by Artist-in-Residence, Lauren Raine
One of the Goddesses that reflects the flux of seasonal cycles, and belongs truly to winter, is the Nordic Frau Holle. Holle has very ancient origins indeed, and may have begun as a pre-Christian Weaver Goddess, a Spinner of fate.
Mother Holle is very much associated with Yule, and with the warmth of hearth and home, especially in the winter. Also known as Holda or Hulda, she is a manifestation of the Pagan triple goddess, embodying the passages of life through birth to death, in both light and dark. In some early myths, she is “the ash girl”, her face half black with soot and half white.
This remarkable metaphor comes from a story of how, in order to marry the God of Winter she had to come to him neither naked nor clothed, and neither in light or darkness (thus, both the “White Goddess” and the “Dark Goddess”). Like Persephone, who becomes the Queen of both death and spring, Holle (perhaps, fittingly, related to words like “Holy”, “wholly”, and “whole”?) in old age is Winter’s Queen, and encompasses the dualities.
As old Mother Holle/Holda, she brought soft snow to put the world to bed. Mother Holda is the source of the “Mother Goose” legends, because the snow flies when she shakes the feathers from her down bed. In Holland, they still say that ‘Dame Holle is shaking her bed’.
For anyone who may wonder where the “flying broomsticks” of witches (or Harry Potter) comes from, Dame Holda is probably the source. Because of her association with the hearth and home, the Broom was both a symbol as well as a magical tool. Folk traditions of “sweeping away evil from the hearth” are found throughout Europe. As a symbol of the Hearth, it is interesting to see this domestic, yet magical, item transformed into the “vehicle of witches”. In later folktales, Frau Holle becomes a fearsome hag, riding her broom and bringing the storms of winter.
“Frau Holle, as she is known in Germany, was called The Queen of the Witches. The brothers Grimm tell a story of step-sisters who both go to visit Frau Holle in the ‘nether realms’. They begin their journey to her by falling in a well…………Holle’s name is linguistically related to the word Halja, which means “covering”, and is the ancient Teutonic name for Hel, the Norse land of the dead. Holle is sometimes called the Queen of the Dead, and resides in the ‘nether’ regions. She possibly lent her name to the country Holland, ‘the land of Holle’, which is also called the Netherlands because many parts of the country are below sea-level.”