Who Comes to YOUR House on December 6?

krampus-stuffing-children-into-basket

Traditionally on December 5th and 6th, St. Nicholas walks from house to house in the cities and villages of Alpine and Central Europe to admonish and laud young and old. In the Alpine regions, he is accompanied by a Krampus (an evil creature, a devil of sorts), who is going to punish the bad children and adults on St. Nicholas′ command. For the honest children he normally has little presents. In Prague and the Czech-speaking areas of Central Europe, the čert (a clearly demonic character) accompanies St. Nicholas.

In Come Hell or High Water, both St. Nicholas and his čert appear:

“It was commonly supposed [in 1356] that St. Nicholas, as he made his rounds bestowing gifts on children and the needy, was accompanied by both a tar-covered čert, a pitch-black devil, as well as a bright and glorious andel, an angel of light, who each argued for or against the worthiness of the recipient of the saint’s benefactions. The čert was always ready, at the slightest nod from the saint, to carry away the unworthy beggar or misbehaving child and–throughout the year–parents could always warn their children that they might be carried away by the čert….”

St. Nicholas himself is a Christian figure, the fourth century bishop of Myra. As son of a well-situated family, he started to help poor people who lived in deep poverty. He was supposed to have miraculous vigor and so he became patron of the seamen, children and poor people. (See a previous post about St. Nicholas and his care for the poor here.) In most modern versions of the St. Nicholas story, he is accompanied by a monster or servant (the Dutch describe his assistant as Black Peter) who punishes the bad children while Nicholas himself rewards the well-behaved children.

The figure of the Krampus is based on pre-Christian custom. The Krampusse not only punish the bad children but had the function at one time of driving out the winter devils and blizzard sprites. Originally the custom of the Krampus was spread over all of Austria but was forbidden by the Catholic Church during the Inquisition. It was prohibited by death to masquerade as a devil or an evil creature and so this custom only survived in some remote, inaccessible, regions of the Alps from where it slowly spread back across the western parts of Austria again. Today the Krampusse revels are especially popular in Salzburg. As many times as I have been to Salzburg, I have never been there during Krampusse-time; I would dearly love to be there to see the processions and parades of costumed characters in the streets.

St. Nicholas and the Krampus procession in Salzburg (2010); photo by Charlotte Anne Brady.

St. Nicholas and the Krampus procession in Salzburg (2010); photo by Charlotte Anne Brady.

Krampus revels at the Salzburg Christmas Market, 2011; photo by Neumayr/MMV 05.12.2011

Krampus revels at the Salzburg Christmas Market, 2011; photo by Neumayr/MMV 05.12.2011

King Tut

Doesn’t everyone recognize the famous funerary mask of King Tut? It was on November 26, 1922, that Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon first went inside the tomb of King Tutankhamen. (Photograph by Kenneth Garrett, National Geographic Creative)

Who doesn’t know about the curse of King Tut that killed everyone who dared disturb his tomb? Or that famous Mummy that hunted down those who disturbed his rest? But how did the Egyptians actually turn bodies into mummies?

I remember one time in the Egyptian Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that a mother was trying to calm a worried or frightened child, “Don’t worry! They took the bodies out of the mummies before they put them on display!” Of course, if that were true there would be no mummy left because removing the body would mean unraveling the bandages and destroy the mummy that we see on display.

The Egyptians thought that the dead would need their bodies in a recognizable form in order to reanimate them in the afterlife. The heat and dryness of the sand dehydrated the bodies quickly, often–but not always–creating lifelike and natural ‘mummies’ for the poor. But the wealthy wanted more care taken to preserve their bodies in order to be sure that they would actually have a usable mummy when they needed it.

Anubis was the jackal headed god of the dead–we have all seen the representations of Anubis in the movies about mummies. He was closely associated with mummification and embalming, so the chief priest/embalming overseer wore a mask of Anubis.

The priests would first insert a hook through a hole near the nose and pull out part of the brain because it and the other internal organs would rot and might prevent proper mummification. They would also make a cut on the left side of the body near the stomach and remove all the other internal organs as well. Once dried out, the lungs, intestines, stomach, and liver would be preserved each in their own canopic jar, apart from the mummy itself. The heart itself would be placed back inside the corpse.

Then they would rinse inside of body with wine and spices and cover the corpse with natron (salt) for 70 days. Halfway through this process, around the 40-day mark, they would stuff the body with linen or sand to give it a more human shape and at the end of the 70 days they would wrap the body from head to toe in bandages. That’s the mummy we see today, all wrapped up in strips of bandages.

Of course, the traditional “swaddling clothes” or “swaddling bands” that babies were wrapped in were very similar to the bandages that would be used to wrap up a mummy so the images of babies in ancient or medieval art often look very similar to mummies as well. Except that the baby’s face is not covered! (Medieval Christian art often depicted a person’s soul as one of these “mummified” babies.)

Time Zones, Time Travel

Time itself will end if this clock ever stops–evil and black magic lurk in the shadows of The Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Square of Prague. (photo by Joseph O’Neill, 2016)

Time is a mysterious, ever-flowing stream that seems to pool and eddy and tumble forward more quickly some days than others. Some days, we wish that it would flow backwards–even if only a few moments so that we can get on the subway train that is pulling out of the station as we come down the stairs onto the platform.

Folk tales and fairy tales and science fiction take the manipulation of time for granted. A princess can sleep for 100 years. Rip van Winkle can snooze for a 20 year nap. A hero can walk until seven pairs of iron boots wear out. But Aladdin can travel across Asia in the blink of an eye and Beauty can return to the side of her beast before she has drawn a breath. Once Mr. Spock discovered how to whip the star ship Enterprise around the sun to travel through time, it became a trick to use on multiple occasions–sometimes even with whales swimming in the ship’s hull. And the TARDIS of Dr. Who or the Way-Back machine of Peabody and Sherman are on everyone’s Christmas list at some point!

We also want to look further down the stream of time by dealing out cards or examining the lines on our palms. The position of the stars when we are born might effect something that happens more than 30 years later.

We want to control time and it remains forever elusive and just beyond our reach.

But on November 18, 1883 a Connecticut school teacher, Charles F. Dowd, was able to impose a method of human control over Time. He proposed a uniform time zone plan for the U.S. consisting of four zones. We take these time zones for granted now; television stations indicate what time in which time zones their programs will air and we know without being told that planes from the East Coast are in the air for three hours longer than their landing time on the West Coast indicate. We are actually able to land before we take off, sometimes!