Advent Calendar of Witches, Day 2, Walpurga Hausmännin

This year I made an Advent calendar of witches I learned about while writing The Witch of Eye, because their defiant resistance is light upon light. Today, behind door number 2, I put Walpurga Hausmännin.

You can read a full essay about her over at Diagram. Here’s part of her story:

For thirty years Walpurga Hausmännin worked as a licensed midwife, which meant induced labor, pain meds, birth control, fertility treatments, and abortion. It meant woman who gives you choices you didn’t think you were allowed to have. It meant woman who knows more of death and birth than anyone else in a village in a century when everyone knew so much of both.

The way the story of the court records goes, when she was newly widowed, Walpurga cut corn for Hans Schlumperger. In that field she made arrangements for sex with Bis in Pfarrhof. “Him she enticed with lewd speeches and gestures.” But instead, at the agreed upon hour, a demon named Federlin came to her in this man’s clothes. After fornication she felt the cloven hoof of the whoremonger, who promised to save her from her poverty. She flew with him sometimes on a pitchfork.

It’s hard to resist the sense that you can hear truth inside the confessions. Far more likely you’ve just caught an echo of something about yourself.  For example, I think Walpurga had feelings for that corn-cutter who turned out to be something else altogether. I think for a time she felt wanton and reckless and happy. And that she was sorry about it later.

She says she is sorry so many times in these records. She seems to really believe she deserves what is happening to her. Centuries later, I want to absolve her of this cruel spell the judges put on her. To say, ‘Walpurga, who among us?’

After they tortured and burned her, they dumped her ashes in the nearest flowing stream. This last part at least seems right to me. After absorbing every crime the village had ever known, every stillbirth, every miscarriage, every sick cow, so the inquisition of Dillingin, Germany could be snuffed out with her, she ought to be have been set free to wander the aimless drift of water down through one forest and field after another.

Published by Kathryn Nuernberger

Kathryn Nuernberger's latest books are THE WITCH OF EYE (Sarabande), an essay collection about witches and witch trials coming out in February 2021, and RUE (BOA, 2020), a collection of poems about plants historically used for birth control and pissed off feelings about patriarchal bullshit. The End of Pink (BOA 2016) won the James Laughlin Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Her collection of lyric essays is Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past (The Ohio State University Press, 2017). A recipient of fellowships from the NEA, American Antiquarian Society, Bakken Museum of Electricity in Life, H. J. Andrews Research Forest, She teaches in the creative writing program at University of Minnesota. Recent work appears in 32 Poems, Cincinnati Review, Copper Nickel, Gulf Coast, Paris Review, The Southern Review, and Waxwing.

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