Step Aside, Krampus
Ah, the holiday season approaches. It’s a time of dramatic contrasts: the cold days and nights vs. warm fires and hot toddies; the long nights and short days vs. bright lights and colorful decorations; the chill, dry air that hurts the nose vs. the enticing aromas of food and spiced drinks.
For most of us, there’s another dichotomy: the family-happy TV specials and movies (CHARLIE BROWN, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS) vs. the dark horror of Krampus (SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, CHILD’S PLAY, SANTA CLAWS).
Ah, Krampus. In recent years, he’s gone from a little-known fable to a full-blown holiday icon. Books, movies, t-shirts, even ugly Christmas sweaters. He’s captured our hearts as much through his ruthless, child-eating barbarism as for his reputation for being the precursor to Santa Claus (or, in some tales, his alter-ego).
But holiday legends don’t begin and end with Krampus. In fact, here are a few that might tickle the old imagination:
Saturn is the Roman and Greek god of Agriculture. This may not sound so scary, but he could be, if the crops were bad and a winter of starvation loomed. The ancients celebrated Saturnalia, a festival in Saturn’s honor, from December 17th through the 23rd (to encompass the winter solstice, of course). Originally the holiday was celebrated with sacrifices, but later on that changed into gift-giving and many nights of partying (oh, those crazy Romans!). In fact, it became a tradition in enlightened towns for roles to be reversed and masters to serve their slaves.
Frigga is the Norse goddess of Daylight, but she also held responsibility for determining the fate of humans through her weaving wheel. In fact, the Norse term for wheel (jul) is the origin of the word yuletide and the legend of a gift-giving elf. (Odin. He’s not just Thor’s father.)
And while Odin might be the basis for Sinterklass (our St. Nick), Frigga had a reputation for both benevolence (she would often grant barren women the ability to bear children) and cruelty (she is sometimes depicted as a bitter crone who lived in a swamp, lost her son to Loki’s mischief, and spun cruel fates for many people).
The Horned God
Long before there was a Krampus, the Horned God ruled supreme. Worshipped by the Druids and other ancient people, he is also a staple figure in traditional Wiccan lore. The opposite to his mate the Goddess, he is the personification of the life force in all animals and in the wild. He’s the basis of the Norse Winter King, the leader of the Wild Hunt (he collects men and women to become his eternal slaves), and in many stories he is also the one who bears the souls of the dead to the underworld. Each year the Horned God is reborn in the winter (during Yule), impregnates the Goddess, and then dies in the fall. He is the Lord of Death and Resurrection and tales of him can be found in the writings of ancient peoples throughout Northern Europe and into the Middle East.
So, perhaps these old legends don’t seem so frightening when compared to Krampus, but I guarantee when you dig into their stories, you’ll discover some very chilling facts!
Until next time …