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The Legend of Frau Holle

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The Legend of Frau Holle

When it snows, it may be thanks to Frau Holle, shaking out her feather bed.

Image (c) Patti Wigington 2008

In some Scandinavian traditions, Frau Holle is known as the feminine spirit of the woods and plants, and was honored as the sacred embodiment of the earth and land itself. She is associated with many of the evergreen plants that appear during the Yule season, especially mistletoe and holly, and is sometimes seen as an aspect of Frigga, wife of Odin. In this theme, she is associated with fertility and rebirth. Typically, she is seen as a goddess of hearth and home, although in different areas she has clearly different purposes.

Interestingly, Frau Holle is mentioned in the story of Goldmary and Pitchmary, as compiled by the Grimm brothers. In this context -- that of a Germanic Cinderella-type tale -- she appears as an old woman who rewards an industrious girl with gold, and offers the girl's lazy sister an equally appropriate compensation. Legends in some parts of Germany portray her as a toothless hag who appears in the winter, much like the Cailleach of Scotland.

In the Norse Eddas, she is described as Hlodyn, and she gives gifts to women at the time of the Winter Solstice, or Jul. She is sometimes associated with winter snowfall as well -- it is said that when Frau Holle shakes out her mattresses, white feathers fall to the earth. A feast is held in her honor each winter by many people in the Germanic countries.

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