Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Review: Encyclopedia of Spirits and Ghosts in World Mythology (Theresa Bane, 2016)

A few months ago, I received a book from McFarland & Company, Inc. for review, courtesy of the book’s author and my good friend, Theresa Bane. Theresa and I have been corresponding for a few years now, and she is an absolute delight to speak to and interact with. In addition, Theresa is a renowned vampirologist and an expert on the Undead. She has written two books about vampires and a number of others about demons, giants, faeries, monsters, haunted places, folklore, and ghosts. It is the last one that the book in question covers, and it is entitled Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits in World Mythology (McFarland & Company, 2016).

Like most of Theresa’s books, the encyclopedia is an academic work, and every type of ghost and spirit gets an entry of its own in an A-Z format. Theresa’s research is painstakingly thorough, and the bibliography is one of the longest and the most extensive that I’ve ever seen. Some of the book’s entries are long and very detailed, while others consist of only a single sentence and only give a brief description. However, most of the entries fall somewhere in between the two. And after each entry, Theresa gives her sources. And for a book of only 169 pages, that’s a lot of information!

As for the book’s entries, they contain information on every conceivable type of ghost and spirit, including appearance, habits, powers, what part of the world they’re found in, how to protect oneself and, in some instances, how to destroy them. This book contains a number of different spirit types, including spirits of the dead (ghosts), nature spirits, faeries, yōkai, demonic spirits, household spirits, elementals, ancestral spirits, vampiric spirits, genii loci (spirits attached to a place), guardian spirits, monsters, different types of djinn, and a great deal more. The entries feature all kinds of entities, from the Banshee (and all variations thereof) to the Ghoul, from the Acheri to the Grey Lady, and a host of others in alphabetical order, from the Aatxe to the Zuzeca. And since this book deals with ghosts and spirits that are found in cultures all over the world, you won’t find any information pertaining to haunted places of any kind. There are literally thousands of books on that subject available for your perusal.

Overall, Theresa’s book is well-written, neatly organized, free of flaws, and a veritable treasure trove of information. Her research is incredibly thorough and detailed, with an index for quickly locating specific entries and an extensive bibliography for further reading and research. Whether you’re a serious researcher or just curious, this book is an incredible read. I am truly thankful that McFarland & Company and Theresa have given me the opportunity to review this title, and I hope to review more of their titles in the near future. I heartily recommend this title to all of my friends.

Publisher: McFarland – www.mcfarlandpub.com – 800-253-2187 (Order Line)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Book Review: Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? (J. Nathan Couch, 2014)

Who hasn't heard of the Goatman? According to legend, the Goatman is a half-man, half-goat monstrosity that has a man's body and the head of a goat. It stands over seven feet tall and walks on two legs like a man, and its muscular body is covered in course hair. The beast is sometimes said to have red glowing eyes, and hooves in the place of feet. The monster is frequently said to carry a woodcutter’s axe, which it uses to slaughter its victims (which are most often horny teenagers). But is the legend true?

In his book Goatman: Flesh or Folklore?, (CreateSpace, 2014), writer and paranormal investigator J. Nathan Couch investigates a wide variety of Goatman legends and sightings. He takes his time analyzing and discussing them, making references to classical Greek mythology, comic books, urban legends, news articles, television shows, books containing relevant material (and there are quite a few), horror films, and Internet blogs. In short, the man’s research and his diligence are nothing short of incredible! His investigation covers the entire country, from the Maryland Goatman to the Lake Worth Monster, the Pope Lick Monster to the Beast of Billiwhack, and the Sheepman to the now-notorious Sheepsquatch. Not only that, but Nathan also tackles legends of lesser-known monsters, unsolved murders, and a few non-Goatman legends as well. He even discusses satyrs from ancient Greek mythology in-depth! And he doesn’t shy away from the gory and juicy details, either. To make a long story short, this book will tell you everything that you could possibly want to know about the Goatman!

As great as this book is, there are some flaws. There are some spelling and grammar errors, but they are few and far between. And given the sheer volume of information within this book, it’s to be expected. And such errors do not detract from this book’s value as the first work of its kind, not in the slightest. Nathan traveled all over the United States for two years, digging up hard-to-find and obscure materials for his research, and writing all the while, sparing no details in his pursuit of the truth. And he was kind enough to send me a copy, free of charge, to read and review for myself. Friends like this are hard to find, and I am eternally grateful for his generosity.

All in all, Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? Is a fantastic book, and one that I highly recommend to this blog’s readers. It is both witty and intelligent in its treatment of the Goatman legend. This book is the first to ever fully explore the various legends associated with the Goatman, and it does a remarkable job of it. I honestly cannot recommend it more!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Nuckelavee

Off of the northernmost coast of Scotland lies the Orkney Islands, an archipelago of seventy islands that has been continuously inhabited by humans for the last 8,500 years. The islands have been inhabited by a number of peoples: Old and Middle Stone Age tribesmen, the Picts, the Vikings, and the Norwegians. The islands themselves were given to Scotland in the year 1472 A.D. by Denmark. The land is a captive in that it is surrounded by water, both from the ocean and deep freshwater lakes further inland. Monsters and mysteries hide in these murky waters, and one of the most horrifying and the most vile of these creatures calls the seas surrounding the Orkneys home. At night, the beast emerges from the sea to hunt, and its only purpose is to torment and kill humans. The monster is greatly feared throughout the islands, and the people will never speak its name without uttering a prayer afterwards. The Orcadians know this monster as the Nuckelavee, the Devil of the Sea.

According to Orcadian legend, the Nuckelavee (pronounced nuh-kel-ah-vee) is a horrible sea faery or a demon that comes out of the sea when darkness falls to bring sickness and death to humans, animals, and the very land itself. The beast then feeds upon the lifeforce of everything it has killed (Bane 220). The Nuckelavee is thought to be a member of the Unseelie Court, which is a court of evil faeries in Scottish folklore. These faeries are said to be the evil souls of the damned, and actively seek to do as much harm as they possibly can to humans, rather than just causing random mischief like other faeries (Franklin 260; “Nuckelavee”, Monstropedia). The beast is also thought to belong to the Fuath, a collective term for a wide variety of malevolent water faeries in Scottish and Irish folklore (Franklin 102). The name nuckelavee is thought to be derived from a corruption of the Orcadian word knoggelvi which, according to Orkney resident and folklorist Walter Traill Dennison, means “Devil of the Sea” (“Nuckelavee”, Wikipedia; “The Nightmarish Nuckelavee”, EsoterX). In Shetland, the same creature is known as a mukkelevi (“Nuckelavee”, Wikipedia). The word itself may very well be a variation of the Norse word nokk or the Icelandic word nykur (“The Nightmarish Nuckelavee”, EsoterX). But wherever the name comes from, they all more or less describe the same terrible creature.

The Nuckelavee has been described as looking more or less like a centaur, but there are some significant differences. The monster’s main body is essentially that of a horse. However, growing out of the horse’s back is the head, the torso, and the arms of a man. This “man” is said to be large in stature and appears to be riding the horse, but in actuality he has no legs and is in fact part of the horse (“Nuckelavee”, Monstropedia). In other descriptions of the monster, the head, the torso, and the arms of a man are said to be growing out from where the horse’s head should be. In both descriptions, the head is said to be huge – about three feet in diameter – and has a very large mouth, filled with sharp, jagged teeth. The head rolls back and forth, as if the beast’s neck is too weak to support the weight (“Nuckelavee”, Wikipedia; “Nuckelavee”, Monstropedia). On that same head is a protruding, piglike nose and a single large eye, which is bloodshot and glows a fiery red color in the dark. The manlike portion of the monster has very long arms that nearly touch the ground. The beast has large hands, and its fingers are tipped with very sharp, rending claws. But the one thing that makes the Nuckelavee so unique is the fact that the monster has no skin whatsoever! Thick black blood can be seen coursing through sickly yellow veins and arteries, which stand out amid the beast’s blood-red muscles and white sinews (Bane 220; Mack and Mack 57; Franklin 194; “Nuckelavee”, Wikipedia). Some people say that the creature has fins or flippers, and that the horrid thing smells like putrid, decomposing fish and a pile of rotten eggs (Franklin 194). In other words, the Nuckelavee is terrifying to behold, and smells even worse!

