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

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft & Wicca. Third Edition. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2008.

"Krampus". Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. December 22, 2015. Accessed November 27, 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus>

"Krampus". Monstropedia. November 5, 2009. Accessed November 27, 2015. <http://www.monstropedia.org/index.php?title=Krampus>

"Perchta". Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. August 27, 2015. Accessed December 22, 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perchta>

Basu, Tanya. "Who is Krampus? Explaining the Horrific Christmas Devil." National Geographic. December 19, 2013. Accessed on November 27, 2015. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131217-krampus-christmas-santa-devil/>

Billock, Jennifer. "The Origin of Krampus, Europe’s Evil Twist on Santa." Smithsonian Magazine. December 4, 2015. Accessed on December 7, 2015. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/krampus-could-come-you-holiday-season-180957438/>

Blitz, Matt. "Krampus, the Christmas Demon." Today I Found Out. December 11, 2014. Accessed on December 7, 2015. <http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2014/12/krampus-christmas-demon/>

Farrell, Scott. "Krampus: From Folklore to Pop Culture." Scott Farrell. Accessed on November 27, 2015. <http://scottfarrellauthor.com/krampus-folklore-pop-culture/>

Feldmann, Alison. "Krampus: The Darker Side of Christmas." The Etsy Blog. December 6, 2010. Accessed on November 27, 2015. <https://blog.etsy.com/en/2010/krampus-the-darker-side-of-christmas/>

HF. "Krampus, the Christmas Devil of Alpine Europe." The German Way. December 2, 2015. Accessed on December 22, 2015. <http://www.german-way.com/krampus-the-christmas-devil-of-alpine-europe/>

Hurd, Ryan. "Horror for the Holidays: Santa, Krampus, and the Dark Divine." The Teeming Brain. December 24, 2012. Accessed on November 27, 2015. <http://www.teemingbrain.com/2012/12/24/horror-for-the-holidays-santa-krampus-and-the-dark-divine/>

Jones, Sue. "Krampus: An Online Resource Guide to Saint Nicholas’ Counterpart." DateHookup.com. Accessed on November 27, 2015. <http://www.datehookup.com/singles-content-krampus-an-online-resource-guide-to-saint-nicholas-counterpart.htm>

Leafloor, Liz. "Santa’s Horned Helper: The Fearsome Legend of Krampus, Christmas Punisher." Ancient Origins. December 3, 2015. Accessed on December 7, 2015. <http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/santa-s-horned-helper-fearsome-legend-krampus-christmas-punisher-004799>

Mankey, Jason. "The Krampus." Patheos. December 1, 2015. Accessed on December 7, 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/panmankey/2015/12/the-krampus/>

Maxwell, Jenna. "The History of Krampus." Halloween Express. Accessed on November 27, 2015. <http://www.halloweenexpress.com/the-history-of-krampus.php>

Ramos, Octavio. "Monster of the Week: Krampus." Examiner. December 24, 2013. Accessed on November 27, 2015. <http://www.examiner.com/article/monster-of-the-week-krampus>

Ridenour, Al. "The Truth About Krampus." Atlas Obscura. November 29, 2013. Accessed on December 22, 2015. <http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-truth-about-krampus>

Riordan, Annie. "Krampus: The German Christmas Demon." Brutal As Hell. December 14, 2009. Accessed on November 27, 2015. <http://www.brutalashell.com/2009/12/krampus-the-german-christmas-demon/> (Now Defunct)

Ward, Chris. "10 Fun Facts About Krampus, the Christmas Devil." The Robot’s Voice. December 23, 2011. Accessed on November 27, 2015. <http://www.therobotsvoice.com/2011/12/10_fun_facts_about_krampus_the_christmas_demon_1.php

Weber, Stephanie. "Krampus, the Terrifying Christmas Beast Who Whips Bad Children." Modern Notion. December 22, 2014. Accessed on December 7, 2015. <http://modernnotion.com/krampus-christmas-beast-whips-bad-children/>

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Kalona Ayélisgi (The Raven Mocker)

In cultures all over the world, the raven (Corvus corax) has long been regarded as both wise and a little sinister. This could be due to the bird’s pitch-black feathers and its tendency to scavenge and feed on dead flesh. The smartest of all birds, the raven is often thought of as a shapeshifting trickster in various mythologies, most notably in Native American traditions. This majestic bird is also regarded as being a messenger to the gods – like Odin’s two ravens Hugin and Munin in Norse mythology – and even as a creator, as in Inuit mythology. In other cultures, however, the raven has acquired an evil reputation as being a dark harbinger of death and tragedy yet to come, which is again due to its penchant for haunting battlefields, its throaty, ominous cry, and devouring corpse-flesh like some sort of flying ghoul. This latter concept is exemplified in Cherokee mythology, where it is thought to be a birdlike demon or a shapeshifting witch that preys upon the dying, tormenting them to hasten death and then feasting on the victim’s innards in order to prolong its own godforsaken existence. The Cherokee know this vile creature as Kalona Ayélisgi, the Raven Mocker.

