Folklore Thursday: Winter is Coming. Al Ridenour and the Krampus

Ho Ho Horror …Krampusnacht approaches and Folk Horror Revival were fortunate enough to catch up with Al Ridenour, Xmas-monster hunter extraordinaire the author of

The Krampus

And The Old, Dark Christmas
Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil

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Folk Horror Revival:  When did you first become aware of Krampus and what in particular about the tradition appealed to you?

Al Ridenour: In the mid-1980s, after putting in my undergrad years studying Germanic languages and literature, I ended up going to school in Berlin for a year.  Berlin is not in a region with a native Krampus culture but there’s some awareness of the figure. I remember suddenly around Christmas, encountering rows of postcard reproductions of this really lovely Edwardian-era lithograph of a devil’s head with lolling tongue.  I bought one without really knowing what it was, and it was up on my wall or fridge for years before I really realized what it was. I’d been aware at the time of Knecht Ruprecht, the sort of northern German cousin of the Austro-Bavarian Krampus, but hadn’t really gotten the story on this horned fellow. 

Around that same time, I was reading The Golden Bough and found myself particularly fascinated by descriptions of Perchten, another (closer) cousin to the Krampus, but had assumed this was an extinct rather than living tradition.    I hadn’t seen the word “Krampus” in Frazier’s writing because around 1890, the word was still gaining currency.  The Krampus postcards were just beginning to circulate, and it was these that helped popularize the word, myth, and created a sort of homogenous visual representation.  Before that, it was more diverse, loosely related clusters of very regional figures and traditions (like the Perchten) customs

In any case, my really getting into the tradition happened via a second encounter with these postcards around 2004, when digital reproductions began circulating online.   At that time, it all clicked, and I realized this was more than a bit of antique art –- that it was a tradition still being enacted by contemporary Austrians and Germans in stunning costumes.  I began pining over YouTube videos showing the live events, and eventually began planning a trip to partake in the fun myself.  My casual trip research as to the most traditional locations to visit became the basis for my book.

The appeal?  Well, they’re monsters!  Need I saw more? And as an artist and fabricator myself, the craft of the costumes really appealed to me.  There was also such a scarcity at the time of English information on the creature, that it also sparked my more scholastic, puzzle-solving side.   And reading up on the topic finally put that relatively useless degree in German to good use!

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FHR:  On the Folk Horror Revival Facebook group, a video post depicting Krampus and some crying kids, kicked off a kerfuffle with some folk even talking about the children developing Post Traumatic Stress Order as adults. Personally as a kid I loved being scared … monsters, ghosts, UFOs, horror films and comics, dinosaurs – I loved all that, the scarier the better.

What are your thoughts about the issue? Do you think things like the Krampus are too scary or potentially damaging to kids or do you think the wrapping in cotton wool of children is an overreaction?

AR: Well, I couldn’t agree more about a childhood — err, lifelong – passion for frightful s stuff.  It’s likely that this proclivity may be a bit stronger in boys, and more still in males who identify as horror fans, but the Krampus is also a creature of fantasy and fairy tale, of the imaginative faculty in general.  If you look at our culture’s media output, it’s pretty clear that there’s a universal, thriving market for imaginative extra-mundane tales.

Yes, kids undeniably sometimes cry when they encounter the Krampus, but I feel like I often have to offer a corrective to the view that the whole tradition is primarily about punishing or scaring kids.   People outside of Bavaria and Austria tend to miss its playful aspect, not see that it’s really more about play than punishment.  While the core myth is that of a punishing figure accompanying St. Nicholas on his annual visits to children’s homes, the practice of enacting this particular story, the private Hausbesuch (“home visit”) is rather uncommon these days.  The bulk of the Krampus activity in Europe is a public one, the Krampuslauf or Krampus run, which hardly pretends to be about the figure’s role as punisher.  Performers in the Krampus runs typically leave kids alone and instead chase or engage in mock battles young adults of their own age.

I devoted the concluding chapter of my book to this “cotton wool” approach to children in regards to Krampus culture.  In the era of trivializing “participation awards” in schools, the house-visits particularly give the child an opportunity to really achieve mastery over his own fear but also mastery of some small task – a performance. In the old days, the child would be called upon to recite for St. Nicholas bible versus or the like, but in more secular times, this is often just the performances of some memorized piece of music or poetry.   The whole family, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and even great-grandparents are assembled for this moment of truth where the child can shine, where he becomes a star. That such a drama would be staged in the home, with elaborate, expensive costumes, secret preparations and care to ensure success in every detail—all the trouble, work and love devoted to this child-centered production seems very touching to me.  If the goal were merely to scare a kid straight, there would be much simpler, brutish ways to do it. 