Although many monsters have a dual purpose, this is not the case with the Nuckelavee. The monster is pure, unrestrained evil that only seeks to plague the inhabitants of the Orkneys with sickness and death, a task from which it rarely (if ever) rests (“Nuckelavee”, Orkneyjar). Although the monster is more than capable of wreaking all kinds of death and destruction with its sheer size and strength alone, the beast prefers to use its deadly breath for that purpose. The creature absorbs and feeds upon the lifeforce of anything that dies from its vile breath (Bane 220). But judging from the only recorded encounter with the Nuckelavee, one can surmise that the monster wouldn’t be adverse to slaughtering and eating livestock and humans as well (“Nuckelavee”, Monstropedia). Tearing its prey apart with its vicious claws or trampling them to pieces with its hooves wouldn’t be out of the question, either.

The Nuckelavee is said to be one of the most fearsome of all faeries, and its powers are formidable. The monster has enormous strength, and can gallop faster than any human can run (or any other horse, for that matter). Nobody seems to be sure if the Nuckelavee takes on another form when it enter the sea, or if indeed it changes form at all (“Nuckelavee”, Wikipedia), so shapeshifting may or may not be out of the question. But it is the Nuckelavee’s breath that is its most formidable weapon. It has been described as a “foul, black reek” that spews forth from the beast’s mouth (“Nuckelavee”, Orkneyjar) and causes plants and crops to wither, animals to sicken and die on the spot, and infects humans with a deadly wasting disease, which is known as Mortasheen. The Nuckelavee’s breath is so deadly that it can ruin crops, create epidemics in both humans and animals, and can cause long periods of little to no rainfall. This leads to drought, which in turn makes for poor harvests and eventually leads to famine. However, this could be more readily attributed to the Nuckelavee itself, rather than the creature’s breath. The dreadful smell can also drive entire herds of animals off of cliffs and to their deaths in the sea below (Bane 220; Mack and Mack 58; “Nuckelavee”, Wikipedia). Unfortunately, the beast’s horrible breath isn’t something that can be fought with Tic-Tacs® or a pack of Mentos®. It must be killed or driven away to stop the devastation.

Despite the Nuckelavee’s notoriety, there is only one recorded encounter with the monster. It appears that there isn’t any given date or year to indicate when the event took place, but it is still regarded as being a true story by some Orkney natives. But please bear in mind that the story given here has been cobbled together from half a dozen different sources, and is retold here from this blogger’s point of view. It was originally told by Orkney folklorist Walter Traill Dennison, who lived on Sanday in the 1800s and claimed to have actually met the man that encountered the beast. The man was extremely reluctant to speak of it, and it was only after a lot of cajoling and persuasion on Dennison’s part (“Nuckelavee”, Wikipedia) that this man agreed to tell his tale.

On one moonless, starlit night, a man by the name of Tammas Taylor was walking home (perhaps from work or a tavern). The road he was walking on was close to the seashore, and as he moved forward, he came to a narrow section of road “that was hemmed in on one side by the sea, and on the other by a deep freshwater loch”, of which there are many on Sanday (“Tammas and the Nuckelavee”, Orkneyjar; Fleming 125). Then, it suddenly dawned on Tammas that there was something huge on the road in front of him. And worse yet, it was moving towards him. What was he to do?

Tammas immediately knew that the lumbering thing in front of him was no earthly beast. He couldn’t leap to either side, but could only go forward or turn back. Tammas had been taught that a person should never turn their back on any supernatural beast, and that to do so was to invite immediate destruction (“The Nightmarish Nuckelavee”, EsoterX; Fleming 125). But then again, Tammas had always been regarded as being “rough and foolhardy” by others (“Tammas and the Nuckelavee”, Orkneyjar). With nothing to lose, Tammas said to himself, “The Lord be aboot me, an’ take care o’ me, as I am oot on no evil intent this night!” He knew what he had to do…

Determined to face his foe, as the lesser of two evils, Tammas began to slowly walk forward. Yet as he drew closer, the man realized that it wasn’t just any monster that he was facing: it was the dreaded Nuckelavee, the Devil of the Sea. He saw just how gruesome the creature was up close: the lower part of the body was that of “a great horse with flappers like fins about his legs, with a mouth as wide as a whale’s, from whence came breath like steam from a brewing-kettle” (Fleming 125; “Nuckelavee”, Monstropedia). The creature had a single eye, which burned like hot coals in a fire (Fleming 125). “On the monster’s back was what looked to him like a huge man, though to Tammas he seemed as if he might be part of the ‘horse’, for he appeared to have no legs. He did though have long arms stretching nearly to the ground. His head lolled about on his shoulders as if at any moment it might topple to the ground” (Fleming 125). In addition, the man’s head had “a mouth projected like that of a pig” (“Nuckelavee”, Wikipedia). However, what terrified Tammas the most about the creature “was that the monster was skinless; this utter want of skin adding much to the terrific appearance of the creature’s naked body, the whole surface of it showing only red raw flesh, in which Tammas saw blood as black as tar, running through yellow veins, and great white sinews thick as horse tethers, twisting, stretching, and contracting as the monster moved” (Fleming 125; “Nuckelavee”, Monstropedia). But in spite of his horror, Tammas kept moving forward.

If Tammas had been frightened before, he was utterly terrified now. His hair was standing on end, which he described as “a cold sensation like a film of ice between his scalp and his skull”, and he was breaking into cold sweats on top of that (“Nuckelavee”, Monstropedia). But Tammas knew that it was useless trying to run away, and if it was his fate to die that night, he would rather face his enemy head-on than die with his back to the creature. But despite how scared he was, something came to Tammas, and he suddenly remembered that the Nuckelavee absolutely hated fresh water. He now knew that he had only one chance to escape, or else he would die in the monster’s enormous jaws.

Slowly, Tammas began to move to the edge of the road closest to the loch. But then the monster’s horselike lower head caught on to what the man was doing, and it moved itself accordingly. The beast opened its mouth, and inside was a bottomless, teeth-filled abyss. Tammas could feel the Nuckelavee’s disgusting breath on his face, which was hot like a fire (“Nuckelavee”, Monstropedia). The beast raised its long arms and reached out to grab the poor man, but Tammas narrowly managed to duck and evaded the attack! In the process, however, the man momentarily lost his footing, and one of his feet accidentally slipped into the loch. This made a splash of water, some of which hit one of the monster’s forelegs. The Nuckelavee reared up on its hind legs and let out “a thunderous snort” (Fleming 125). Tammas saw his chance, and began to run as fast as he could! And it was a good thing he did, because the Nuckelavee was right behind him, bellowing with anger (“Nuckelavee”, Monstropedia; Fleming 125).

Tammas had never run so fast or so hard before, nor had he ever been so scared. But then again, he hadn’t ever encountered a monster before, either. But then he saw the rivulet, a small stream through which excess water from the loch made its way into the ocean. He knew that a great many supernatural beings were afraid of or otherwise despised running water, and the Nuckelavee was no exception. If he could get across the stream, he would be safe from the beast’s grasp. As he closed in on the bank, the monster extended its arms again to grab its prey. Tammas made one last desperate leap and landed on the opposite bank, leaving only his bonnet in the monster’s clawed hands. The Nuckelavee let out “a wild unearthly yell of disappointed rage”, and disappeared into the night. Utterly exhausted, Tammas collapsed on the other side of the bank, unconscious but safe (Fleming 125-126; “Nuckelavee”, Wikipedia; “Nuckelavee”, Monstropedia; Mack and Mack 58; “The Nightmarish Nuckelavee”, EsoterX; “Tammas and the Nuckelavee”, Orkneyjar).

