Tag Archives: winteraustreiben

Killing Winter to Bring Back Summer

Alright, back on to Spring traditions!
Remember that post I made about Pre-Lent Costumes? I mentioned how the costumes, in some areas at least, were meant to scare off the spirits of Winter. There’s also quite a bit of fertility symbolism that went along with all the festivities. There is a sort of continuation of those themes in a ritual that is rather common across Europe: The Expulsion of Death and Winter.

Basically, an effigy of some sort, usually made out of straw, fir, or some other available material, is taken through or out of a village in a procession, and then destroyed. Afterward, a figure (human, tree, or otherwise) clad in some sort of greenery is welcomed in the village and celebrations ensue. This sometimes occurs on or around Mid-Lent, usually the 4th Sunday in Lent (Which is actually the week of this post’s date for 2011). This does not seem to be an uncommon practice, as many folklorists and anthropologists have noted parallels across Europe; even going as far as India with the drowning of a Kali effigy in March.

Winteraustreiben in Germany with Winter as the large blue puppet, and Summer following behind as the golden puppet (c) Katrin von Meer

However, I’m going to focus mainly on some of the German and Slavic names and customs here. In German, the festival is called Todaustragen, or Todaustreiben (from the words for “death” and “to carry out” or “to drive out”), with a few areas using the name Winteraustreiben and Sommereinholen (“Summer” and “catch up”). Similar rituals done in other countries have their own names, but I’ll mainly use the term “winter expulsion” for easy conversation.

In some German-speaking parts, winter expulsion involves creating a straw monster or being which is then driven out by being beaten and/or burned. With regard to the burning of the effigy, Mircea Elidae saw a “fertilizing power of Death-a power attached to all the symbols of vegetation and to the ashes of the wood burnt during all the various festivals of the regeneration of nature and the beginning of the New Year” (Flaherty 1992). He was referring to a practice seen in Austria during his time, where the effigy had a funeral pyre and people gathered around to grab bits of it. Also found in Austria are the Perchten, or followers of Perchta, who carry bells apparently as another tool to drive out Winter and Death. There are several interpretations of the effigy and none are totally agreed upon: Vegetation being, Death, Winter, or even the Bubonic Plague (which would still be Death, but Christian in origin instead of the commonly assumed heathen origins). The gender of the effigy seems to be male in German parts of Central Europe, which makes sense since Death is also considered to be male (der Tod).

In contrast, Slavic cultures such as those in Poland, Slovakia, and Czech Republic have a female effigy burned or drowned. She goes by the name Marzanna, Morena, and variations thereof. She is considered to be a remnant of a goddess of Death from pre-Christian times as well as a witch, so the female form makes sense if this is true. Other than that though, the steps for her expulsion is similar to German cultures. She’s taken out in a procession and then destroyed.

The Procession of Marzanna in Poland just before drowning

I can’t help but think of the witch scene in Monty Python: The Holy Grail whenever seeing Marzanna processions 🙂

In Hungary there does not seem to be as much fanfare for winter expulsion as in other places. The busos mentioned in the Costumes post linked earlier is suggested to be Hungary’s version of winter expulsion. There is a practice that links to the second half of the expulsion though, which is the welcoming of Summer to replace Winter. It is called Zöldágjárás, where they bring in green boughs through the village. To me it almost looks like Palm Sunday, so I wonder if this is really a remnant from pagan times or if it’s a variation on a Christian holiday.

School children going under the green boughs

Another, older image of Zöldágjárás

Judging from the images though, it seems that Hungary is already warm enough this time of year to start celebrating the arrival of Spring and Summer. Perhaps winter expulsion is simply not necessary at the same time and is better suited to the time of the busojaras earlier in the year.

Back to German-speaking cultures, once Winter/Death is driven out, a man dressed in vegetation and green colors walks into the village with much celebration. This is the personification of Summer, of new growth and good times to come. There is also records of a play that occurs to depict the fight between Winter and Summer (with Summer ultimately winning), called der Kampf swischen Sommer und Winter, which usually occurs during the winter expulsion.

There is a mention of March being the time of the new year in both Roman and Slavic lands until recently, which coincides with winter expulsion. In that context, it seems that driving away Winter is also driving away the old year, which makes sense. Summer in general seems to have a sense of “new-ness” with the arrival of fresh vegetation.

Looking out my window, I feel an urge to have a bit of winter expulsion myself. Only now are some of the trees starting to wake up and show their flowers, with small shoots in the grass here and there. Much of the world is still gray and wet; some chunks of old snow still scattered about even. We don’t really have a spring here in Chicago, it’s more like a month where the weather can’t seem to make up its mind. The idea of a war between Summer and Winter fits perfectly here, as we can get snowfall one day, and temperatures warm enough for shorts the next. Even gardening books say we have a risk of frost until early to mid-May.

Course, once Summer actually gets here in all its humid, blazing glory, people will start wishing for Winter again. It’s how it goes every year.

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References

Flaherty, Robert Pearson. “Todaustragen”: The Ritual Expulsion of Death at Mid-Lent: History and Scholarship. Folklore, Vol. 103(1), pgs. 40-55

(In German) Brief Explanation of Pertchen’s Role in Winter Expulsion: http://www.tomig.at/245/was-hat-es-eigentlich-auf-sich-mit-den-perchten/

Esbenshade, Richard S. Cultures of the World: Hungary. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=4QYidGdtpBkC&pg=PA118&lpg=PA118&dq=winter+expulsion+in+hungary&source=bl&ots=tmIwzSwPoI&sig=VyDUoziQiJByohp6hle747uGVJY&hl=en&ei=1MOYTbCGBcmY0QGQiNH7Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CCoQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=winter%20expulsion%20in%20hungary&f=false

Sinking of Marzanna: Pagan Traditions of Spring                                                 http://culture.polishsite.us/articles/art297fr.htm

Photos of Winteraustreiben, (c) Katrin von Meer                                   http://www.flickr.com/photos/35525979@N06/5509422479/in/photostream/

Kerenyi, G. I. (1962). The Melody Core of Ushering In Summer in Transdanubia (Hungary). Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, first page used-> http://www.jstor.org/pss/901641

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