A Facebook pal has pointed out that last night (April 30th) was “Walpurgisnacht” or Walpurgis Eve. In this day and age, with the Walpurgis itself becoming increasingly rare, few people actually know what it is. Enter the Grumbler, duty bound and entirely delighted to educate.
The Walpurgis (or King Hedgeward as it was once colloquially known) looks very much like a miniature (its only about 30mm from nose to tail) amalgam of a hedgehog and a potato – although, as part of the fabricanidae family, it is not directly related to either. A shy and nervous creature, if held, most Walpurgis will start to shiver with increasing vigour and frequency until eventually exhausting themselves and falling asleep. As a means of defence/self-preservation, this would appear to be useless but the build-up of lactic acid in its powerful muscles that results from wearing itself out means that the flesh of the Walpurgis tastes utterly revolting. A small percentage of them, however, will inflict a remarkably serious (for its size) and terminal (for the Walpurgis) bite.
It was originally introduced to the British Isles, as were so many species, by the Romans who called it “Ericius Terrapomum Tremefacio Deminitus”.
Notorious for their dog-like tendency to fight anything they could, and eat or have sex with anything they couldn’t fight, the first invading Romans found that British food was inedible even to a palate as indiscriminating as their own, and that the remarkably pale and bluish skin of the indigenous people served, efficiently, to extinguish their almost perpetual carnal thoughts .
Hungry, sexually frustrated and bored, the occupiers soon latched on to (or in some cases were latched on to by) the Walpurgis as an early vibrating ‘aide-de-frottage’ that could, when fully depleted, be impaled on a stick, roasted over a fire and eaten. Walpurgis importers grew extremely rich and tended to be invited to all of the best parties. The fact that perhaps as many as one in a hundred of these little creatures would, when applied to an erogenous zone, inflict a painful and piercing bite only appealed to the Romans’ love of gambling and gave rise to the earliest known intimate piercing jewellery industries.
As an obligate hibernator, the Walpurgis is unavailable to consumers from late autumn to spring. Prior to the occasional escapers establishing themselves in the British countryside these first imports of the year would typically be available towards the end of April. Ever up for an excuse, it soon became a Roman custom to celebrate the annual resumption of ‘festivities’ with wild parties at the end of that month. Large bonfires would be lit to stave off the nocturnal chill and the celebrants (the nature of the Walpurgis’ shivering tended to appeal mostly, though not exclusively, to the ladies) gathered around them would shed clothing along with inhibition and gorge themselves to insensibility.
This practice spread back across mainland Europe and lead to many of the indigenous tribes (who were excluded from participation on pain of death) believing that the naked, shrieking and cavorting parties were gatherings of witches – hence the origins of Walpurgis Eve as the night of a witches’ meet.