Perchta, sometimes referred to as Berchta or Bertha in English, means the bright one and is believed to be connected to the name Berchtentag, the feast of Epiphany. Perchta was once recognized as a goddess in Southern Germanic paganism in the Alpine countries. She is believed to be an offshoot of Holda, a Germanic Goddess, and other female forms that appear in German folklore. Sources reveal that Perchta is a southern cousin of Holda as they make appearance during the Twelve Days of Christmas and share the responsibility as guardians of the beasts. According to some sources, Perchta appear in two forms; either as white and beautiful or as old and jaded. She was well known in Upper German regions, Swabia, Alsace in Switzerland and Bavaria and Austria. Perchta was represented by St. Lucia in Bavaria and German Bohemia. However, in later periods, she was relegated to a lower rank of a witch or a malevolent spirit.
German Goddess Berchta
Different names of Perchta
There are various names ascribed to Perchta depending on the region and its epoch in history. She is most commonly known by the names such as 'Perahta', 'Berchte', 'Berchta' and 'Frau Berchta'. 'Behrta' and 'Frau Perchta' names are used in Old High German. Perchta is also called 'Frau Faste' in Slovenian and Baden or Swabia regions of Switzerland. She is often referred to as 'Kvaternica', 'Pehta' or the 'lady of the Ember days' in some Slovenian regions. In other regions, she is also known as 'Fronfastenweiber', 'Posterli' and 'Quatemberca'. A male form of Perchta is known as 'Quantembermann' in German and 'Kvaternik' or 'the man of the four Ember days' in southern Austria. Another male form of Perchta is also referred to as 'Berchtold'.
Portrayal Of Perchta In Traditional Tales
In early periods, Perchta was held in high regard as a minor deity, a benevolent spirit in Germanic paganism. There were myths surrounding her that she appeared as a white female spirit with one large foot and oversaw weaving and spinning. She was also seen as the leader of the Wild Hunt, as believed in Continental German regions. Legend has it that Perchta, the feminine form of 'Berchtold', would cut open people's stomachs and stuff them with straw if the traditional meal of fish and gruel was not served on her feast day. In traditional tales of Bavaria and Austria, Perchta is believed to have wandered on countryside during winter and appears during the twelve days of Christmas, especially on the Twelfth Night. She would lay her keen eyes on the wool spun in the households during the year. However, she was later relegated to lower rank of a witch and portrayed as a malevolent spirit. In 1468, a faction representing Perchta was denounced in Bavaria by the Thesaurus pauperum. Before that, in 1439, the practice was denounced by Thomas Ebendorfer von Haselbach in De decem praeceptis.
In many of the canonical documents, Perchta was given the same rank as other leading female spirits namely Holda, Abundia, Richella Diana, and Herodias however, later she fell from disgrace owing to some negativity attached to her persona.