Max Hütte  | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Photographer: Hans Wiesenhofer

12 Dec. 2016 · Culture
Carolin Schratt

The Magic of the Raunächte

The hardships of winter that were endured by previous generations must be woven into the DNA of certain people. 

The hardships of winter that were endured by previous generations must be woven into the DNA of certain people. Despite central heating, street lighting and full supermarket shelves, they still feel a certain amount of respect for the time that occurs between one year and the next which is referred to in Austria as the Rauhnächte (literally ‘the harsh nights’, similar to the tradition of the Twelve Days of Christmas). How else can we explain why specific rituals derived from folklore are still observed today?

herb Busch | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen

The Twelve Raunächte

According to ancient custom, the Raunächte begin on the winter solstice on the 21st December. It is the darkest and longest night of the year and is also known as the Feast of St. Thomas. We now usually refer to the twelve nights as the time between the 24th of December and the 6th of January.

So, what makes these nights so special? The lunar year comprises 354 days and the solar year comprises 365 days. There are twelve nights between the two periods. These nights ‘outside of time’ are considered to be mystical and magical and are when the laws of nature are overturned. Fate can be redetermined during this time. Even though nature appears to be frozen and still, sensitive people can sense a certain buzz in the air. According to popular belief, the souls of the dead move around during this time and it is possible to hear them whispering prophesies of the future.

 Herbal woman Lydia | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen

Incense Rituals

More and more local people have acquired the habit of burning herbs during the Raunächte. One reason for this is possibly the growing interest in natural remedies based on knowledge surrounding the beneficial effects of the aromatic substances found in herbs and plants. This is also linked with many people’s desire to connect more closely with nature and to live in accordance its rhythms. This is why many people use the time around the Raunächte to reconnect with their roots.

Herbs are usually burned during the four most important nights during this period: the Feast of St.Thomas on the 21st December, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and the Feast of Epiphany on the 5th and 6th of January. Dried bundles of herbs are chopped up and burned in a heat-resistant earthenware dish with frankincense and charcoal. The herb burning begins at the oven, then moves to the corners of the kitchen, followed by all of the other rooms in the house. This even continues into the stables and around the farms. The following types of blessings are spoken in order to draw goodness into the house:

Tie herbal bush | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen

‘May everything that is dark, everything that no longer serves us, disappear from these rooms. We invite in love, light and blessings. May the room shine with a new, fresh and brilliant lustre and provide us with peace, serenity and strength. Thank you.’

This is intended to ward away the evil spirits and demons which move through the valley during the twelve days and to dissipate bad energy into the air. It is also believed that it brings back luck if beds and laundry are aired outdoors because the demons could get entangled in clothing. Irrespective of whether you believe in these supernatural things or not, it is hard to escape the magic of this quiet time in the valley.

Video instruction for a Herbal breed

 Krampuses ring in the Advent | © Kleinwalsertal Tourismus eGen | Photographer: Dominik Berchtold

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