As powerful as the Nuckelavee is, the beast is not without its weaknesses. As the story above states, the Nuckelavee is deathly afraid of fresh water, nor is it able to wade across running water. Furthermore, the beast will never come ashore during a rainstorm (“Nuckelavee”, Monstropedia). Exactly why the Nuckelavee despises fresh water so much is something of a mystery, but what’s important is that it works. In their book A Field Guide to Demons, Vampires, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits (Arcade Publishing, 2011), Carol and Dinah Mack state that anyone who takes it upon themselves to go traveling through the Scottish Isles (i.e. on a backpacking trip) should, as a general rule, pack a number of bottles of fresh spring water with them (Mack and Mack 59). Not only is water essential for staying hydrated and alive, but it will also keep the Nuckelavee at bay (Mack and Mack 59). And like most faeries (there are some exceptions), the Nuckelavee is vulnerable to iron and steel, and can be wounded or even slain by these metals (Bane 220; Mack and Mack 59). If a physical confrontation becomes necessary, use the bottled water to repeatedly splash the monster, while simultaneously slashing at it with a steel blade or beating the beast with a rusty metal rod. If this assault doesn’t drive the Nuckelavee away, then nothing will.

Another thing that the Nuckelavee hates is the old Orkney practice of burning gathered seaweed, which is known as kelp-burning. The smell is extremely offensive to the Nuckelavee, but it doesn’t actually have any apotropaic qualities. Instead, the pungent smoke sends the beast into a foaming, extremely violent rage that can cause plagues, the destruction of private property, the ruination of crops, and widespread livestock slaughter (“Nuckelavee”, Wikipedia). Furthermore, the Nuckelavee would “visit” the island of Stronsay and strike down all of the horses on the entire island with a fatal disease, which again is known as Mortasheen. Stronsay was the first island in the Orkneys to adopt the practice of kelp-burning in the early 1700s, where seaweed was gathered up from the beaches, dried, and burned in large stone-lined pits for up to eight hours. During this time, dried seaweed would be added to the pits continuously. The ash that remained was rich in potash and soda, which was initially used for treating acidic soil, but was eventually sought after by glass and soap manufacturers. Eventually, this practice spread across the Orkneys, but went into decline in the early 1800s, when deposits of the needed minerals were found in Germany. This made kelp-burning both unnecessary and obsolete (“Kelp-Burning”, Orkneyjar; “Nuckelavee”, Wikipedia; “Nuckelavee”, Monstropedia). In this regard, it’s no wonder that the Nuckelavee targets this island in its rage.

In Orcadian folklore, it is believed that there is only one other supernatural force that is capable of stopping the Nuckelavee, and the people of the Orkneys call her the Mither o’ the Sea (Mother of the Sea), or Sea Mither for short. It is thought to be her great power that controls the beast and keeps it restrained during the dryer summer months, while the monster’s fear of fresh water and rainstorms ensures that it stays under the sea during the wet winter months (“Nuckelavee”, Orkneyjar). The Sea Mither is the benevolent personification of the sea, granting the gift of life to every single living thing and dispelling the frightful storms that plague the Orkney natives so frequently. In other words, she is a kind, loving goddess that fiercely protects the inhabitants of the Orkneys, as a mother does for her children. She is one of the oldest surviving traditions from Orcadian folklore to date (“Mither o’ the Sea”, Orkneyjar).

The Mither o’ the Sea is not without enemies of her own. As well as having to deal with the dreadful Nuckelavee, her rival is the spirit of the winter, Teran. This spirit is believed to be very powerful and extremely hostile, and it is said that Teran’s awful voice could be heard “in the fury of the winter gales and his anger seen in the mountainous waves that crashed against the coastline” (“The Mither o’ the Sea”, Orkneyjar). Every spring during the vernal equinox, the Sea Mither would come back to the Orkneys to settle into her summer home. But in order to claim the seas for herself, she had to defeat and imprison Teran first. The Orcadian people called this event the Vore Tullye, the Spring Struggle. This is believed to be a fearsome battle that could last for several weeks and resulted in devastating storms which “churned the sea into a boiling froth”. And yet the Sea Mither was always victorious, her powers and strength fully restored by her winter’s rest. In other words, it was no contest. Teran would be imprisoned and bound in chains to the ocean floor, and the Mither o’ the Sea would immediately go about undoing any damage that Teran had caused during the winter, calming the angry sea and dispelling the storms. And except for an occasional storm (caused by Teran’s struggling at the bottom of the sea), the Sea Mither ruled her domain uncontested (“The Mither o’ the Sea”, Orkneyjar). During this time, the Sea Mither kept her eyes on and restrained the Nuckelavee.

But the Sea Mither isn’t able to rule forever. As the months went by and summer turned into fall, the Mither o’ the Sea grew weak and tired from her exertions during the warmer months. And as her powers waned, the magical shackles that held Teran to the ocean floor weakened as well. Eventually, Teran broke free and ascended to the surface, ready to do battle once again. This battle is known as the Gore Vellye, the Autumn Tumult. And this time, Teran would be triumphant, and the islands would tremble at his power and his tyrannical rule. The Mither o’ the Sea would retreat, beaten but not defeated. It is said that the Sea Mither is able to hear the desperate cries of every man, woman, and child that drowns, and she weeps for them. But she is able to comfort herself in the knowledge that, when spring finally comes, she will be refreshed and stronger than ever before, with her powers fully restored. And she will once again send Teran to the bottom of the sea, and the Mither o’ the Sea will once again resume her throne as the rightful ruler of the seas (“The Mither o’ the Sea”, Orkneyjar).

Although keeping the Nuckelavee away is a fairly simple matter (although it is still far easier said than done), killing the beast is a far more complicated task. To make matters worse, none of the resources consulted for this entry give any clues as to how this can be accomplished, if indeed it is even remotely possible. Since no real details are given, speculation comes into play. One idea that comes to mind involves literally pushing the beast into a lake. Since the Nuckelavee hates fresh water so much, immersing the monster may actually kill it, if only from sheer shock or drowning. And since no mere mortal can actually push such a heavy creature into a loch, a resourceful hunter must trick the beast into the water. Exactly how this can be done is up to the hunter, although being reckless or stupid about it is not recommended.

If immersing the Nuckelavee in fresh water doesn’t kill the beast, there are other methods that a resourceful monster hunter can fall back on. Piercing the heart with an iron blade or a stake and cutting off the head should prove to be highly effective. However, the fact that the Nuckelavee has two heads and (presumably) two hearts presents a unique problem. For the decapitation, an extremely sharp blade that is long enough to put some distance between oneself and the monster and also to take off both heads cleanly is recommended. To pierce the hearts, a little digging into horse anatomy is needed. But one should try to pierce both of the hearts simultaneously for maximum effect, or otherwise the beast may not fall right away. But once the creature is dead, the body should be dismembered and burned. It will require a few hundred pounds of wood and at least twenty (or more) gallons of gasoline or oil to burn the corpse to cinders. Furthermore, it will require several hours or even a few days of work and burning to reduce the body to ashes. About twelve people should take shifts of watching and adding fuel to the fire until there’s nothing left of the Nuckelavee but cinders and ashes. In this way, the Nuckelavee cannot regenerate and resurrect itself. If such a thing were to happen, the beast would undoubtedly be quick to wreak its horrible, bloody revenge on its would-be killers.

Today, the Nuckelavee has been all but forgotten. Legends say that the beast hasn’t been seen since Tammas Taylor encountered the beast so long ago. Has it simply disappeared due to its humiliation? Nobody knows for sure. But despite this, the Nuckelavee is remembered through its many appearances in popular culture, having appeared in a number of video games and in literature. But is the Nuckelavee truly gone? The people of the Orkneys don’t seem to think so, and they have every reason to believe that the Nuckelavee is still out there, emerging from the sea at night to hunt on dry land in search of a meal of human flesh…

Sources

Bane, Theresa. Actual Factual Dracula: A Compendium of Vampires. Randleman, North Carolina: NeDeo Press, 2007.

