The Brocken – Wernigerode, Germany - Atlas Obscura

The Brocken

Wernigerode, Germany

On the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, science and the occult faced off in a failed attempt to turn a goat into a boy. 


Germany’s Harz Mountains have historically been associated with witches, spirits, and black magic, particularly the range’s highest peak, the Brocken. Back in 1932, one brave skeptic set out to test just how mystical the Brocken truly is by performing a ritual there designed to turn a goat into a little boy.

That skeptic was Harry Price, an early paranormal investigator and debunker. Over the course of his long career, Price labored to bring reason and a scientific eye to the world of the metaphysical. 

Price’s attempt at a magical ritual atop the Brocken came about thanks in part to the writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe famously had an interest in the occult, and visited the Brocken peak, hiking a path that is still memorialized as the Goethe Way. Inspired by the mysterious atmosphere of the Harz region, Goethe set portions of his most famous play, Faust, there, including the surreal walpurgisnacht scene where the devil Mephistopheles leads Faust around the Brocken, observing witches and even a gorgon. “Paganism died hard in the Harz country,” Price would later write.

Goethe died in 1832, but his legacy is celebrated around the Harz, and on the centennial anniversary of the author’s death, Price got in on festivities. That year, he and fellow philosopher C.E.M. Joad traveled to the Brocken to stage their own large-scale magic ritual.

Price had come into possession of an arcane grimoire called the High German Black Book. One of the spells in the old book of magic was the ‘Bloksberg Tryst,’ a ritual designed to transform a young male goat into a human boy. Bloksberg was an older name for the Brocken, and the directions for performing the Bloksberg Tryst stated that it could only successfully be performed atop the peak, under the light of a winter’s full moon.

According to the elaborate ritual text, the he-goat must be led by a silken cord held by a “mayden pure in heart in fair white garments.” Incense must be burned, and a pine fire lit. Standing on a magical circle that has been drawn on the ground, the maiden must spin the goat three times, then pour wine over its head, while reciting some magic words (Procul O procul este profani—Begone, begone, ye profane ones).

Following the preparations laid out in the book, Price had put together a truly arcane scene, with a large magical circle set into the ground, and incense burning away. The moon was somewhat obscured by clouds that night, but otherwise the ritual went off without a hitch—save for it not actually working. For the sake of science, Price and company came back the next night as well, and performed the ritual a second time. The result was, unsurprisingly, the same.

Today the Brocken happily plays up its witchy roots, not unlike a German version of Salem, Massachusetts. But in at least this instance, Price tried to bring real magic to the area, even if it didn’t work. 

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June 6, 2017

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