In a German magazine on folklore from the 1870 ties I found the description of a ceremony, performed on graveyards in the villages of the region around Landshut, Bavaria, on Good Friday.
After visiting the Catholic Holy Mass the men of the community brought a barrel of consecrated water to a crossing of ways on the local graveyard.
A pile of dry wood was put up beside that provisional stoup and lit.
Another pile, consisting of freshly cut willow twigs was part of the scenery, too.
When the fire was burning, each man of the assembly stood forward, took a willow twig or a bundle of them, plunged it into the fire and dipped it into the water.
After that procedure each twig was cut into pieces of equal size.
From these sticks equal armed crosses were formed.
They are called “Trudenfuß”, a term also used for the pentagram, as both were used to keep away evil.
A regional term for them is “Schratterl Gatterl”. A “Schratterl”, “Schraterl”, “Schrat” is a collective term for all kinds of mischievous spirits.
“Gatterl” has the meaning of the English word “gate”.
Hence the “Schratterl Gatterl” keeps all gates / entrances shut for the spirits of mischief, illness and poverty – the “Schratterl”.
After the Bavarian farmer has silently woven his willow crosses he keeps them in a clean sheet of white linen until they will get their final consecration – the blessings of the Easter sun.
The following day our Bavarian farmer gets up before sunrise, as he wants his crosses to be hallowed by the first rays of the rising sun on Easter morning.
Silently he carries them to that spot of his estate, that is touched by the first rays of the rising sun to bathe the crosses the golden light, that transmutes them into wheels of the sun.
Now the properly consecrated items are silently distributed all over the estate: first at the four corners of each meadow and field, next in each stable and above each door, gate and window to prevent whatever evil from entering the homes of humans and animals.
The elements of the ceremony prompts it’s roots in a pre – Christian world view, that seems to adjoin the honouring or worship of ancestors with the celebration of welcoming spring.
The idea of kindling a fire on the village’ s graveyard on Good Friday is not unique to the Landshut area; the same practice had been reported as part of the folklore in the regions between the rivers Weser and Rhine:
On Good Friday a fire was lit on the churchyard. The fire had to be awakened in the old way – with “spark and steel” – that means with flint, steel and shavings.
In that fire the leftover sacred oil was burnt. The water for baptisms was consecrated on Good Friday, too; and the farmers brought some of it home with them to sprinkle their fields, cattle, house and stables with it.
In the Duchess of Silesia the farmers brought bouquets, each consisting of a small cross, which had been made of birch and surrounded with twigs that had been blessed on Palm Sunday to their fields, house and stables on Easter morning.
These Palm Sunday “palms” weren’t actually of the botanical species, usually described by that term, as the climate in most parts of Germany is too cold for them. So the “palms” of Palm Sunday are substituted by other greenery as for example box – buxus – in Westphalia and willow in some regions of Bavaria.
Willows are to be found on many graveyards, and indeed they are related to death and mourning, witchcraft and malevolent magic in folklore.
The queen of witches sceptre is a wand of willow. She equips her entourage with willow sticks, which they use to strip the dewdrops from the plants, such transmuting the beneficial dew into hoarfrost, which ruins the young sprouts and blossoms in spring.
The demons of a culture are often the deities of the preceding culture. Bearing this in mind a closer look on the willow is useful.
The willow is attending the development of humanity from the early beginnings.
The mom, who lived in the megalithic age dadled her baby in a wickerwork cradle of willow ; fruits, mushrooms and whatever was gathered in the forests had been carried home in willow baskets.
The willow gave her twigs for the making of beehives and woven hedges.
The tree’s bark had been used for the production of wooden mugs.
It is a remedy against headache and rheumatism, as it is transformed into pain killing and anti-inflammatory salicylic acid inside the body.
Medieval mss recommend a tea from the leaves as diuretic.
The willow is a tree of the Goddess, accompanying human life from birth to death.
The photos are illustrating the striking resemblance of the Schratterl Gatterl to the Irish “cross of Brighid”. I must admit that I never did like this term.
Looking at it on the astral level, I don’t see a cross. I rather see a spiral and the spokes of a wheel!
A cross is a static thing, wheras a wheel is moving, it is spinning; it is dynamic. I daresay that the term “cross” for that brading has a Christian origin. Once it may have been the solar wheel of the Goddess Brighid.
This becomes clear if you have a look on the production of the item itself:
Having your rushes or willow twigs, all nicely cut to equal size, before you, one is braided to the next, and the procedure’s direction is around and around ….and around and around….all deosil, following the course of the sun. Such it combines the wheel and the spiral…
You see… it is turning. .. Look – these are the spokes of a chariot’s wheels. It is the chariot of the Goddess. Travelling on the ancient trackways She is awakening life; the little snowdrops and cowslips are blooming in the cart tracks. They are heralding spring. Life is back.
The idea behind the Schratterl Gatterl as well as behind the “cross” of Brighid is the attraction of good energies and protection from evil spirits, etc.
Stagnation is a characteristic of “evil” in the broadest sense of that term.
Therefore – from the viewpoint of sympathetic magic – movement is a fitting antidote.
This may be the original idea behind both, the Schratterl Gatterl and the wheel of Brighid. It is a solar wheel, moving and radiating the golden light of spring.
The Schratterl Gatterls, that are put up in the four corners of the field are in fact symbols of the four turning wheels of the chariot of the Goddess, moving and radiating clear light.
May you be renewed and strengthened by the blessing of spring!