According to Cherokee legend, the Raven Mocker (also known as Ka’lanu Ahyeli’ski) is a shapeshifting witch or an evil death spirit (sources seem to be conflicted in this regard) that preys on the elderly, the very sick, and the dying, with the intention of ripping out and devouring the unfortunate victim’s heart, and sometimes consuming their blood and internal organs as well (Kilpatrick 9). The Kalona is able to strengthen its own lifeforce in this way, extending its own life indefinitely. For every year that the creature’s victim might have lived (if indeed they had recovered at all), the Raven Mocker adds another year to its own life. Some Cherokee believe that the Kalona Ayélisgi belongs to a larger group of evil spirits that prey upon the very ill, which the tribe calls Sunnayi Edahi, “the Night Goers”, or the svnoyi anédohi, the “night walkers” (Kilpatrick 9). The Raven Mocker can be either male or female, appearing as a very old, withered-looking man or a woman when taking a human form. This is said to be because the monster has stolen the lives of so many innocent people in the past (Mooney 401). Otherwise, the Raven Mocker appears as a demonic raven of monstrous proportions (Kilpatrick 9).

The Kalona Ayélisgi is driven by hunger and its own selfish urges to steal the lifeforce from other people. These people tend to be either very sick or on the verge of dying (if not both), making them easy meals for the Raven Mocker. As mentioned earlier, the monster steals the life from those it kills, increasing its own life expectancy. The more people it kills, the longer it will live. When hunting, according to James Mooney’s Myths of the Cherokee (Dover Publications, Inc., 1995), the Kalona “flies through the air in fiery shape, with arms outstretched like wings, and sparks trailing behind, and a rushing sound like the noise of a strong wind.” While it flies through the air, every now and then the creature cries out while diving through the skies. This horrible cry isn’t like that of a raven, but is instead a mockery of it, hence the creature’s name. The sound terrifies everyone who hears it, warning them that someone will soon die (Mooney 401-402). Others say that the Raven Mocker assumes the likeness of a true raven, and that its shrieking warns evil spirits and other witches that the Raven Mocker is coming. These lesser evil spirits know better than to test the Raven Mocker’s patience, and will flee immediately. This horrible shrieking continues right up until the monster enters the victim’s room (Wellington 2015). Under normal circumstances, the Raven Mocker is invisible to human eyes, and is thus able to enter a sick person’s home undetected. After having entered the house and located its prey, the Kalona quietly moves in for the kill (Mooney 402; Kilpatrick 9).

The Raven Mocker is known for being sadistic and cruel, taking a great deal of pleasure in tormenting and ultimately killing its victims. The Raven Mocker is particularly fond of lifting its victims out of their beds with its beak and throwing them against the walls and onto the floor to hasten death (Mooney 402; Kilpatrick 9). These attacks shatter bones and rupture internal organs, and thus will kill the victim rather quickly. The Raven Mocker tries to kill its prey as quickly (and as painfully) as possible, so that the victim doesn’t linger in this world and waste their ebbing lifeforce. If the victim lives too long, the Kalona won’t be able to steal what’s left of their life and add that life to its own. Therefore, giving its prey a quick (albeit agonizing) death isn’t a gesture of mercy from the creature, but is instead a necessary part of the Kalona’s survival.

Once the monster’s prey is dead, the Raven Mocker wastes no time in taking what it wants. The monster tears open the corpse with its beak and the talons on its feet and proceeds with its feast, consuming the heart, the vital organs, and even the blood of its prey (Kilpatrick 9). Some people say that this act of mutilation doesn’t leave a single mark on the body, but no trace of the heart remains within the corpse (Mooney 402). The monster somehow extracts the victim’s life essence from its gory feast, adding whatever years that the person might’ve had left to its own lifespan. That is how the Raven Mocker survives.

