The Eternal Thread: Frau Holle or Holda, the Winter Goddess

Join us beginning October 1st for the self-paced Eternal Thread online course. Here is just a sample of what we'll be covering. The course is a learn at your own pace course and hosted here on my website. There's also a private Facebook group where we can discuss course topics and share.  


In German lore, Holda was the protectress of women and women's crafts. She is likely equated with the Scandinavian goddess Hulda. She is also equated with Frigg, Odin's wife as we learned previously, and "the Mistress of the Wild Hunt" in Norse mythology. 

Of all female crafts, Holda was most protective of spinning. She is said to have taught women how to cultivate, harvest, and spin flax into linen. Holda inspires and rewards the hard worker and punishes the lazy and messy worker. Indeed she is best known from the Grimm fairy tale in which she praises her industrious daughter (as the loving mother) as the girl sits at her spinning wheel and bloodies her finger as she spins, but rails against her "lazy" daughter as the old crone.

We cannot overstate the importance of spinning before the Industrial Revolution.  Think of how much thread needed to be spun in order to weave fabric to make garments?!  "Girls learned to spin as soon as they could toddle, and women spent much of their time with a distaff tucked under one arm. Holda might reward an industrious spinster by finishing her work for her overnight. A lazy woman was punished by having her distaff burned or her flax spoiled." (Idunna 30, 1997)

She is honored during the 12 days of Christmas and there are prohibitions against spinning during this time. In Swabia, in Southeastern Germany, all spinning must be finished on Christmas Eve and no new work can begin until Twelfth Night. 

In the Horselberg region, the opposite is true. Flax is loaded onto distaffs on Christmas Eve. Holda makes her rounds promising as many good years as there are threads spun by Epiphany. In some traditions, Holda is like Santa Clause, she delivers gifts to children on Christmas Eve and determines who is naughty and who is nice.

Holda is a goddess associated with winter and all the crafting that takes place indoors during that time. When it snows, it is said she is fluffing her feather pillows. She is described as both the maiden, with a mantle of white (often resembling snow) and as the crone, with crooked, decaying teeth. 

"Holda's connection to the spirit world through the magic of spinning and weaving has associated her with witchcraft in Catholic German folklore. She was considered to ride with witches on distaffs, which closely resemble the brooms that witches are thought to ride." (From the Canon Episcopi, quoted in Ginzburg, Carlo(1990). Ecstasies: Deciphering the witches' sabbath. London: Hutchinson Radius. p. 94. ISBN 0-09-174024-).