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When Science and the Occult Went Head-to-Head on a German Mountaintop

The stories of supernatural happenings in the Harz mountains of Germany, and in particular the highest peak called the Brocken, have been around forever. Harry Price found those beliefs ridiculous. The skeptic Price had studied the supernatural for some time, and even owned a book of old German spells and rituals, which got him invited to the Brocken in 1932 to create some magic.

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.

In 1932, the region was celebrating the centennial anniversary of the Goethe’s death, and that's why Price went to the Brocken, along with fellow philosopher C.E.M. Joad, to perform a magic ritual that was supposed to change a goat into a boy. He had to take a fair maiden and a goat, too, along with a bunch of journalists and spectators. Read the story of that ritual and how it turned out at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: German Federal Archives)

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