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, with 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 local household makes its own witch, and enters it in a village competition to win a prize for the best one.
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 have been known to sit their unwitting mothers-in-law outside on the judging day of the competition.
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 have cleared 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 (including a vast 17th-century castle which caused hilarity one year by getting stuck on the bunting across the road).
A huge variety of broomstick dancers, plague and pestilence victims, and all kinds of gnomes, witches and giants follow, as well as a witches’ kitchen where the most horrid spells were concocted.
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 the witch has been captured and sentenced, and the parade has ended with riders carrying huge broomsticks, the fun isn’t over yet – there’s still more events held later in the evening; music from different bands in the village square, and later, fireworks.
The witches’ festival is held every two years on the last Sunday of July; the next one is on Sunday 31 July 2011, but you can visit Beselare and walk the Witches’ Path around the village in the anytime.