Beselare in West Flanders has been associated with stories about witches for centuries. Its most famous witch is Sefa Bubbles, who according to legend was the witch chief of all the local witches.
You can see her at the local witch festival or Heksenstoet, held on the last Sunday in July. There are songs and dances about her and her children. But she’s certainly not the only important witch in town; in the weeks before the festival, every household makes its own witch and enters it in a village competition.
The history of the Belgian witch
You can see life-sized gnarled old papier-mache witches sitting outside every gatepost and every door. The local folklore has it that husbands sit their unwitting mothers-in-law outside on the judging day.
Everyone dresses up as a witch for the day. The local people say it never, ever rains for the witch parade. True to form, last Sunday, the day remained gloriously hot and sunny. Sorcery!
Once the witch horse riders clear the road and the parade gets underway, two marchers carry forward a large sign reading ‘In this village, there is witchcraft!’, and the first of many floats go past. They include a vast castle, which snagged on the bunting across the road one year.
A huge variety of broomstick dancers, plague and pestilence victims, and all kinds of gnomes, witches and giants follow. There’s also a witches’ kitchen for concocting the most horrid spells.
The Beselare witch parade
As the parade goes past, the witches (or villagers dressed up with very realistic stick-on pointy chins and noses) emit piercing cackles and shrieks and run back and forth, and sometimes into the crowd, poking the unwary with their broomsticks, and prodding children with long, dirty, gnarled fingers to either great delight or great horror!
After sentencing the witch, the parade ends with riders carrying huge broomsticks. But the fun isn’t over yet. There’s still more events held later in the evening. Later, there’s music from different bands in the village square and fireworks.
The witches’ festival is held every two years on the last Sunday of July. But you can visit Beselare and walk the Witches’ Path around the village anytime.