Will you be Meeting the Krampus or Čert?

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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

An Excerpt From Storm Wolf

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Have you seen the early reviews for Storm Wolf? It will be released on September 1 — Preorder your copy for only $2.99 today!

“Morris’ werewolf isn’t a fur-coated romantic, but a refreshingly murky protagonist who’s both flawed and sympathetic; he kills innocents, but never intentionally. There are quite a few werewolf onslaughts, which the author unflinchingly portrays as bloody and brutal…. A dark supernatural outing, featuring indelible characters as sharp as wolves’ teeth.” — Kirkus Reviews

“…a unique weaving together and retelling of central and eastern European werewolf folk tales. Set in 1890, when such tales were still being told, Storm Wolf stands apart from contemporary myth and legend retellings… The magic–Alexei’s battles with storm creatures, the conjuring of a snake demon from pipesmoke, a witch’s talisman of skin stripped from a sailor– is extraordinarily well imagined and described here. Dollops of regional history and glimpses of customs and legends are fascinating.” — Blue Ink Review

In this excerpt, Alexei has put on the magical wolf pelt and gone up into the sky for the first time to battle a storm that threatens to devastate the village harvest, leading to starvation when winter arrives:

Alexei threw himself at the giant and locked his jaws around the giant’s leg. He pulled and tugged, trying to pull the giant over, but the giant just picked up his leg and shook it, attempting to dislodge Alexei. They hung there, wolf and giant, Alexei grinding his teeth into the giant’s leg and feeling the giant’s leg bone resisting him deep within the giant’s leg. Finally the giant reached down, shouting something at Alexei in words that he could not understand, and wrenched Alexei’s jaws from his shin. He picked Alexei up and tossed him like a ball in a game of ninepins. Alexei tumbled head-over-heels through the clouds, striking the haunches of one of the still stampeding cows. He fell to the clouds at the cow’s feet, nearly trampled by the last of the herd running alongside. Then the cattle were gone and Alexei lay there, bruised and bloody and panting.

He felt the clouds beneath him rumble with the ongoing thunder of both the stampeding cattle and the drunkard stumbling about below. He could see flashes of lightning through the folds of the clouds beside and above him.

“How can I go on? Is there no end to this storm? How can I ever defeat it?” Alexei asked himself, struggling to his four wolf feet. He gasped and choked, trying to keep breathing even as his aching ribs demanded that he stop trying. “How did Grandfather survive this?”

Another thunderclap exploded above him. Lightning shot past him towards the earth, and in the brief tear it made in the clouds he could see the fields of his village far, far below. The wheat was being pummeled into the mud. He could easily imagine the starvation that would come in the wake of the ruined harvest. He gasped again, his ribs heaving.

“I cannot let my neighbors starve!” he told himself. “I cannot let my family starve!” He pulled himself back onto his haunches and jumped into the storm above him again.

Be sure to pre-order your copy of Storm Wolf today for $2.99 and enjoy it as soon as it is released on September 1st!

Ascension Day, Part 2

Icon of Ascension Day, showing Christ enthroned in glory above with the apostles and Mother of God below. The Ascension icon can also be viewed as an image of Christ coming at the end of time to judge the world.

Icon of Ascension Day, showing Christ enthroned in glory above with the apostles and Mother of God below. The Ascension icon can also be viewed as an image of Christ coming at the end of time to judge the world.

Ascension Day is an important day in the church calendar and in the rural, farming calendar as well. It is also an important day among the Pennsylvania Dutch (The Pennsylvania Dutch, commonly called “Amish,” maintained numerous religious affiliations, with the greatest number being Lutheran or Reformed, but many Anabaptists as well.)

Among the Pennsylvania Dutch sewing on Ascension Day is strictly forbidden. Other work of many kind, especially farm work, is also eschewed. Lightning has been reportedly striking those sewing or working on Ascension Day. Rain water from an Ascension Day storm is thought to cure eye and vision problems if used to wash the eyes with. Not only does rain fall and thunder rumble down from the heavens above, these are generally associated with Thursdays; as Ascension is always a Thursday, making the 40th day after Easter, thunder came to be associated with Ascension as well. (The Pennsylvania Dutch name for “Thursday” is a variant of the word for “thunder.”)

Reportedly in Bulgaria the grandmother of each family will go to the cemetery on Ascension Eve and lays face down atop the grave of the most recently deceased family member. She prays there a while for that family member and for all the deceased ancestors, following which she nicks her left breast (above the heart) and lets a few drops of blood fall onto the grace to feed the ghost(s) and bring blessing to the deceased for another year. Happy ancestors will bring fertility and good luck to the family, their farms and farm animals until the next Ascension Day.

For more, see the excerpts from Eastertide in Pennsylvania: A Folk-Cultural Study.