It should be noted that the Kalona Ayélisgi is considered to be one of the most powerful and the most feared of all the evil beings in Cherokee mythology, and is greatly feared by evil spirits and even other witches as well. Other such spirits that might be trying to kill a dying person and thus claim the person for themselves will flee that area in a panic if they hear the Raven Mocker’s cry (Wellington 2015). Other witches in particular are said to be jealous of the Raven Mocker’s power, and are actually afraid to be in the same place as the creature. It is believed that when one Raven Mocker finally dies (there is said to be more than one of these creatures, after all), these witches will dig up the creature’s corpse and violate it through mutilation, beatings, performing bodily functions on the body, and so on (Mooney 402). Exactly why the witches and the Raven Mockers hate each other so much is unknown, but it may have something to do with competition. Both factions target humans as their prey, and since the Kalona scares away both witches and other evil spirits alike, this act of desecration may very simply be revenge for the witches.

The Raven Mocker’s powers, in comparison to other supernatural beings, seem to be rather limited. The monster has great strength, especially in its legs and the beak. It can use its beak to punch through wooden doors, and is able to fling grown men and women through the air with considerable force. The Raven Mocker is thought to be a shapeshifter, able to change its form at will. However, the Kalona seems to be limited to the form of a person, a raven, or a birdlike monstrosity. In addition, the creature can sense those who are very sick and on the verge of dying. Any other powers that the Raven Mocker may have remain unknown.

The Raven Mocker seems to have only a few vulnerabilities, and there are even fewer ways to kill it. Only a Cherokee medicine man can protect the sick and the dying with his wards and rituals. The family can hire a shaman for this reason (as only he can see the Kalona in its invisible form), and he will watch over the Kalona’s prey until that person makes their recovery, keeping the monster at bay all the while. If the worst should happen and the person dies, then the medicine man will watch over the corpse until burial. Once the body is buried, the Raven Mocker cannot steal the heart (Mooney 402). This could be because Cherokee burial rites prevent it from desecrating the grave. Either that, or the monster doesn't know how to dig.

There seems to be one specific ritual that is able to actually kill the Raven Mocker. However, the ritual is very elaborate and should only be performed by a Cherokee medicine man. When the shaman first arrives at the house, he drives a sharpened wooden stake into the earth at each corner of the house. And then, at around noon, he prepares a special tobacco known as Tsal-agayu’nli (literally “Old Tobacco”) and fills his pipe with it, reciting a certain chant all the while. After that, he wraps the pipe in a piece of black cloth. It should be known that the tobacco is smoked only for this purpose. He then walks into the woods (if there are any around the house), returning just a little bit before sundown (as the Raven Mocker is believed to be nocturnal). He then lights his pipe and slowly walks around the house, blowing the smoke in every possible direction from which the creature might approach. He then walks into the house and patiently waits for the Kalona to arrive. When the Raven Mocker finally makes its presence known and approaches the house, one of the wooden stakes on that particular side of the house quite literally shoots out of the ground like an arrow, coming down on the creature and piercing its skull. This will kill the Kalona in seven days’ time. Afterwards, the sick person’s family and friends will make inquiries as to whether anyone died specifically within that timeframe, and it will then be obvious that the deceased person was the Raven Mocker. Some say that if the Kalona Ayélisgi is seen by a medicine man, it will have the same effect. The corpse, like that of any other supernatural creature, should be dismembered and burned afterwards. The ashes should then be scattered to prevent the monster from resurrecting itself.

The Raven Mocker has received quite a bit of attention in popular culture. It has appeared in a number of novels, including The Old Gods Waken (Manly Wade Wellman, 1979), The Curse of the Raven Mocker (Marly Youmans, 2003), They Hunger (Scott Nicholson, 2007), and P.C. Cast’s House of Night series (2007-present). The creature has also appeared in the hugely popular roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. Most notably, the Raven Mocker was seen in the immensely popular television series Walker, Texas Ranger. In the fifty-seventh episode (Season 3, aired on November 4th, 1995), “Evil in the Night”, the Raven Mocker appears as a shapeshifting medicine man named Running Wolf, who resurrects himself from his desecrated gravesite with the power to induce hallucinations in the minds of his victims. But even today, the Raven Mocker is still feared as a bringer of death. Although sightings are few and far between, many people still believe that the Kalona is out there, patiently waiting for someone to grow sick and to start wasting away. At that point, the Raven Mocker will strike, and that person will die. And only those who remember the old ways and the ancient stories will know that the Kalona Ayélisgi has killed once again…

Sources

Kilpatrick, Alan. The Night Has a Naked Soul: Witchcraft and Sorcery Among the Western Cherokee. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1997. Pages 9-10.

Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee. 1900. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995. Pages 401-403.

