Tuesday, December 29, 2015


An antidote to our relentless diet of Christmas sugar is the Krampus, a German/Austrian devil who comes to winter celebrations, usually on December 5, which is also Saint Nicholas' day. For a very long time in Bavaria and in the territories of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, he’s been the dark companion to their Good Spirit of the season. He’s doubtless a good deal older than the red-coated, croizier-toting saint, with his horns, furry pelt, and long tongue. Krampus arrives to punish bad children, right beside Saint Nicholas, in, some commentators have noted, a kind of bad cop/good cop routine. He carries chains which he shakes and a bunch of birch twigs, with which he threatens punishment.

Old Christmas cards from the region, especially from the 19th Century, show Krampus—sometimes portrayed as a female—delivering spankings in classic bondage attire. However, I believe that Krampus is in essence, male, particularly because of the enormous horns, trophies taken from the iconic mountain Steinbock, which are usually part of the headgear. Surviving from ancient times, despite more than a thousand years of intervening Christianity, there’s still a magnificent horned god who dances in German streets during this cold, sunless time. 

 Nature, in the form of the Teutonic Goddess, Mother Perchta, is no longer fertile, no longer generous to her children. The Wheel of the Year has turned. Now she whips the land with winds, ice, and snow. The birch is sacred to her, and is represented by the rune Berkana.  Are these demonic creatures wielding birch rods her minions?
Are they  avengers--or the agents--of Evil? After all, they are said to carry bad children away in sacks for late-night snacks! 
Are they chasing Winter away or are they the pain and cruelty of Winter itself?

The answers to these questions were lost a very long time ago. 

For the second part of my “Magic Colours” series I wanted to create a shape-shifting creature who lived in the Austrian Alps. Krampus came at once to mind, so I decided to use his legend, changing it here and there to fit my ideas about the character. 

In Black Magic, a disillusioned young soldier, Goran, returns home from the Napoleonic wars to find his family estate semi-abandoned in the wake of more than a decade of European war. During the "year without summer" (1816) thousands of  people in the northern hemisphere sickened and starved, for beside the cold and dark, there were torrential rains. (We now know this was caused by the cataclysmic eruption of the Tambora volcano.) In the alps, all the extra precipitation caused devastating avalanches.
Home at last, depressed, and aimlessly wandering, Goran stumbles into the seasonal celebrations of his tenants. It appears to be a traditional Summer Solstice party, celebrating the start of a warm and sunny year. There is food, beer and the possibility of sex, but after the talk, the drinking and dancing, he finds, too late, that he's walked into a trap. His tenant farmers have their own ideas about what their newly returned young lord can do for them.
When he awakens the next day, he finds himself changed into a sort of local god, not only the horny talisman of fertility, but an avenger of wrongs, a caretaker of man and beast. Now another link in an ageless chain, Goran will “wear the horns” and share, whether he likes it or not, the life of all who dwell on his  mountain.

~Juliet Waldron
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