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Nordic countries still celebrate Saint Lucy with a December festival or Luciatag. The day is commemorated with singing and parades marking the twelve days preceding Christmas. Saint Lucy was revered as the patroness of weavers, spinners and the harvest. Consequently, all weaving, spinning and threshing had to be completed by her feast day. Participants in her festival wore white and sang songs in her honor with typically one child being selected to represent Saint Lucy. This maid wore a white dress, a crown of lighted candles and a red sash to set her apart from the other participants, who were also clothed in white but wore silver crowns and sashes. The name Lucy itself suggests light and lucidity. According to Christian tradition, Lucy refused to marry the suitor her parents had selected for her. As punishment for her disobedience, her eyes were pulled out. A gory fate, we might think, but only a minor setback for a spunky saint. Miraculously Lucy was able to reinsert her eyeballs. Thereafter she was associated with persons suffering from eye ailments and was soon known as the patron saint of the blind. According to another tradition popular since the Middle Ages, Lucy was so filled with the Holy Spirit she became quite heavy. A whole group of men and team of oxen could not budge the saint from where she stood. Such weightiness might be the ultimate horror for girls her age and a most terrifying fate. But Lucy used her supernatural torpor to her advantage. Nothing could dislodge her and so she was able to continue arguing her innocence before the proconsul. (In summary the attributes of Saint Lucy: 12-day procession in December; patroness of harvest, weavers and spinners; red sash; name meaning light and lucidity; bringer of luck and prosperity; connection to eyesight, vision and seeing; supernatural weightiness resulting in immobility).
Perchta, Berchta, Perahta (old high German Perahta) or Berta (English) are various names for a Southern Germanic Goddess who was also prominent at the end of the year. These names mean the illuminated or shining one. Frau Holle, revered in areas where Berta left off, was also said to make shining white snow when she shook out her feather bed. According to pagan tradition, maidens were responsible for filling their spindles with neatly spun flax by the end of the year. If this was not accomplished, the goddess would cut open the girl’s stomach while she lay sleeping and fill it with hay and stones. In other traditions, the goddess demanded that a fast be kept and if the typical food prescribed for such fasts was not eaten, the goddess would exact her revenge in a similar manner. Instead of using a needle to sew up the disobedient girl’s stomach, a particularly irked goddess would use a ploughshare bone and instead of thread, an iron chain was used. Apparently the sleeping the maiden never woke up during the ordeal and only noticed something amiss upon waking when she was unable to move under the weight of the stones in her stomach. Like Saint Lucy, Perchta also had an eye connection. She had the power to blow out a person’s eyes and thus, she was a force to be reckoned with. (In summary the attributes of Frau Berta, Perchta or Frau Holle: 12 day procession in December; patroness of weavers and spinners; white garment, name meaning light and the shining one; connection to eyesight, vision and seeing; supernatural weightiness resulting in immobility).
These December goddesses are associated with the life-giving forces of the sun, which wane in December but then dramatically begin to ascend. In Nordic mythology the sun represents life and eternity. The ability to see the sun was equated with being alive; by contrast the dead could no longer see the light of day. The color red, the only color that can be traced back to an Indo-European root, represented the dawn, or the color of the rising sun. This might be why red is a frequent marker and associated with the gods. The gods themselves are concerned with maintaining their health and longevity. To prevent aging, they ate apples tended by the goddess Idunn. In Ossettic mythology, apples are life-giving, bestowing immortality and protecting against disease.
A lesser goddess among the powerful personages of December was the Dirneweibl. She appeared at a specific bush in the woods, often referred to as the Christmas bush, and seemed to be more like a nymph of the forest than a full-fledged goddess. She wore a bright red cloak and offered mortals red apples from the basket she carried. Anyone accepting such a gift was rewarded with health and prosperity. But should the person not accept her offering, she retreated further and further into the forest crying pitifully. She is a mysterious figure, both luring the unsuspecting passerby deeper and deeper into the woods but also offering health and happiness in the form of her apples. She is simultaneously dangerous yet beneficent. It is only fitting that her cloak be red, symbolizing all those emotions associated with arousal, including anger, passion, love and even death. Thus, red is tied to those things that are fundamental to our very survival, security and prosperity. A signifier of what is both basic and essential. (In summary, the attributes of the Dirneweibl: her connection to light is only through the red garment she wears and the red apples she offers; she is a potential bringer of health and prosperity but is misunderstood by mortals; appears in the forest or near a specific shrub or tree.)
Little Red Riding Hood is perhaps most like the Dirneweibl. In fact, in the opening line of the fairytale she is referred to as eine kleine suesse Dirne. The word Dirne reflects the dual attributes of her character, she is both a temptress yet seemingly innocent. Like the color red, she symbolizes strong emotions, including lust and passion. Dirne is an antiquated word for Maedchen and in its modern-day usage it designates both a girl and a prostitute. Like the goddess Idunn, Red Riding Hood brings her grandmother life-giving food and nourishment. The passage in the narrative about seeing the sun beams flicker through the trees might be considered only a weak marker tying her to other December goddess associated with the winter solstice. But her fate as ballast in the wolf’s stomach and then later, the supernatural torpor, immobility and subsequent death of the wolf induced by large stones placed in his belly are clearly reminiscent of this pre-Christian tradition.