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The Rise of the Spurcalia: Medieval Festival and Modern Myth


Multiple scholars over the last two centuries have argued that Germanic pagans celebrated a solar festival in February, called the Spurcalia. While there is no consensus about the purpose of this festival (with everything from divination, to the changing of the seasons, to ritual purification suggested), scholars agree that the Spurcalia was a major holiday, which died out only over the course of the early Middle Ages. A closer examination of the medieval sources, however, reveals that this festival never actually existed. Instead, the legend of this holiday arose through a series of misunderstandings on the part of medieval writers, which modern scholarship only compounded. The corrected history of spurcalia makes Germanic polytheism even more mysterious, but it also illustrates how medieval descriptions of paganism reflected clerical ideas about Christianization and the nature of religious worship.

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