“Witch Burning”

My local newspaper reports (g) on an upcoming event called the Hexenverbrennung, or Witch Burning, an old traditional custom in the somewhat remote region of Tirol called Ausserfern. I translate directly from the article, somewhat loosely for comprehension:

On the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday, to cries of “Vivat hoch, die Hex hat Durst — sie will auch eine lange Wurst!” (“Hurrah, the Witch is thirsty, and she wants a long sausage!”*) the communities of Jungholz, Musau, Pinswang and Weißenbach bring back an old heathen custom, driving the winter away with bonfires and Witch Burning.
In earlier times, boys went on “rag Thursday” from house to house, collecting rags “for the Witch”. The Witch — an effigy of hay and straw — would be made, dressed in a gown created from the colorful rags, and hoisted up on a long pole over the pyre. The fire is lit at nightfall. The custom symbolizes the driving out of Winter and is in no way connected to the witch burnings of the Middle Ages.
This old custom from Celtic times has become a popular event with the both the local population and tourists. Above all the social part, the party which lasts late into the night.
The fire is made to drive the evil Winter spirits from the fields and epitomizes the people’s yearning for warmth.

I assumed that this custom must be an old pagan one (bonfire) with some Medieval, early Christian stuff that had attached itself to it over time (the witch), until I remembered the Wicker Man. Roman sources alledge that the Druids made burning human sacrifices to Taranis, the god of thunder. Taranis’ influence apparently covered Gaul, the British Isles, and the Rhineland and Danube regions.
One difference is that the Druids, it is written, burned men.

Supporting sources at Sagen.at (g).

*I’m sorry, but does this sound like gang rape to you?

Forgotten Tirol: PlayCastle

UPDATE: PlayCastle is now Magic Castle, and here is its website, with events and information.


What was I thinking? The snow in Seefeld in Tirol is three feet deep, and where I wanted to go hadn’t been plowed all winter. But on the first official free day in two weeks (three if you factor in that I was actually home sick for those last free days), I was going stir crazy. So even though I was up to my knees in snow, I wasn’t going to let that stop me.


Did you know that Sleeping Beauty’s castle lies in Tirol? Well, not the original (if there were one) but more like the Disney version, sitting alone in the woods, locked up and dark, waiting for a prince with enough capital to come and rescue it. This was actually a 1990s business venture called PlayCastle, a sort of Tirolean Sesame Place, an indoor-outdoor amusement park for children. It had a “Fun Dome” with online skating on three levels, a climbing wall, an “Adventure World” with video simulations, and who knows what else, prominently situated just outside of an alpine tourist resort town. Something for the family to do on a rainy day.They had expected 250,000 to 300,000 visitors annually. The place shut down after one year, and has been closed since I can remember. According to this site it’s currently being used as an events rental space and disco, although nothing looked remotely in use to me.


PlayCastle even has its own little fairy-tale rail station on the Mittenwald line, although in all my travels on that line I have never seen a train stop there. The ÖBB website doesn’t even recognize it as a stop, so I have to assume it’s been discontinued, even though the link directly above advertizes it as a way to get there.


Inside the station, a wannabe-medieval fresco. Local kids are using the station to sit and drink, and who can blame them. At least someone is showing up.