Fleming, Maurice. Not of This World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland. Edinburgh, Scotland: Mercat Press Ltd., 2002.

Franklin, Anna. The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Fairies. London, England: Anova Books Company Ltd., 2004.

Mack, Carol K. & Dinah. A Field Guide to Demons, Vampires, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2011.

“Nuckelavee”. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Last updated January 17, 2016. Accessed on December 29, 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuckelavee>

“Nuckelavee”. Monstropedia. Last updated May 23, 2011. Accessed on December 29, 2015. <http://www.monstropedia.org/index.php?title=Nuckelavee>

Towrie, Sigurd. “Nuckelavee – Devil o’ the Sea”. Orkneyjar, the Heritage of the Orkney Islands. Accessed on December 29, 2015. <http://www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/nuckle.htm>

Towrie, Sigurd. “Tammas and the Nuckelavee”. Orkneyjar, the Heritage of the Orkney Islands. Accessed on December 29, 2015. <http://www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/nuckenc.htm>

Towrie, Sigurd. “Kelp Burning in Orkney”. Orkneyjar, the Heritage of the Orkney Islands. Accessed on December 29, 2015. <http://www.orkneyjar.com/tradition/kelpburning.htm>

Towrie, Sigurd. “The Mither o’ the Sea”. Orkneyjar, the Heritage of the Orkney Islands. Accessed on December 29, 2015. <http://www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/mither.htm>

“The Nightmarish Nuckelavee: A Homicidal Orkney Unseelie”. EsoterX ~ If Monsters Don’t Exist,Why Are They Out To Get Me? April 25, 2013. Accessed on December 29, 2015. <http://esoterx.com/2013/04/25/the-nightmarish-nuckelavee-a-homicidal-orkney-unseelie/>

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Jorōgumo (The Whore Spider)

In this day and age, it would be fair to say that most people hate spiders, although fans of the ever-amazing Spider-Man will beg to differ. The very sight of these eight-legged arachnids makes women (and some men) scream in terror, followed by the inevitable shouting of “Kill it! Kill it!” And while some spiders are dangerous to humans, most of them are fairly harmless and are actually quite helpful in that they feed on pests and harmful insects. In Japan, however, spiders are viewed, at best, with suspicion or, at worst, with fear. And in this country, some spiders are believed to possess supernatural powers. One of these is the golden orb-weaver (Nephila clavata), which is found all over Japan (with the exception of Hokkaido) and can grow large enough to capture and feed on small birds. The Japanese, however, have given the arachnid another name: Jorōgumo, the Whore Spider. This shapeshifting monster lures young men into her parlor with promises of love and passionate sex, and those men are never seen again.

The Jorōgumo is thought to be one of many different kinds of yōkai, a term that can be applied to a very wide variety of monsters, ghouls, goblins, demons, and spirits that are found in the folklore and mythology of Japan. According to Japanese legend, the Jorōgumo is a golden orb-weaver that has survived long enough to reach four hundred years of age. At this point, the spider gains supernatural powers, human intelligence, grows to huge proportions, and becomes hungry enough to view humans as food. Attaining great age and gaining magical powers as a result is a common theme in yōkai lore, and the Jorōgumo is only one example. According to legend, the spider-woman is believed to nest in dense forests, dark caves, or abandoned houses in busy towns (Meyer 42). These places give her the seclusion she needs, while still giving her access to her preferred prey. The name jorōgumo itself can have a couple of different meanings, which depends on how the kanji is written. It was originally written as “女郎蜘蛛”, which means “whore spider”. However, those characters were modified and added to fairly recently to read as “絡新婦”, which changes the meaning to “entangling bride”. This was done to take away the sexual connotations and make it sound more appropriate. But in spite of those sexual connotations, the original name gives a very accurate description of the creature’s modus operandi.

Pinning down exactly what the Jorōgumo looks like is a difficult task, since she is both a shapeshifter and a deceiver. While in her natural form, she has a fairly large body, a large legspan, and her body is covered in bright, beautiful colors. However, the Whore Spider prefers to spend most of her time in the form of a gorgeous young woman (Meyer 42). But she can still manifest some spiderlike traits in her human form, such as fangs (or fanged mandibles), clawed fingers, and multiple long legs extending from her back. She may also exhibit such traits when she attacks her prey or when provoked into defending herself. It might not be out of the question for the Jorōgumo to transform herself into a gigantic, monstrous variation of her natural form if she becomes angry enough.

The Jorōgumo is said to be both cunning and intelligent, a patient predator that is as skilled in the ways of deception as she is in seduction. She leads a solitary and reclusive life, staying well away from others of her kind both before and after her transformation into a yōkai (Meyer 42). In her natural form, she feeds on insects and small birds. But in human form, however, the Whore Spider seeks out young men as her prey. When she has spotted a man that she wants, she invites him back to her place with promises of good food, drinks, and a night of passionate lovemaking. Once the man has arrived at her home, she quickly immobilizes him with her webbing and then incapacitates him with her venomous bite. The Jorōgumo’s venom is deadly, but it kills very slowly, presumably by liquefying her victim’s insides. This allows the monster to savor her victim’s agony as he grows weaker and weaker over a period of days, before finally dying in excruciating pain (Meyer 42). Afterwards, the Jorōgumo begins to feed on the corpse, sucking out the now-liquefied organs and the tissues through her hollow fangs, much like her lesser kin would do.

In some stories (which seem to date back to the Edo Period), the Jorōgumo is portrayed in much the same way as the description above states. She uses her beauty and her other feminine attributes (i.e. her cleavage and her luscious legs) to entice the man that she desires into an abandoned, secluded shack. Once he has entered the shack, she begins to play the biwa (a type of Japanese lute). The Jorōgumo is very skilled in the use of this instrument, although nobody knows for sure exactly where those skills came from. This either lulls the man to sleep or causes him to completely lower his guard. The Jorōgumo then seizes the opportunity to bind the man from head to toe in her webbing, while toying with the notion of saving him for later. She may also appear to a young man as a young woman with a baby in her arms (which most often turns out to be the spider-woman’s eggsack), claiming that the baby is his child (“Jorōgumo”, Wikipedia). The monster must’ve learned this trick from human women, since it never fails to shock any man and throws him completely off his guard. This leaves her victim completely vulnerable to attack, and she then commences with her attack.

Alternatively, the Jorōgumo may take the appealing form of a beautiful woman in order to ask a samurai to marry her (“Jorōgumo”, Wikipedia). It would not be unreasonable for the Jorōgumo to have sex with her prey before she kills him, just for the sheer enjoyment of the act. Seduction is just one of many weapons in her arsenal, after all. And the amazing thing is that the Whore Spider can maintain her charade for years, even right in the middle of a modern-day city or a town (although a town might be more comfortable for her). And unbeknownst to the people who walk by her house and interact with her on a daily basis, the bones of her victims just continue to pile up inside and around her house (Meyer 42). And the thing is, nobody actually suspects her of such atrocities. Only the skulls of her victims bear any kind of testimony to the horrors that she has committed, and death has forever silenced them.

The Jorōgumo has a variety of supernatural powers at her command, which are the result of a mere spider’s transformation into a yōkai. As stated earlier, the Whore Spider is a shapeshifter that can take the form of an exceedingly beautiful woman, a seemingly ordinary spider, a half woman, half spider creature, and a huge spider-monster. She is possessed of unnatural strength, speed, and agility, all of which are necessary while she’s hunting and for self-defense. Furthermore, she retains her spider abilities in her human form. She is able to adhere to and climb sheer surfaces (i.e. walls and ceilings), which enables her to hide on shadowy ceilings and in trees. She has the ability to spin webs that are incredibly strong and very sticky, which are nigh-impossible to break, cut, or escape from (although fire may weaken the sticky threads enough to break free from them). The Jorōgumo’s bite is deadly, carrying a potent venom that incapacitates her prey and kills them very slowly over a period of days. She is completely immune to all kinds of poisons. In addition, she can project magical illusions and is able to control her lesser kin and make them do anything that she desires. This includes using Japanese fire-breathing spiders to burn down the houses of anyone who has grown suspicious of her and her activities (Meyer 42).