“Raven Mocker.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. June 8th, 2015. Accessed on November 12th, 2015.  <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raven_Mocker>

“Kalona - Raven Mocker (Imitator).” Cherokee Heritage Documentation Center. Accessed on November 12th, 2015. <http://cherokeeregistry.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=215&Itemid=292>

Wellington, Oscar. “Cherokee Legends Raven Mocker.” Pitlane Magazine. August 17th, 2015. Accessed on November 12th, 2015. <http://www.pitlanemagazine.com/cultures/cherokee-legends-raven-mocker.html>

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Special: Stingy Jack and the Jack O'Lantern

Out of all of the imagery and the traditions associated with Halloween, it is the humble jack o’lantern that is the most iconic. But very few people are aware of the legends behind these carved fruits, and ignorance can be dangerous. And while people have been carving pumpkins since at least the mid-1800s (if not earlier), it hasn’t always been for fun’s sake. In the olden days, people weren’t so quick to dismiss tales of ghosts, goblins, and monsters, especially on the night of All Hallow’s Eve. To ward off the evil spirits and the demons that wander the Earth on that night, people would hollow out certain kinds of large vegetables or fruits and carve frightening faces into them. Then, a lit candle would be placed inside to enhance the effect. But jack o’lanterns haven’t always had such positive connotations. There is evil behind their ghastly grins, a malevolent ghost known as the Jack O’Lantern. Once a mortal man, Jack’s wickedness and the many sins that he committed during his lifetime led him to being condemned in death to walk in the darkness between Heaven and Hell as a restless ghost, until the time when trumpets sound from the heavens on Judgement Day.

According to legend, Jack O’Lantern (also known as Stingy Jack, Jack of the Lantern, Jack the Smith, Drunk Jack, or simply Jack) is an evil spirit that is said to wander the forests, the marshlands, bogs, and the swamps of America and Europe (especially in Ireland and the Southern United States), where he torments any humans that he finds with the bright, mesmerising light of his enchanted lantern. This lantern is sometimes said to be made of silver (Blackman 192), but it is most commonly believed to be a hollowed-out turnip or a rutabaga. Jack O’Lantern is said to be humanlike in appearance, but over the centuries, Jack’s loneliness and his hatred of humanity have twisted him into something truly monstrous. In W. Haden Blackman’s The Field Guide to North American Monsters (Three Rivers Press, 1998) and Lisa Morton’s The Halloween Encyclopedia (McFarland & Company, 2011), the Jack O’Lantern is described as being five feet in height, having putrid green skin, long hair all over his body, large saucerlike eyes, and a wide, horribly misshapen mouth (Blackman 191; Morton 118). His fingers are tipped with rending talons, and his cavernous maw hides a mouthful of sharp, jagged teeth. The above description comes from the southern United States, where he is regarded as being more akin to a monster than to a ghost. Some describe Jack as being humanlike in shape, but with a misty, eerie transparency that is typical of a ghost.

In the centuries that he has walked in the darkness, within a purgatory of his own making, the Jack O’Lantern has become incredibly hateful towards humans. He will not hesitate to hunt down anyone who trespasses into his territory, and he will undoubtedly attempt to kill them. Those that Jack particularly despises are the young, those who have a pure heart, and people who are possessed of a strong will (Blackman 192). This could be because the strong-willed are able to resist the compulsion to follow his lantern. However, he utterly loathes drunkards, as they are a very painful reminder of what he most enjoyed during his lifetime (Blackman 192). However, it should be known that the Jack O’Lantern is a very spiteful ghost, and will not hesitate to go after any human that is either brave enough or stupid enough to knowingly intrude upon his domain.

Jack O’Lantern doesn’t hunt humans so much as he toys with and torments them. Jack was a notorious prankster during his lifetime, and remains so in death. Through the use of his enchanted lantern, Jack is able to compel humans into following him wherever he goes. While the people can see the bright orb of light, they might not be able to see Jack O’Lantern himself. This could be due to the possibility that Jack may be able to render himself invisible to human eyes at will, although this isn’t known for sure. Essentially, all that the ghost’s victims see is a ghostly sphere of light. What’s even stranger than seeing a ghostly, moving light in the deep woods or the middle of a swamp at night is that these people feel an unnatural compulsion to follow the ghostly luminescence, overriding the victim’s regard for their own personal safety (a common theme in stories of ghost lights). This inevitably leads them straight into a perilous situation, such as into a pit of quicksand, a sinkhole, a bear’s den, or maybe even right off of a cliff. And all the while, Jack heartily laughs at their stupidity (Blackman 192). It is a distinctive possibility that the Jack O’Lantern feeds off of the fear and the pain that humans experience as they’re panicking or dying, perhaps even stealing the victim’s ebbing lifeforce as well. It could be that this stolen lifeforce is what keeps Jack from fading away and his lantern burning bright.

