“Krampus comes to town the night before the Feast of Saint Nicholas and makes the rounds of all the houses to mete out punishment to the naughty.”

Many people consider Krampus or depict him almost demon-like. This is where unfortunately I may to some decree sprinkle a slight bit of heathen salt into the Christmas landscape that many know. There are many aspects of the holiday that are appropriated from many cultures, to deny this is silly, it should be celebrated, as without the components of these, you would not have the yule log, Christmas caroling, definitely no Christmas lights, nix Santa and you can forget those stockings all of that is not part of any religious celebrations except for pagans/heathens to whom winter festivals originated, but it’s ok, come to the dark side, we have cookies and egg nog and usually will only sacrifice you if we run out of ale, and since that never happens you are safe (totally kidding, we never sacrifice anyone or anything, other than some gingerbread and let’s face it had it coming). 

Our holidays have some slight elements that harken back to when winter was honoring our gods of both light and dark. We as heathens/pagans celebrate the duality of nature in its pure form. We understand that life is not all rainbows and unicorns, but it also is blood and guts and that makes us ‘strange and unusual’ I guess. For us, winter has two parts, a light part in which gifts are given by a “Santa” type figure (some heathens see this as Papa Odin, others as Thor, each family may choose a god that suits them for being the gift giver, or may choose to go with traditional Santa, they may choose to use a female figure like Frigga or one of the goddess, it’s very dependent on what a household decides). But, we honor the darkness, the loss, the things that are not with us, we pay honor to our ancestors usually through some kind of offerings or gifts left out for them. Krampus in traditional stories was said to be the son of Hel, “Krampus’s name comes from the German word Krampen, meaning Claw. And he is described as being half-goat and half-demon, with dark fur, large horns, and sharp teeth, as well as claws for hands. Krampus carries chains, to suggest he is bound to the Devil, and a bundle of birch switches, which may have a connection to Pagan scourging rites. In some stories, he carries a sack and is said to carry “bad children” away. The bag is most likely leftover from legends of invaders stealing children away during the Dark Ages.”

Krampus represents this potential dark side, that there is potential harm in the gifts, although many of the myths don’t include Krampus taking children, instead actually assisting Santa with his work, and other stories in which Krampus is actually described as a ‘shriveling shade” a poetic keening [a keening is a poetic way of describing a thing] for death, it’s possible that this links Krampus to the underworld. Although the links are kind of loose, it probably likes many of our other heathen/pagan traditions is so mixed into variations that Krampus could or could not be related to old Norse myth. It is likely though when you look at how the links between Odin and Hel are made in many stories (The Gift of HelThe Road to HelThe Cult of Odin in the NorthThe Cloak of Odin) these links are so embedded that they likely and I am totally injecting my own theory here, painted into our winter customs. The one thing I can be absolutely certain of is that heathens adapted and often woven in pieces from previous traditions into new ones, so there could be a progression from Odin and Hel to Odin and then a claw-footed hoofed goat, to then Santa a Krampus, I realize it seems like a bizarre transformation but….for heathens this is fairly par for the course. We transform with each turn of the year when something new becomes part of our tradition when we add to things. It is what makes heathens somewhat unique in the world. 

Krampus had a period in which he was forbidden, in fact, a great many traditions were forbidden by churches because of their pagan origin, for example for many years, showing signs of joy at Christmas was considered to be very poor form, and so was outlawed, it really was not until we got to our Victorians that our Christmas transformed to what you see today. But, luckily as people want to reflect and remember the past, he is returning. Today he is remembered not as being ‘evil’ but as a reminder that nothing good is given without recalling what is lost, what is good without reminding us of knowing what we gave up to get that gift, it is the same thing that we sing in the modern song of Santa Clause is Coming to town: “He sees you when your sleeping, he knows when your awake, he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake”, and I would add that I suspect that Krampus would add “Or a warm sack awaits you, where you’ll be put away, where twigs of the birch will beat you, every single day”

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