Many stories have been written and told of the Jorōgumo, and very few of them end well. One of the most famous of these tales is that of the Jorōgumo of Jōren Falls, which takes place in Izu, Shizuoka. One day, according to the legend, a man was relaxing at the foot of the waterfall. Suddenly, his feet were seized by a great number of sticky white threads! Thinking quickly, the man severed the threads and tied them to a nearby tree stump. The stump was suddenly yanked out of the ground and was pulled into the water. Then the man heard a voice, which said “How clever, how clever” (which is found in a variant of the story from Kashikobuchi, Sendai). More than a little frightened, the man quickly ran back home.

After hearing about the incident at Jōren Falls, the villagers became frightened and decided that it might be best if everyone just stayed away from the waterfall from that point on. One day, a woodcutter from a neighboring village came to the woods around the waterfall to ply his trade, completely unaware of the legend. The man began to cut down a tree within the vicinity of the water, but then the axe slipped out of his grip! It flew through the air, and finally landed in the deep pool at the base of the waterfall. Panicking, the man dove in after his axe! He searched and searched for as long as he could hold his breath, but he couldn’t find it anywhere. The man dragged himself out of the pool, wondering what to do. What good was a woodcutter without his axe?

As the woodcutter started to turn away from the pool, a gorgeous woman appeared with the axe in her hands. The woman approached the woodcutter and handed the axe to him. In return, the mysterious woman told the man that he could never tell anyone about her (another common theme in yōkai lore). Thankful, the woodcutter promised that he would never tell another soul about having seen her that day. With that, the beautiful stranger disappeared.

Initially, the woodcutter kept his promise. Soon after the encounter, however, the man began to feel anxious about what he had seen that day. However, he still kept it to himself, out of fear of what might happen if he didn’t. One day, the woodcutter had become drunk on saké, loosening his tongue and weakening his inhibitions. He couldn’t take it anymore, and the woodcutter finally broke down and told everyone that he was with all about his encounter with the gorgeous stranger. Afterwards, the man felt greatly relieved. A sense of lethargy overtook his mind and his body, and the woodcutter fell into a deep sleep. He would never reawaken (“Jorōgumo”, Wikipedia; LeBlond 2013).

In another version of the story, the woodcutter actually falls in love with the mysterious beauty, and he began visiting the Jōren Falls every day so that he could spend time with her. But as time went by, the woodcutter grew weaker and weaker from each visit (the two were undoubtedly making love). A monk from a nearby temple took notice of this, suspecting that the Jorōgumo had ensnared the man, envenomating the woodcutter with her bite while they made love. To be sure, the monk and the woodcutter went down to the falls together to investigate. Once there, the monk pulled out a scroll inscribed with Buddhist scriptures, and he began to read.

As the monk read his sūtra, strands of webbing appeared from the pool and attempted to ensnare the woodcutter! But the monk shouted his sūtras, and the silken threads disappeared. The woodcutter now knew that the woman was a Jorōgumo (there’s more than one of these creatures), but he still loved her. The woodcutter turned to a Tengu (a powerful birdlike demon) for help. Although the Tengu was the master of the mountain’s yōkai, the bird-demon forbade their love. The woodcutter, however, couldn’t bear the thought of throwing away his feelings for the Jorōgumo. While running back to the waterfall, he was caught in the creature’s webbing and was pulled into the pool to be with his beloved forever. The woodcutter was never seen again after that (“Jorōgumo”, Wikipedia; LeBlond 2013).

Another story about the Jorōgumo can be found in Richard Freeman’s exhaustive work, The Great Yokai Encyclopaedia (CFZ Press, 2010). Once, a traveling samurai decided to spend the night at an old shrine. He spread his bedding out on the floor, put his swords aside, and laid himself down to sleep. Later that night, the samurai awoke with a start to find a gorgeous woman with a baby in her arms. The mysterious beauty held out the baby towards the warrior, and she insisted that he was the child’s father. The samurai wasn’t even remotely convinced of the lady’s claims, having never met or even seen her before. He suspected that she was some sort of supernatural being that was trying to deceive him, and decided to wait for an opportunity to strike. The woman began moving closer, still holding out her baby. Suddenly, in the flash of a moment, the samurai drew his katana and cut the woman! The woman gave out a shriek, and quickly scaled the wall and hid herself amongst the shadows on the ceiling. Now wide awake, the samurai decided to sit down and wait for dawn. Several hours later, as the sun began to shine, the samurai looked up at the ceiling and saw the corpse of a gigantic spider, lying dead in its own web. The monster was surrounded by the desiccated corpses of its previous victims. On the floor lay a small stone idol, which had been disguised as a baby by the spider-woman’s power of illusion. If the samurai had struck the idol, it would’ve shattered his sword. Needless to say, the samurai left the shrine in a hurry (Freeman 140).

As dangerous as she is, the Jorōgumo has a couple of weaknesses. No matter what form she takes, a mirror (or any other reflective surface) will reveal her true form: a monstrous spider. Once her true nature is known, the Jorōgumo will most likely attack in order to keep her true identity a secret. It’s probably best to make a hasty retreat at this point, unless one is armed and thus prepared for this sort of situation. She may also be vulnerable to Buddhist scriptures and sūtras, as seen in the previous story. Such scriptures may have power over her and could thus be used to send her away. It’s probably best to get a Buddhist priest for such purposes. But other than these two vulnerabilities, one must use common sense and rely on instinct when confronting the Jorōgumo in her human form.

Killing the Jorōgumo isn’t particularly difficult. As seen in the tale of the samurai and the spider-woman, it is made fairly clear that the Whore Spider can be harmed by cold, sharpened steel. One may assume that bullets may also work against this creature as well. But the best way to permanently rid oneself of one of these monsters (or any other supernatural beast, for that matter) is through the use of decapitation, and then burning the corpse to ashes afterwards. These two methods are pretty much foolproof, and should always be a part of any monster hunter’s back-up plan.

One doesn’t hear too much about the Jorōgumo anymore these days, unless one reads books about yōkai, plays video games, or watches anime (this blogger does all three!). It could be that, like most monsters, people simply don’t believe in her anymore. But people haven’t completely forgotten about the Whore Spider. Anyone who does a little digging (or reads the Wikipedia page) will find a great deal of information about the monster’s portrayal in popular culture. The Jorōgumo has appeared in literature, movies, television, video games, and roleplaying games in one form or another. The Whore Spider has made appearances in a number of short stories, such as “The Spider” (1919) by Hanns Heinz Ewers, Illona Andrews’ “Magic Dreams” (2012), and Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s Shisei (“The Tattooer”, 1910). Surprisingly, she has made only a few appearances in movies and television, namely in the fantastic movie Hellboy: Sword of Storms (2006), Grimm (S1/Ep11, “Tarantella”), the awesome anime Rosario + Vampire (S2/Ep01, “New Term and a Vampire”), the anime/manga xxxHolic, and the anime series Hyperdimension Neptunia: The Animation (2013) (which Wikipedia gave as Hyperdimension Neptunia: Monstrous Rising, so really not sure what’s accurate and what isn’t here). However, the Whore Spider’s strongest impact has been made in the video game and roleplaying game industries. The Jorōgumo (or something based off of her) can be found in the Clover Studio/Capcom action-adventure game Ōkami (2006), the character Juri Han in Super Street Fighter IV (2010), the computer game Diablo III (2012) in the form of Cydaea, the Maiden of Lust, and in the Pathfinder RPG’s Bestiary 3 (2012), which is a great read.