According to legend, the Jack O’Lantern is said to possess some measure of supernatural powers. Jack O’Lantern’s monstrous form gives him unnatural strength, and he is undoubtedly more than capable of strangling or even mutilating a grown man with relative ease (Blackman 192). However, Jack prefers to kill his prey through the use of subtlety, choosing to use supernatural trickery and the power of his lantern over brute force. The lantern is said to derive its power from a piece of coal, plucked from Hell’s burning floor and given to Jack by the Devil himself. The coal itself burns eternally, and its brightness never fades. It can become dimmer or brighter at the Jack O’Lantern’s command. Furthermore, the light itself has a powerful hypnotic effect on humans that compels them to follow the bobbing light wherever it goes, regardless of the potential danger to themselves.

The legend of the Jack O’Lantern is thought to go back to Ireland, where the events described in the legend are said to have occurred a few hundred years ago. There are numerous variations of the story, but certain themes and elements in these tales have remained consistent down through the centuries. According to Irish legend, there was once a man who went by the name of Stingy Jack, for reasons that shall be clear soon enough. A blacksmith by trade, Jack was known throughout Ireland as being a drunkard and a prankster. He was clever, manipulative, and deceitful, a liar that would cheat anyone and say anything to get his way. That is to say, until Lucifer – the Devil himself – came calling one day. Satan had heard many stories of Jack’s dastardly deeds and his deviousness, and some of those tales claimed that the man’s own deeds outshined those of the Devil himself! Furious (and probably more than a little jealous), Old Cloots headed up to Earth to see what all of the fuss was about for himself.

At this point, the legends start to become confusing. Some say that Jack was already at the local pub, where he had gotten himself so drunk that his soul was actually starting to leave his body, and then the Devil appeared to claim the man’s wicked soul (Guiley 252). Another variation of the legend claims that Jack had been stumbling through the Irish countryside in a drunken haze, when he happened upon a lifeless corpse lying upon the cobblestone road. Figuring that dead men have no use for their money (or don’t mind thieves nearly as much as the living do), Jack scrambled up to the body for a closer look. Turning the corpse over, Jack was struck with horror when the "corpse" gave him an evil, toothy grin. He realized that this was the end, and that the Devil had come to claim his eternal soul.

Desperate to save himself from the all-consuming flames of Hell, Jack begged Lucifer to let him have a few final mugs of cold ale before his descent into the fiery abyss. The Prince of Darkness laughingly agreed, seeing no harm in a few drinks. Knowing of a place nearby, the Devil led Jack to a pub. Once there, Jack and Satan downed a surprising number of drinks. Once Jack had quenched his thirst, he asked the Devil if he could pick up the tab. And now the Devil knew why he was called “Stingy Jack”. Surprised, the Devil replied that he didn’t carry any money. Jack only had a single sixpence (or so he said), which was nowhere near enough to pay their enormous bill. To make matters worse, the bartender was getting angry. What was poor old Jack to do?

Despite being completely smashed, Jack came up with an idea pretty damn quick. He suggested that the demon could turn himself into a gleaming silver coin (in other versions, it was a gold coin) so that he could pay their tab and the two could be on their way. The Devil, being quite drunk himself, readily agreed to the suggestion and turned himself into a silver coin (with the Devil being regarded as a supreme shapeshifter in Judeo-Christian lore). Seeing his chance, Jack grabbed the coin, stuffed it into his pocket, and then paid the bill. Within Jack’s pocket was a silver cross (or a crucifix), which rendered the Devil incapable of returning to a more human form. Another version of the story says that Jack had a cross-shaped scar on one of his hands that kept Satan in his pocket, while another suggests that Jack put the Devil into a wallet that had a cross-shaped silver catch (Guiley 252; Morton 117). With the King of Hell at his mercy, Jack told the angry demon that he would only release him if the Devil would leave Jack be and not bother him again for ten full years. In another variation of the story, it was only a year. Either way, having no other choice, the Devil begrudgingly agreed. Jack removed the Devil from his pocket, and the Prince of Evil disappeared from sight. Jack then proceeded to walk and stumble head over heels the entire way home, guaranteed to have one hell of a hangover the next morning.

