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December 10, 2021

Frau Perchta, the Terrifying Christmas Witch

Frau Perchta was also known as Berchta, or Bertha, and has also been called “Spinnstubenfrau” or “Spinning Room Lady.” She is often depicted with a beaked nose made of iron, dressed in rags, perhaps carrying a cane, and generally resembles a decrepit old crone. But this old crone packs a mighty wallop... and carries a long knife hidden under her skirt.

Percheta, a Christmas European tradition is shown here as Peruehty in the Kingdom of Bohemia, 1910.

In the folklore of Bavaria and Austria, Perchta was said to roam the countryside at midwinter, and to enter homes during the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany (especially on the Twelfth Night).

She would know whether the children and young servants of the household had behaved well and worked hard all year. If they had, they might find a small silver coin the next day, in a shoe or pail. If they had not, she would slit their bellies open, remove their stomach and guts, and stuff the hole with straw and pebbles.

She was particularly concerned to see that girls had spun the whole of their allotted portion of flax or wool during the year. She would also slit people’s bellies open and stuff them with straw if they ate something on the night of her feast day, other than the traditional meal of fish and gruel.

Frau Perchta (right) from Hans Vintler’s Die Pluemen der Tugent.


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