But despite her portrayal in television, literature, and video games, one must remember that the Jorōgumo was once considered to be very real to the people of Japan, and one must respect their beliefs and traditions. But does the Jorōgumo really exist? One must remember that the deep forests and the dark caves of Japan have remained largely unexplored, and that dozens of people go missing each year. While many of these disappearances can be explained away as accidents or suicides (especially in the regions around Mount Fuji and the Aokigahara Forest), there are still a number of disappearances that remain unexplained. Could some of those people have fallen victim to the wiles of the Jorōgumo? One is inclined to think so, and only a fool would deny the possibility. And who knows? Maybe the Jorōgumo is waiting for a man to fall for her right now. And little does he know that, once he accepts her invitation into her home, he will never be seen again by his family or his friends. Such is the fate of those men who fall for the seductive charms of the Whore Spider.

Acknowledgements

I couldn’t have done this without the help of my good friends Matthew Meyer and Richard Freeman, who allowed me to use their books in my research. Without their help, this would have been a very short entry. Thank you so much, you two! I'm so lucky to have great friends like you, and I hope that this does you proud!

Sources

Freeman, Richard. The Great Yokai Encyclopaedia: The A-Z of Japanese Monsters. Bideford, North Devon: CFZ Press, 2010.

Meyer, Matthew. The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: A Field Guide to Japanese Yokai. N.P. Self-Published, 2012.

LeBlond, Gerard. “Before Spider-Man; There Was Jorogumo, and She Didn’t Play Nice.” The Daily Orbit. April 30, 2013. Accessed on January 7, 2016. <http://thedailyorbit.com/before-spider-man-there-was-jorogumo-and-she-didnt-play-nice/>

“Jorōgumo”. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Last updated November 25, 2015. Accessed on January 7, 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jor%C5%8Dgumo>

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Krampus

In the spirit of this Christmas season, I have researched a creature that many have undoubtedly heard of, but none have actually seen. Enjoy!

In this day and age, everyone knows who Santa Claus is. He’s a jolly, overly-plump man in a red suit with white fur trim and wearing a matching hat, having a distinctive twinkle in his eyes, a cherry-red nose, and a long, snow-white beard on his chin…right? In recent times, people have become aware that good old Saint Nick has a dark counterpart, a bestial creature that punishes naughty, troublesome children who don’t behave themselves during the year, especially during the Christmas season. Such children are stuffed into a large sack, and they are seldom ever seen or heard from again. He is known by many names across the European continent: Knecht Ruprecht, Zwart Piet, Black Peter, Cert, Perchten, Pelznickel, Bartl, Parkelj, Niglobartl, and Klaubauf.  However, one particular name stands out above all the rest: Krampus. His name has terrified Germany and the surrounding countries for hundreds of years, and the Christmas Devil shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

According to Germanic folklore, the Krampus (pronounced krahm-pus) is a monstrous horned demon – the spitting image of the Devil himself – that accompanies Saint Nicholas while he visits the remote villages of the Alpine countries of Europe during the Christmas season. While old Saint Nick hands out gifts and treats to all the good boys and girls, it is the Krampus who metes out punishment to the naughty ones. The name krampus itself is thought to be derived from the old High German word krampen, which means “claw” or “to seize”. Much of the folklore about the Krampus can be found in Germany, Austria, Poland, Styria, Bavaria, Hungary, Switzerland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Croatia. And since his popularity has increased so dramatically in the last decade or two, he can be found in other parts of Europe and even America as well.

If anyone has ever seen the Krampus, they haven’t come forward with a description as of yet. But then again, it can be assumed that those who do see this Yuletide Demon either disappear and are never seen again, or die under mysterious circumstances soon afterwards. The actual appearance of the monster varies slightly from one region to the next, but otherwise his features remain consistent. The Krampus is described as having long, curving horns like those of a mountain goat or a ram, pointed ears, glowing yellow eyes, sharp fangs, a very long tongue that is said to be pointed or forked like a snake’s, clawed fingers, and a tail with a tuft of fur or a barb like an arrowhead on the tip. He towers over his victims, standing at seven feet in height and having a muscular body that is covered in matted black hair (Weber 2014). Some say that his feet are mismatched, with one being a cloven hoof and the other a bear’s paw. Sometimes, the Krampus may be seen as a sinister-looking gentleman dressed entirely in black (“The History of Krampus”, Jenna Maxwell). Overall, the Krampus is truly a horrifying monster!

The Krampus is most often depicted as carrying a large sack over his shoulder (much like Santa Claus), or he otherwise wears a large wicker basket, a wooden barrel, or even a washtub on his back (Ward 2011; Ramos 2013). He sometimes wears iron manacles on his wrists, and carries rusty chains and tarnished bells. These the demon brandishes and jangles noisily, both for dramatic effect and to create fear within the hearts of his victims. The chains and the manacles are thought to symbolize the binding of the Devil by the Christian Church, while bells have long been believed to repel demons and evil spirits. Either that, or the bells are used just because they make a lot of noise (“Krampus”, Wikipedia). The Krampus is known to carry a three-pronged pitchfork on occasion, much like the Devil himself. In every depiction of the beast, however, the Krampus is shown carrying bundles of birch twigs called ruten, which are thought to be a pagan fertility symbol and serve a very dark (and painful) purpose.

The Krampus has only one purpose, and that is to punish wicked, misbehaving children. This is a task that the Yuletide Devil takes a perverse delight in performing, and yet at the same time, it is a job that he takes very seriously as well. Much like Saint Nicholas, the Krampus knows which children have been bad or good. If the child has been mostly good and only a little naughty, the little one is subjected to a rigorous test on religious catechism. Considering that the Krampus is thought to represent the Devil, it really isn’t surprising that the beast would know a thing or two about religious education. If the kid passes, then he or she may have their gifts. If not, the monster pulls out his ruten and viciously beats the children to within an inch or so of their lives. Saint Nicholas just watches, keeping out of the picture due to his saintly status (Ward 2011). However, he may tell the demon when to stop, as having to watch something so brutal is both horribly disturbing and has the capability to unhinge a person’s mind. Needless to say, the old biblical saying of “spare the rod, spoil the child” (Proverbs 13:24) suits the Krampus very well.

For children that revel in their misdeeds and enjoy being bad just for the hell of it, stopping at a beating with a bundle of birch twigs would be far too lenient for the Krampus. The Christmas Devil has mastered a wide variety of tortures and punishments, and he won’t hesitate to use them on the worst offenders (Ward 2011). Anything less would be a dreadful waste of his talents. After beating the kids with his ruten, the beast may stuff them into his bag and carry them off to his lair, which is said to be deep within Germany’s Black Forest. Once there, the monster inflicts further punishment on the children until they repent of their sins and wrongdoings (Feldmann 2010). If the kids get lucky, they just might make it home for Christmas. If not, the Krampus may decide to slaughter and devour the children, or he might just drag them down into the fiery bowels of Hell (Ramos 2013).

According to a popular series of postcards from the 1800s, the Krampus can get very creative with his tortures. According to these postcards, the Krampus thoroughly enjoys ripping pigtails off of little girls’ heads, clapping children in shackles, viciously pulling their ears, throwing kids off of a cliff, pulling off their fingernails, stuffing them into a sack and throwing them into a river, making them beg on their knees for mercy, drowning children in large containers of black ink and pulling their bodies out with a pitchfork, and finally, tossing them onto a train headed straight for Hell (Ward 2011; “Krampus”, Monstropedia). With all of this being said, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that the Krampus won't hesitate to kill any children that he feels are deserving of such a fate. He doesn’t care whether these little boys and girls have parents and families that love and care for them. To the Krampus, punishment is absolute. Punishment cannot be avoided or reasoned with, and neither can the Krampus.