After encountering the epitome of evil the previous night, Jack was determined to repent of his wicked ways and turn his life around for the better. He started by being less selfish, showing kindness and love to his wife and children. He paid his bills and gave to the poor instead of wasting his money on alcohol and other pleasures of the flesh. And last but not least, Jack started attending church services again. But old habits (especially bad habits) die hard, and after a few months of trying to make amends for his past misdeeds, Jack slipped back into his love of drunkenness and debauchery (Guiley 252). But the Devil was always watching, patiently awaiting his chance to strike and to finally claim Jack’s immortal soul for his own unfathomable and undoubtedly nefarious purposes…

Several years later, Jack was on his way home from the local pub on the night of All Hallow’s Eve when Lucifer suddenly appeared and demanded the man’s soul (Guiley 252). Jack knew that there was no escape this time, and that he would burn in Hell eternally for his sins on Earth. The two set off for the Gates of Hell, with Satan leading the way. After several hours of walking (apparently, it takes a while to get to Hell), the two stopped to rest under the shade of an apple tree. Hungry and utterly exhausted from traveling on foot for so long, Jack pleadingly asked the Devil if he might have an apple before they continued their road trip. The Devil had to agree, as he too enjoyed the crisp juiciness of ripe apples. Satan began climbing the tree and, nearing the top of the tree, picked two large, bright red apples from a branch. He then began slowly making his way back down. Jack smiled, knowing that now was his chance.

Unsheathing a small knife, Jack quickly carved a cross into the tree’s trunk as the Devil watched in utter disbelief. Unable to pass any cross, the demon was now trapped in the tree’s branches. Panicking, Satan offered Jack anything that he wanted in the world, if he would only remove the cross. Jack replied that he would do so, but only if Satan left Jack alone forever and promised not to claim Jack’s soul when he died. The Devil realized that there wasn’t any other way, and the demon reluctantly agreed to the man’s conditions. Jack quickly scraped away the cross, and Lucifer made his way back down and vanished from sight. Jack then began the long journey back home, having cheated the Devil twice in the space of ten years and lived to tell the tale each time.

For a number of years afterwards (some say that it was only a year), Stingy Jack was the most wicked man in the world. He drank, caroused, gambled, and had more women (and more sex) than any man should be capable of having. However, all of the partying, drinking, and debauchery took their toll, and his exhausted body couldn’t take it anymore. After almost two lifetimes of this behavior, Jack finally died of his excesses. Surprisingly, he ascended into Heaven, and he walked right up to the Pearly Gates. But Jack was immediately stopped by none other than Saint Peter, who had been Jesus Christ’s closest friend and disciple during His lifetime. Because of Jack’s many sins and his drunkenness throughout his life, Saint Peter could never allow such an evil man through the gates and into Heaven. Dismayed, Jack knew that he only had one place to go…

Jack thought that it would be best for him to descend into the depths of Hell, where a damned soul like his could hopefully find some manner of acceptance (if that's even a possibility in Hell). After days of traveling, Jack finally reached the notorious Lake of Fire. But before he could try to cross, Lucifer appeared and barred his way. The Devil had sensed Jack approaching his domain and, bound by his promise so many years earlier, he could not claim Jack’s soul and allow him into Hell. Jack looked worryingly behind him, pointed to the darkness, and he asked “But where shall I go?” Smiling slyly, the Devil plucked a piece of burning coal from the ground and, tossing the glowing rock to Jack, said “Back from whence you came!” Jack realized that Old Scratch had finally managed to trick the trickster. The coal burned his hands, but Jack now had a light to guide him back to the mortal realm. He nodded solemnly to the Devil, turned around, and walked back into the darkness. When he finally returned to the mortal world, Jack hollowed out a turnip (which had always been one of his favorite foods) and placed the burning coal inside, making a lantern to light his way at night (Blackman 191-192; Camp 2013).

In the American version of the story, it is said that Jack summoned the Devil at the stroke of midnight at a crossroads. In exchange for his soul, Lucifer granted Jack “seven years of power”, during which he could do whatever he desired. At the end of the seven-year period, Satan appeared to take Jack’s soul. But before he went to Hell, Jack asked the Devil if he could kindly retrieve an old shoe that Jack had left hanging above his front door. Not questioning why somebody would leave a shoe in such an odd place, Satan complied and reached for the shoe. Seeing his opportunity, Jack reached up and quickly nailed the demon’s hand to the wall, leaving the Devil hanging there and screaming in pain. The Devil desperately begged Jack to let him down. Jack agreed to release him, but only if he never bothered Jack again. With no other choice, Satan reluctantly agreed. When Jack died, he couldn’t enter Heaven because of his sins. When he tried to cross over into Hell, the Devil wouldn’t let him. To light Jack’s way back to the mortal plane, Satan threw a large piece of burning coal at him, saying that Jack was just too smart for him. Faced with wandering the Earth for eternity, Jack now keeps himself entertained by leading unwary travelers to their deaths at night (Morton 119; Guiley 253).

