I related the tale of the Krampus on my post last year. I thought I would revisit him since the movie, Krampus recently came out.
The Krampus is a demon from the Alpine region of Europe. He is tall, with horns and a long red tongue and cloven hooves. The krampus carries a sack, washtub or pack, in which he will place the worse bad children in the world. The krampus will then carry these children back to hell, or drown them in a nearby river, or even devour them.
The carrying off of children may have been added later to the legend of the Krampus. It may have been added and is a reference to when Moors were raiding Europe and abducting people (mostly woman and children), and selling them into slavery.
The Krampus has numerous weapons he used for his job; they include chains and also the ruten. The ruten are bundles of birch branches that the krampus whips bad children with. The word rute, is German and means braches bonded together.
The ruten may date back to pagan rituals dealing with runes. The rune Beorc represents productivity and motherhood and also of protection and is associated to the birch. Ancient medieval pagans would use the birch twigs to drive away evil spirits, or be used upon themselves as a form of self-flagellation for purification.
Self-flagellation was adopted by many monks and even knights in the middle ages. It was used by them as a form of penance, putting themselves through the same torture Jesus received after his trial; this practice was later condemned by the Catholic Church.
In some cultures in Europe, the Krampus does not beat the children with the ruten. He simply delivers the bundled twigs to the parents, so they can use it. Furthermore, many people paint the ruten in red or gold color and keep them as decorations to remind children to behave. Of course, this dates back to a time before fathers wore belts on their pants; that was always a reminder for me.
From last year’s post, let me remind you of how the Krampus got around to people’s home. He rode in Saint Nicolas in his sleigh. Santa Claus transported the Krampus, so he could beat, kidnap, kill or eat bad children. Ho-Ho-Horible.
In some cultures, another character of Christmas is Zwarte Piet (or Black Pete). Pete would give children’s beatings such as the Krampus or simply given them a lump of coal. Being covered in coal dust originally might have been why Zarte Piet was shown as dark, later he was turned into a black Spanish Moor, remember what I had mentioned earlier about children being kidnapped and sold into the slave trade.
I had mentioned the movie Krampus, but this demon has also appeared more frequently in mass media. Last year I had mentioned the show Venture Brothers and American Dad. In American Dad, the Krampus appears as a sympathetic character, he beats children only because he does not want them to grow up and become spoiled brats. In this same episode, Santa Clause is displayed as bad, as he is a pawn for “BIG Toy” companies.
So let us look back at medieval children with some compassion. Each year they would look upon Christmas with joy in getting presents or in horror because a demon might come and beat or eat them. We should also, not condemn these traditions. These were created during a time, when wars were conducted between people of religions; you could stub your toe and die from infection, or drink water and die of dysentery. Let us also remember, that harsh times create harsh legends and traditions.
Happy Holidays to everyone and for those who celebrate Christmas do not forget its meaning:
“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 King James Version
Next time: I am not going to leave you with the memories of the Krampus on Christmas, later this week; I am publishing an additional post, this one about the Christmas Truce.
W.A.Rusho is a part-time professional wrestler, martial artist and author of Legend of the Mystic Knights.