It is thought that not even adults are safe from the wrath of the Krampus. Men and women that are cruel to others and revel in their wickedness are targets for the Christmas Devil, especially virginal young women. The Krampus is believed to be related to the satyrs of ancient Greek mythology, who were known throughout Greece for their lusty temperaments and their nymphomaniacal tendencies. In other words, these goat-men were always chasing women of all sorts (mortals, nymphs, dryads, goddesses, et cetera). The Krampus could also be related to the Incubus, a hideous male demon that engages women in sexual intercourse while they’re asleep (Riordan 2009). The Krampus is no different, and the demon satisfies his lust with women that he has abducted. He uses his long, wet tongue to caress their nipples and breasts, and then he violently ravishes the lady’s pink parts with that same tongue. He continues his sexual assault on the woman by penetrating her with what Chris Ward says is “a penis that is violently barbed like a housecat’s” (Ward 2011). This continues until the Krampus has filled the woman with his demonic seed a number of times and the beast is finally satisfied. It is also said that the creature is into BDSM and kinky fetishes, which really isn’t surprising when one considers the demon’s penchant for spanking and whipping children with birch sticks (Ward 2011). But despite his appetite for wanton sexual encounters, the Krampus’s one true joy remains punishing bad little boys and girls.

If the Krampus has any supernatural powers, then he has kept them hidden well. One of the more obvious ones is the monster’s unnatural strength, with which he could tear off limbs, twist off heads, or even disembowel his victims if he felt so inclined. He may have some shapeshifting abilities, since he appears slightly different in each Alpine culture and has been known to appear as a man dressed entirely in black. And since the Krampus is considered to be the polar opposite of Saint Nicholas, he may also share some of Santa’s powers as well. Like Saint Nick, the Christmas Devil instinctively knows when children (and adults) have been naughty or nice, and he also knows who’s sleeping and who’s awake. And like Santa Claus, the Krampus may have some powerful magic at his command. Such magic may give him the power of invisibility, the ability to appear and disappear at will, conjuring up his ruten or rusty chains, et cetera. It’s also possible that the Krampus has the ability to travel in between other planes of existence, but this stretches credulity just a bit. Whatever other powers that the Krampus may otherwise be hiding are sure to be formidable.

Nobody seems to be completely sure how the Krampus came to be, or where exactly he comes from. Most people, however, agree that Krampus pre-dates Christianity, and was an ancient figure before the Lord Jesus Christ was born to save the world from its own sins. Maurice Bruce, in his 1958 article on the beast, argues that the Krampus is descended from “the Horned God of the Witches”, and that the bundles of birch twigs he carries are both a phallic symbol and have some connection to the “initiation rites of certain witch-covens; rites which entailed binding and scourging as a form of mock-death” (“Krampus”, Wikipedia). The “Horned God” is indeed pre-Christian, quite possibly dating back to the Paleolithic Era. A horned figure that appears to be half man and half stag can be seen painted on a wall in the Caverne des Trois Frères, which can be found in Ariège, France. But in her book The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft, & Wicca (Facts on File, 2008), Rosemary Guiley says that the Horned God is considered to be “gentle, tender and compassionate yet is not effeminate”. She also notes that there is absolutely no connection between the Horned God and the Devil whatsoever, unlike the case is with Krampus (Guiley 170). Doesn’t sound much like the child-torturing Krampus, does it? The Horned God was eventually demonized by the Church, so the Christmas Devil may have gained at least some of his more fearsome traits from this time. Even so, it is very unlikely that the Krampus is derived entirely from the demonization of this ancient deity.

Another possible origin comes from Tanya Basu’s 2013 National Geographic article, entitled “Who is Krampus?” She suggests that Krampus is the son of Hel, the goddess of the dead and the Queen of Niflheim (Helheim) in Norse mythology (Basu 2013). But only three or four of the other sources that were consulted in researching this blog entry mention anything about Hel or Norse mythology having any sort of connection with the Krampus legend. And while Hel is the goddess of death and the dead, the Krampus himself wants little or nothing to do with the dead. While the Krampus might not have any objections to killing really bad kids, the beast has no interest whatsoever in that shadowy, depressing realm.

Another possibly deity that might have a connection to the Krampus is the German goddess Perchta, a horrifying figure originating from pre-Christian Germanic pagan traditions. According to folklore, Perchta wears a white robe and has one large foot (the other is normal). This is sometimes referred to as a “goose foot” or a “swan foot” in Alpine traditions, which Jacob Grimm believed connected her to a “higher being” that was capable of shapeshifting and taking on an animal form (“Perchta”, Wikipedia). According to Stephanie Weber, she would slice open the bellies of sleeping people, remove the vital organs, and stuff them with straw if they hadn’t left her any offerings on her feast day. However, she would enter a house on Mid-Winter’s Eve and leave presents for the children who worked hard and obeyed their elders. But on the other hand, she would punish those who were lazy. Some of her traits were eventually incorporated into Krampus beliefs in the 1600s (Weber 2014). However, Perchta is a female goddess, and Krampus is male. And while Perchta gives and punishes, the Krampus contents himself with punishing children.

One final possibility is that the Krampus was once a pagan fertility god, possibly Celtic in nature. According to Annie Riordan, this deity once roamed the forests of Europe, where it was worshipped by the indigenous barbarian tribes. Eventually, the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ made its way into the rural regions of the Alps, converting many of those same tribes into Christians. This fertility god, with his horns and his cloven hooves, quickly became associated with Satan and the realm of Hell. This creature gradually became something to be feared, rather than worshipped and revered (Riordan 2009). Soon, the Krampus was forced into hiding. However, his exile was by no means permanent

During the Inquisition, which began in the early 1200s and lasted until the late 1700s (Guiley 177-179), the Krampus very briefly resurfaced. However, the early Catholic Church strongly discouraged any kind of festivities that had anything to do with goats or goatlike creatures (i.e. Krampus), and great efforts were made by the Inquisitors to stomp such beliefs out of existence. In fact, the Church would put anyone who impersonated or even dressed like the Devil to death for heresy (Ward 2011)! Needless to say, it wasn’t a good time for Krampus to come out of hiding. But the Krampus is nothing if not patient, and is always content to bide his time until opportunity knocks on his front door.

Eventually, the Krampus reappeared in the 1600s, and was fully incorporated into Christian winter celebrations by the Church. This was done by pairing him with Saint Nicholas himself. From this point on, the Krampus would punish misbehaving children, while Saint Nick rewarded the good kids. His popularity only increased from here on. During the 1700s and the 1800s, people really began to take an interest in the Yuletide Demon. He began appearing on holiday greeting cards (known as Krampuskarten), which featured lavish illustrations of the demon torturing children and caught in some very sexual situations with gorgeous, half-dressed women. Most of these featured the moniker “Grüss vom Krampus” (literally, “Greetings from the Krampus”), which may have been one way of telling a friend or a loved one that they had been naughty that year, and which is still in use today. Another reason for the Christmas Devil’s soaring popularity are the old German folktales collected by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm in the early 1800s. In fact, the Krampus even gets a brief mention in Jacob’s 1835 book Deutsche Mythologie (“Teutonic Mythology”), which added even more fuel to the fire (Blitz 2014). This popularity continued into the early twentieth century. But soon after, the Krampus had a new enemy: Fascism.

In 1934, after the Austrian Civil War and four years before the rise of the Third Reich, all traditions involving the Krampus were officially forbidden by the Austrian government’s Dollfuss regime under the Vaterländische Front (literally, “Fatherland’s Front”) and the Christian Social Party. That same year, The New York Times published an article entitled “Krampus Disliked in Fascist Austria”, which reported that the Krampus had been labeled “the work of wicked Social Democrats”. The police were ordered to arrest anyone dressed as the Christmas Devil on sight. But after World War II, the Dollfuss regime collapsed, and Krampus traditions flared up again (“Krampus”, Wikipedia; Ward 2011; Blitz 2014). But a few years later, in the early 1950s, the Krampus once again made the international news. This time, a man by the name of Dr. Ernst Kotbauer published a pamphlet entitled “Krampus is an Evil Man”, which was distributed by the Austrian government in Vienna. This pamphlet voiced concerns that an encounter with the Krampus could leave children psychologically scarred for the rest of their lives. In other words, he was far too frightening! Dr. Kotbauer urged that the Krampus and all other associated traditions be discarded. In a 1953 Time Magazine article (the name of which is unknown), Dr. Kotbauer is quoted as saying “There is too much fear in the world already…unemployment, high taxes, not to mention the atom bomb. Let’s begin by throwing out Krampus” (Ward 2011). But despite Herr Kotbauer’s efforts, his little pamphlet did absolutely bupkis to stop the Krampus traditions from pushing on.