For his sins, his drunkenness, and his love of debauchery in life, Stingy Jack is cursed to walk in the darkness between Heaven and Hell for eternity, a wandering ghost whose only joy is to torment living humans. And thus the legend of the Jack O’Lantern was born. He is doomed to be forever lonely, unable to know love or the warmth of human companionship ever again. He can never experience good food or the taste of fine ale again for as long as his curse continues to endure. In the end, he has no choice but to keep wandering, looking for someone (or something) that can undo his curse.

For all of his devilish trickery, the Jack O’Lantern does have some weaknesses that can be exploited and utilized against him. According to the Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend (Harper & Row, 1984), the Jack O’Lantern can be chased away by hurling a knife or a key at him, as some people believe in parts of Germany. In the Southern United States, carrying a brand-new knife that has never been used to cut wood has the same effect. In Scotland, interestingly enough, Jack can be lured closer by sticking a knife into the ground (Leach and Fried 585). Author W. Haden Blackman agrees with the southern U.S. belief, but with one exception: the knife cannot have been used to cut anything at all. The Jack O’Lantern is said to have an adverse fear of such blades, and will run away the instant he sees one, even though it might not actually hurt him (Blackman 192). Salt, being a spirit repellent, may keep him at bay as well. It also tastes quite good on boiled pumpkin.

Like most spirits, Jack O’Lantern is said to hate iron. Scottish lore states that stabbing an iron blade into the ground (not just a plain old knife, as stated previously) will repulse the ghost, as will carrying any sort of iron object (i.e. horseshoes, nails, a piece of old chain, a chunk of iron meteorite, a pair of scissors, et cetera) on one’s person. According to legend, the Jack O’Lantern is rather easy to confuse. Irish folklore states that children who go out at night (which is a terrible idea, to be sure) are given a warning to wear their coats inside out, a tactic that is most often used against faeries. In her book The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits (Checkmark Books, 2007), Rosemary Ellen Guiley says the reason for this is that “By doing so, the wearer is disguised, and shows the evil spirits that he or she has nothing for them.” She also recommends “the procedure of flinging oneself to the ground, shutting the eyes, holding the breath and plugging the ears” until Jack O’Lantern walks by (Guiley 253).

The Jack O’Lantern is said to be very fond of alcohol, having not had a single drink in centuries. Any sort of alcohol or liquor such as rum, vodka, beer, whiskey, ale, or even wine may work to lure Jack out of hiding. However, enchanted liquor like voodoo rum (which is used in Vodoun ceremonies) can be used to goad the Jack O’Lantern out of hiding with the promise of inebriation so that he can be dealt with properly (Blackman 192). One last thing that is historically proven to keep Jack away are carved pumpkins or turnips with lit candles placed inside, which serve to highlight the frightening grins carved into the outer shells of the fruits. These lanterns are made to frighten away evil spirits, and they’re actually named after this particular ghost: jack o’lanterns.

It might not actually be possible to kill the Jack O’Lantern, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Jack seems to have a corporeal form, so he could be more closely related to a revenant than a ghost. This suggests that the standard tactics of decapitation and burning the corpse to cinders afterwards might work on the Jack O’Lantern. If he proves to be more akin to a ghost, however, it may become necessary to seek out Jack’s mortal remains and destroy them. This can be accomplished by burning whatever remains of his physical body (if indeed his grave can be found) until nothing is left but ashes and cinders. This will hopefully sever his connection to the material plane and cause him to move on to the next plane of existence.

On the other hand, it may be possible to break the Jack O’Lantern’s curse. For this, a devout priest is needed. Since Jack was very likely a Catholic during his lifetime, it is best if the priest shares this denomination. The trick is to get Jack to confess his sins: those that he committed while he was still alive, and those that he has committed post-mortem as the Jack O’Lantern. If Jack is willing to confess and to ask for forgiveness from God (and this is a very big if), then his burden may be lifted and his soul can ascend to its final reward. However, there is every possibility that this tactic will fail, and that the Jack O’Lantern will be greatly insulted by the attempt and angry enough to kill. Be on guard at all times when dealing with this volatile spirit!

