Frau Holle, or Holda, is the Germanic goddess of agriculture and women’s crafts, and is celebrated with a midwinter festival. She lives at the bottom of a well, and first taught women the craft of spinning flax. Holle or Holda is also associated with witchcraft, and leads an army of witches riding distaffs. According to German folklore, men and women would leave their bodies at night and follow Frau Holle and a host of witches and female spirits. Frau Holle also leads an army of women armed with sickles.
In the Alpine region, Frau Holle leads the Wild Hunt, a supernatural horde that flies through the night on horseback. The Wild Hunt can portend doom, causing the deaths of those who witness it, or abducting them and carrying them into the supernatural realm.
Jakob Grimm writes about Frau Holle/Holda in his Teutonic Mythology: “Holle-riding, to ride with Holle, is equivalent to a witches’ ride. Into the same ‘furious host,’ according to a wide-spread popular belief, were adopted the souls of infants dying unbaptized; not having been christain’d, they remained heathen, and fell to heathen gods, to Wuotan or to Hulda.”
According to folklore, Frau Holle may look like either an old witch with long teeth or a kindly-looking woman. In either form, she flies through the countryside around Christmas and enters homes, checking to see that all the spinning is done and put away. If not, she will mete out punishment, but if it is done, she will gift young women in the household with spindles. This is possibly to make sure women are not working, as spinning was one of the main jobs of women in Germany, and are keeping Frau Holle’s holy days sacred.
Holda is known in Scandinavia too, where she carries off unbaptized infants and is the Queen of the Huldrefolk or forest spirits.
The Brothers Grimm have a tale about Frau Holle. The story follows an industrious girl who falls in a well attempting to catch the spindle she dropped. The well is a portal to a magical land where bread asks to be taken out of the oven and the apples on trees ask to be harvested. The girl meets an old woman, Frau Holle, who asks the girl to help her with her housework. One of the girl’s jobs is to shake the featherbed until feathers fly out, which would make it snow back in the girl’s world.
The girl was very helpful to Frau Holle, so, when the girl expressed to Frau Holle that she was homesick, she was allowed to return home. Frau Holle gifted her with gold and the spindle she had lost.
Frau Holle’s association with the realms of agriculture, flax, spinning, women’s work, children, winter, snow, and magic indicate she is a very ancient goddess. She is a creator of weather and a personification of seasons– specifically winter, when she is in her crone stage. She is the mother of creatures and crafts. She has survived Christianity, and various roles in Norse mythology. The bread, apples, and spindle in the tale the Brothers Grimm collected show her archetypal connection to women. And through the Wild Hunt, the unbaptized children, and the portal in the well, Frau Holle is associated with taking people to the Otherworld and life, death, and regeneration.
This winter season, consider the sacred aspects of your work, your craft. You are a creator. Your ability to create is both a gift and a responsibility. Use it intentionally and with your whole heart.