Mar 27, 2013

Chasing Krampus

I just finished reading Krampus the Yule Lord by Brom and it's one of those rare reads when you're wistful afterwards because you miss the characters.  I miss Krampus, I'm very pleased with the complexity and detail that Brom gave his version of Krampus and particularly pleased with the character himself, how he spoke, reacted in the various situations and responded to our world. 

Tom Kuebler created this awesome head and shoulders sculpture based on Brom's work.

Brom appears to have done quite a bit of research to flesh out his Krampus, bringing in a great deal of Norse mythology and making Krampus a son of Hel, who in turn was a daughter of Loki, the trickster.  He also very much stressed the fact that Pagan gods, particularly nature gods, were turned into demons and the Devil by the Christian church, turning these wild, feasting, sexual, fertile, free creatures into something to be spurned as evil.  Krampus was never evil.  Indeed, he's one of Nature's favorites and his "job" as Yule Lord was to remind the people in the depths of winter that Spring (and life) would return to the land.  (Sadly, Brom didn't include a list of readings because I would have enjoyed seeing his materials first hand!)

I've been doing my own searching for Krampus... When you go a'hunting for him, though, things seem to get confused rather quickly as there are many names for Krampus-like creatures.  If you start to try to pin him down, I've discovered that the Krampus we seek and adore today is actually a very old god-like creature (although not specifically Norse as far as I can tell), and while "Krampus" is paired with the Christian saint, the much older Krampus-like creatures are ancient, pre-Christian creatures who punished the bad and heralded the coming Spring.  Brom includes in a short afterword that "One of the more prominent symbols of Yuletide is the Yule Goat, which is one of the first manifestations of the Krampus that we so dearly know and love today." ... "The original Yule Goat was said to be an ugly creature that frightened children while making certain that Yultide traditions were carried out properly.  Later the Yule Goat, or Krampus, was also attributed with handing out Yule gifts."   
"Depending on who you believe, Krampus is very old indeed. Some say the tradition stems back to the pre-Christian era, and that the Krampus known and feared by Austrians today is a version of an ancient god incorporated into Christian holidays.
There's no doubt that today the frightening figure is an integral part of Christmas celebrations in some parts of Austria and Hungary (where the local version is spelled Krampusz). Krampus brings punishment back to the Christmas holiday, threatening naughty children with more than a lump of coal in their stocking." 
--This quote is from a Spiegel article that you can read here.

In my hunting, I hit on a book that would help, Alpen Demons:
Sadly, it’s only in German so far... maybe we can hope for a translation!!!   I can read a bit of German but not enough to make something this large anything but a trial!! How’s your German?
   UPDATE:  I wrote to Rachel Love at National Geographic and she replied, "there are no plans to publish it in English.  However, ...we really appreciate that you have reached out to us about this book and I will certainly let our acquisition editors know of your email and interest."   So if you'd like to see this book in English, let them know!   Email Ms. Love at   Rachel Love, National Geographic Society, Vice President, International Book Publishing
  Anyway, it seems that Krampus is only the very last incarnation of a long line of hairy, hooved, horned creatures that ruled the wintery landscape. In fact, I’m going to guess that “Krampus” as a name is quite new and that the Krampus-like creature of old was called something else, or many other names. (Like in the Krampus book by Brom, he was entombed for 500 years, explaining his long absence.)

This quote also seems to lean that way:

“With all due respect, I hope that Krampus does NOT catch on in the US! Krampus is a sacred, Pagan rite that has managed to survive being (too badly) overrun by the Romans 2000 years ago as they moved through southern Europe. It managed to survive everything in between. Our own Christmas traditions are rooted in many of these ancient European celebrations, and LOOK what we've done to Christmas in the US?? No, thank you. If you want to witness Krampuslauf, respectfully hop a flight for Berchtesgaden in Germany, or Graz in Austria, blacken your face with some coal like the locals, prepare to be hunted down like an animal, and possibly lashed mercilessly with switches. I might add that Krampuses and Sankt Nikolaus makes HOUSE CALLS; children in the region are extremely well behaved.”
I think Krampus is much more complicated than at first he seemed... So maybe all those names (Black Peter, Belsnickels, etc...) come from the same original folk stories and winter traditions.

I will continue my hunt and if you hear squeals of delight, that would be me when I run into a 7 foot horned hairy demon!  In the meantime, I will enjoy the Krampus wrapping paper a friend very thoughtfully sent me.  (Thank you, Rose!)

If you come across anything that could be helpful, please do pass it along!


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