The term “jack o’lantern” is an old one, first appearing in printed form in 1750 as “Jack of the Lantern”, and was used to describe a night watchman or a man who carried a lantern. However, the term is much older than that and was used by the Irish to describe ghostly lights that would float over the swamps at night. This eerie phenomenon is often referred to as a will o’the wisp or ignis fatuus, a Latin term meaning “foolish fire”. Anyone who attempted to approach or to touch one of these ghost lights found that it would move away of its own accord, as if there was an intelligence behind it, and it would always stay just out of reach (ReelyBored Horror 2010). Most people would take that as their cue to turn around and run away...screaming.

But one question remains: how did jack o’lanterns as people know them today come to be? Originally, the Celtic peoples of Ireland and Scotland believed that on the night of Samhain (October 31st to November 1st), the veil between the world of the living and the realm of the dead was the thinnest, and that all kinds of ghosts, goblins, demons, and the undead could penetrate that barrier rather easily and wreak all sorts of havoc in the living world. Since such shenanigans could be dangerous or even deadly to living humans, people began leaving food and other goodies by their doors and windows to placate these spirits of the dead and any other malicious entities that might be out and about. But in case that didn’t work, people began to carve grotesque and terrifying faces into turnips, beets, rutabagas, mangelwurzels, and potatoes after first hollowing them out. Then, a lit candle, an ember from the fireplace, or a red-hot piece of coal was placed inside the hollowed-out portion, which illuminated the carved faces from within and made them truly frightening. These lanterns were used to ward off the evil spirits that haunted the night on All Hallow’s Eve, which included the notorious Jack O’Lantern. When Ireland and Western Scotland were hit by the Irish Potato Famine (lasting from 1845 to 1852), the Irish and the Scottish began to immigrate to America in search of a better life, bringing their traditions and their folklore with them. Here they discovered the humble pumpkin, and to their delight, the fruit was much easier to hollow out and to carve than the vegetables they had been using previously. They named these carved pumpkins jack o’lanterns, after Stingy Jack himself. If anything, he should feel honored, as they have been an essential part of Halloween festivities ever since (Hertz 2014).

Behind every tradition, there is a story. And behind every story, there is a legend that just might be true. The tale of Stingy Jack and the Jack O’Lantern is one of those legends that could quite possibly be true, or at the very least based on a real person. If so, then there’s a moral to the story to be had here, and it is that drinking and debauchery are extremely bad for one’s physical and spiritual health. The same goes for dealing with the Devil. Stingy Jack, the wandering ghost, is a prime example of the consequences that all of these things can lead to. Then again, it might just be a folktale. But there are some people who say that Jack O’Lantern still wanders the night, his lantern eternally burning bright, waiting to play another trick on those who might be passing by…or for someone who can save his soul from a purgatory of his own making.

Sources

Blackman, W. Haden. The Field Guide to North American Monsters: Everything You Need to Know About Encountering Over 100 Terrifying Creatures in the Wild. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998. Pages 191-192.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. Third Edition. New York: Checkmark Books, 2007.

Leach, Maria and Jerome Fried, eds. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1984. Pages 584-585.

Morton, Lisa. The Halloween Encyclopedia. Second Edition. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2011. Pages 115-120.

“Jack O’Lanterns and The Tale of Stingy Jack.” Pumpkin Nook. Accessed October 13th, 2015. <http://www.pumpkinnook.com/facts/jack.htm>

“Stingy Jack.” Wikipedia. July 31st, 2015. Accessed October 13th, 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stingy_Jack>

“The Jack-O-Lantern.” Haunted Bay. Accessed October 13th, 2015. <http://www.hauntedbay.com/history/jol.shtml>

“The Legend of Stingy Jack.” Penumbra. January 1st, 2008. Accessed October 13th, 2015. <http://www.novareinna.com/festive/jack.html>

Camp, Lee. “Stingy Jack and the Legend of the Jack O’Lantern.” Disinformation. October 31st, 2013. Accessed October 13th, 2015. <http://disinfo.com/2013/10/stingy-jack-legend-jack-o-lantern/>

“The Story of Stingy Jack: Jack O’Lantern.” ReelyBored Horror. October 14th, 2010. Accessed October 13th, 2015. <https://reelybored.wordpress.com/2010/10/14/the-story-of-stingy-jack-jack-olantern/>

Hertz, Kayla. “Original Irish Jack-o-Lanterns were truly terrifying and made of turnips.” IrishCentral. October 8th, 2014. Accessed October 13th, 2015. <http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/Original-Irish-Jack-o-Lanterns-were-truly-horrifying-and-made-of-turnips-.html>