Irish things are very accessible to an English speaker these days, and I was even lucky enough to get a scholarship while I was in university to go off and live in the Ghaeltacht (Irish-language speaking area of Ireland) for a summer, to make things even more accessible... but German things are vaguer for me. I tried to learn German at school, so I could understand what was going on at my Oma and Opa's house, but all my standard school German was nothing on their Schwäbish dialect, and as a child I just got discouraged and gave up. So, sadly any books written about things like Walpurgis night have not been read by me... and while I know that there was a saint Walpurga and that witches were said to dance on hills, I don't know much else.
But with all my day dreaming, my thoughts turned to a place that I had been before... the Curonian Spit, a long, bridge-like stretch of sand that is half in Lithuania and half in Russia these days. It is a magical place where sand dunes grow taller than pine trees...
(if you click, you can see the dunes above the trees in the far away part of the photo)
and where you can bike all day through forests, along beaches, and past the brightly painted wooden houses of fishermen. And, it should be mentioned, that the Curonian spit had an impressive beginning as well, as legend says that it was created by Neringa, a giantess. Of course, I should mention that tourism has definitely taken its toll on the spit... lots of resorts and expensive hotels have cropped up filled with people who don't mind the signs which tell them to keep to the paths, and off of the very ecologically sensitive dunes.
But the reason that I've led you down this winding, circling path of a post, is to bring you along the spit to the Hill of Witches (Raganų Kalnas in Lithuanian), in the village of Juodkranté.
This deeply forested hill used to be the site of midsummer gatherings, but now is home to 71 wooden statues depicting characters from Lithuanian folklore. The statues were created in the 1970s by artists drawing on a long local history of wood carving.
Paths wend their way up and around the hill with statues emerging unexpectedly at a turn in the path, or just a little way down a lane, making it feel as if each meeting with a sculpture is an encounter rather than just a passing view.
True to it's name, there are a number of witches to be found here...
but also dragons,
and even thunder,
and the gateway to hell.
While I was looking around for more info about the Hill of Witches, I found an interesting story about one of the statues. According to the story, the devil sometimes attends dances, and when he does he takes on the appearance of a regular man. I suppose he still had hooves hiding inside of his shoes though, because the way to find him out was to step on his foot... an empty shoe would give him away.
Maybe you can just make out that in the statue on the left, there is a man and woman dancing, and the woman is stepping on the man's foot?
The story goes on to say that the woman, realizing who she was with, decided to trick the devil. At the end of the evening when he asked her to join him in his carriage, she replied that she would love to, except her skirt wasn't proper. When he supplied her a fine skirt, she said her jacket wasn't nice enough, and so on... until dawn came and the cock crowed and made the devil, but not his presents,vanish.
While I was there I remember really wishing that I knew what stories were behind the statues, since I suppose that some of them are meant to be instantly recognizable, and others have labels carved into them. But even without the official stories, they are very evocative, and the forest is gorgeous, so it's easy to dream them up.
In addition to the statues pictured here, there are many others, and a couple of people have posted photos here and here. There were some statues that had moving parts as well, and a few that were meant for children to play on... like the one below. If only all slides were as enchanted as that one!