In the 1960s, the Krampus went from being scary to being sexy. According to Scott Farrel’s article “Krampus: From Folklore to Pop Culture”, a number of ad campaigns in Europe began to produce so-called “vintage” images in the form of Krampuskarten, which portray the Krampus “as an impish seducer, wooing scantily clad maidens and frisky housewives” (“Krampus”, Scott Farrell). These cards became wildly popular, reinforcing the notion that sex sells. And to this day, they still continue to sell. It’s surprising that these postcards didn’t come out a decade later in the 1970s, since pornography became a booming industry in that era. But this eventually ran its course, and the Christmas Devil resumed torturing naughty little boys and girls. Krampus traditions have remained more or less the same ever since.

In all of the articles and the sources that were used to research this entry, next to none of them have revealed any weaknesses or vulnerabilities that can be used against the Krampus. However, some answers may be found in Ryan Hurd’s 2012 article “Horror for the Holidays: Santa, Krampus, and the Dark Divine.” In this article, Hurd states that many of the Christmas traditions that people are so fond of are actually intended to keep evil spirits out of one’s home. Evergreen wreaths of pine and spruce are amulets used to keep death and disease out of a house when hung on the front door, while garlands bound with red ribbons have kept evil spirits at bay for hundreds of years. Even the annoying tradition of caroling was once used to ritually bless apple orchards and to keep malevolent spirits out of them, thereby ensuring a good harvest the next year (Hurd 2012). It may be possible that these very same traditions can be used to keep the Krampus at bay, although it may not keep him from sliding down the chimney like old Saint Nick. And since the Krampus is generally thought to be a demon, it seems likely that iron and salt can be utilized as defensive measures against the monster as well. However, if these methods should fail, all hope isn’t lost. The best way to ward off the Krampus is for children to simply be obedient to their parents and to behave themselves all year around.

As for killing the Krampus, it just may not be possible. Of course, since the Christmas Demon plays such an important role in making kids behave and do what their parents tell them to do, most adults wouldn’t even dream of trying to kill the Krampus. Punishing bad little boys and girls is his job, after all. But if such drastic measures become necessary, the old stand-bys of decapitation and burning the creature’s body afterwards are always something to fall back on. One might also try piercing the beast’s heart with a sharpened candy cane. Keep in mind, however, that this will most likely make the Krampus very angry. Either that, or it’ll just make him laugh hysterically. Still, in a desperate situation, anything is worth a try.

Today, the Krampus is not only feared, but he is also celebrated as well. In the last decade or so, the Christmas Devil has become just as popular as Santa Claus, and may even surpass the jolly old guy one day. And just as Santa has December 24th covered, the Krampus has his own day: December 5th, otherwise known as Krampusnacht (literally, “Krampus Night”). This celebration precedes Saint Nicholas’ Day, which takes place the very next day (December 6th). On this particular night, the Krampus accompanies Saint Nicholas as he wanders from one house to another. And while Saint Nicholas gives out small gifts and treats to the good children, the Krampus hands out birch-twig beatings and big chunks of coal to the bad ones. But Krampusnacht isn’t the end of the horror.

During the first week of December, communities and towns throughout the European Alps hold their annual Krampuslauf (literally, “Krampus Run”). This festival is a huge deal throughout the Alpine regions, and everyone participates. In the Krampuslauf, young men disguise themselves in costumes made from dyed goat and sheep hides, and put on handcarved wooden masks with genuine sheep horns or deer antlers attached. They put mismatched shoes on their feet, and carry rusty chains, whips, bells, baskets, and bundles of birch twigs with them. Each one of these masks is painstakingly carved with traditional hand tools, and the end result is truly horrifying. Many of the younger men do this competitively, as the masks are in great demand during this time of the year. But the purpose these masks are carved for is both fascinating and very frightening (“Krampus”, Monstropedia; Riordan 2009).

Once all of the preparations are made, the real fun begins. Dozens of men dressed in these costumes (each one of them is unique) take to the streets, prowling about in search of wayward children and beautiful young women, whom these men wildly chase down the streets, screaming like banshees all the while. They wave their ruten about menacingly, and will actually swat anyone that gets too close (“Krampus”, Monstropedia; Riordan 2009). Oftentimes these men go from door to door, and they are let into the house by the parents. These Krampus imitators proceed to torment the young children while screaming and brandishing their chains and birch sticks, scaring the literal shit out of the little ones and ensuring that they remember to behave themselves during the coming year. This celebration culminates with the masked marauders being invited to share a few drinks with the laughing parents, with the traditional offering being beer and schnapps (Feldmann 2010). One of the largest Krampuslauf events in Europe takes place in Schladming, Styria, where over twelve hundred people dress up as the fabled Christmas Devil and run amok, whacking people that get too close with sticks and noisily jangling cowbells (Leafloor 2015). This tradition has become extremely popular in other parts of Europe and even in America. But regardless of where this celebration takes place, there are always quivering, crying children left in its wake.

Over the last few years, the Krampus has taken ahold of popular culture. He seems to be everywhere during the holidays. He has appeared in two very popular books by Monte Beauchamp: The Devil in Design: The Krampus Postcards (Fantagraphics Books, 2004) and Krampus: The Devil of Christmas (Last Gasp, 2010). He has been featured in novels and literature, like as Gerald Brom’s Krampus: The Yule Lord (Harper Voyager, 2012).The beast has his very own series from Image Comics (entitled Krampus!), and there is even Krampus erotica (in e-book format) available on Amazon. The Christmas Devil has also appeared on television shows like American Dad! (S10/Ep08, “Minstrel Krampus”), Supernatural (S3/Ep08, “A Very Supernatural Christmas”), Grimm (S3/Ep08, “Twelve Days of Krampus”), The Aquabats! Super Show! (“Christmas with the Aquabats!”, 2013), Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated (S2/Ep13, “Wrath of the Krampus”), and The Venture Bros. (“A Very Venture Christmas”, 2004). The Krampus has also made an appearance on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, in a segment entitled “The Blitzkrieg on Grinchitude – Hallmark & Krampus”. On December 9th, 2009, the comedian and talk show host Stephen Colbert was visited on set by the Krampus himself. The Krampus appeared complete with his flailing chains, uttering curses in German, and creating general mischief and hilarity. He even shattered Stephen’s Christmas cookie plate in the process! This appearance has made the Krampus more popular than ever before (Riordan 2009). He was also featured as a boss character in an awful first-person shooter arcade game called CarnEvil. And last (but certainly not least), the Krampus appeared in his own feature film earlier this month. On December 4th, 2015, Krampus was released into theaters. Ironically, the movie came out the day before Krampusnacht. So far, the film has received mixed reviews, but the author of this blog would still very much like to see the movie while it’s still in theaters. But needless to say, the Krampus has taken popular culture by the horns.

Today, the Krampus is still spoken of and is still very much feared by children and adults alike throughout Germany and the surrounding Alpine countries. The fear permeates these cultures during the Christmas season, but it is nearly forgotten during the rest of the year. The Krampus is now an icon in popular culture, but people need to remember that behind these traditions is a dark, horrible monster that takes great delight in torturing children and won’t hesitate to kill the little ones for their misdeeds. But one question remains: does the Krampus truly exist? Given that the traditions of the Christmas Devil date back to pre-Christian times and have been around for many, many centuries, one is inclined to think so. And as long as people continue to believe in Santa Claus, then the Krampus will continue to frighten children all over the world for years to come.

Acknowledgements

This blog entry is a complete revision of my original research on the Krampus, which was originally published on December 30th, 2012. Whereas the original had only three pages of text, the revision has just under eight pages of information. Moving on, I would like to thank Octavio Ramos and Nathan Brown for their help in researching this. You guys are great friends, and that's so hard to find in today's world. Thank You!!

Sources

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