Most readers know that I’m a pretty big fan of author Claude Lecouteux, and that his latest book, “Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead” may very well be my favorite. In fact, it was one of my favorite things of 2011! However, in a book full of interesting history, legends, and folktales, there was one particular section that really stuck with me since I read it; “The Good Women Who Roam the Night”.
Lecouteux’s writing is dense, rich with the fruits of exhaustive research. I couldn’t hope to do a summary that would even come close to doing justice to the man’s work. Instead, let me ditch the scholarship and attempt to explain why after reading “Phantom Armies of the Night” I decided this holiday season to leave food and drink out for The Feast of the Ladies of the Night.
I’m guessing it’s an idea not exclusive to the Middle Ages, nor to the German speaking countries of the era, but there had been a belief that there were a troop of women who would roam the night. Specifically they would travel during the holy nights between the birth of Jesus and the night of Epiphany. Led by Dame Abundia and Satia, or Fraw Percht or Perchtum, these ladies would visit homes. If the households had chosen to leave out food and drink for the ladies to feast on (being sure to have all containers open), the homes would be blessed with prosperity and abundance for the next year. Needless to say, the Church wasn’t a fan of such customs. At best they considered the practice a misguided superstition, at their most assertive the Church worked to recast these Good Women as minions of Satan, eaters of babies and corrupters of households.
I’m no stranger to mythologies, religions, or folktales, but for some reason the plight of these Good Women touched my heart. Not only had they been forgotten by so many, but to potentially be remembered as something so perverted from your true nature? It seemed like not such a big deal to set out a little something and take a moment to remember them as they were intended.