frighten away two female spirits of the wood, Strudeli and Strätteli. The people think that if they do not make enough noise, there will be little fruit that year. Again, in Labruguière, a canton of Southern France, on the eve of Twelfth Day the people run through the streets, jangling bells, clattering kettles, and doing everything to make a discordant noise. Then by the light of torches and blazing faggots they set up a prodigious hue and cry, an ear-splitting uproar, hoping thereby to chase all the wandering ghosts and devils from the town.

From Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough.

 

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