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FHR:  Are there any other aspects of folklore or indeed society and culture that also intrigue you?

AR: The word “liminal” seems to be a popular word to throw around in folklore studies, and also seems a pretty good catchall for answering this.  When I was a kid that concept would have been embodied by the monsters I adored transgressing the borders of the natural and supernatural.  Tten growing up in the punk rock era, the transgression of societal norms became attractive in another way.  In the 1990s, I was part of a national (American) group dedicated to this.  It was called the Cacophony Society and was a national network of art-provocateurs and urban explorers responsible for founding the Burning Man festival and serving as prototype for “Project Mayhem” in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.  It was started in San Francisco in the late 1980s, and I ran the Los Angeles lodge of the Society throughout the 1990s.   We engaged in a lot of pranks and hoaxes, things that would later go on to be called “flash mobs.” 

That interest in rather aggressively engaging the public in guerilla street theater ended up spawning an event called “Santacon,” namely, a drunken mob of costumed Santa Clauses that would take to the streets once a year.  I met Chuck Palahniuk, who was a member of the Portland Cacophony lodge at one of these when San Francisco, and Los Angeles members gathered with our comrades for a Santacon in that city. Sadly, I don’t remember much of the meeting as I was more than adequately soused for the occasion, though I do have vague recollections of police in tactical gear showing up to prevent out entrance to a local shopping center.   Santacon, like the Burning Man festival, went on to establish itself as an annual event outside of the Cacophony Society, and those of us who’d found it thrilling and challenging in the mid-1990s outgrew it.   Missing that chaotic annual revel (though not the heavy drinking),led me to start a Krampus run in Los Angeles. 

The funny thing is that impulse to occupy liminal spaces has caused me to double back to a more traditionalist mindset. Initially getting behind Santacon’s impulse to mock tradition I ended returning to the traditional via Krampus.  (Americans tend to think of the Krampus as a sort of “enemy” of St. Nick, Christmas, and all that is holy, but at home in Europe it’s associated with very traditionalist, religious culture, albeit more of a folk Catholicism than the top-down Vatican business.)

My embracing the traditionalism of the a figure like Krampus is not really that surprising though, given that even in the midst of my subversive Cacophony Society years, I still connected with very traditionalist thinkers like Carl Jung. Early on, I recognized my disposition as more romantic than classical.  I’ve always thrived on narratives where rational progressive thought collapses, and only the mythic offers hope.  That sort of unexplained, unexplainable liminal experience is something that’s always attracted me. Something like the Krampus tradition or Carnival are traditionalist ways to embrace the subversive, terrifying and absurd.

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FHR: You travelled quite extensively researching your book; are there any particular place or places, or experiences from these visits that have really stuck in your mind. If so, where and why?

AR: I wish I could have done more traveling for the book, but it’s not like I had a travel budget from the publisher.   I was able to make it to a handful of Krampus runs in Austria and Bavaria, but the bulk of my research was really done after the fact, following up on contacts I had made and through those visits, engaging others in the Krampus network via email and social networking.  Over the years there were a couple visits by my Austrian friends, where I got in more first-person interviews, and our Los Angeles Krampus group was also able to host the first costumed Europeans to run along with us in an American Krampus Run in 2014.

As far as memories, one that really struck me, and came to mind answering your question about children’s fears, was an incident I witnessed at a Krampuslauf in Munich.  I remember seeing this young, visibly trembling boy near the front of the crowd where the Krampuses were passing.  His parents were gently, but insistently nudging him forward toward an encounter.   Soon, I noticed, that it wasn’t just me, but others were all sort of breathlessly watching the boy deal with his fears.  Eventually he made it to the front of the crowd, and a costumed performer immediately took in the situation, crouched low and extended a claw.  By the time the boy stuck out his own hand to meet the monster’s, his parents were patting his back, and all the spectators were beaming — but none more than the kid himself!  We could all feel his pride, and it was really touching. And he went on to enjoy the other monsters, getting braver and braver with each encounter.  I felt kind of honored, like I’d secretly shared in an important milestone in this kid’s life.

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FHR: In your work as an artist on projects such as The Art of Bleeding, The Cacophony Society and The Museum of Mental Decay, there is a clear appreciation of the weird and grotesque. Could you tell us a little more about your art?

AR: I’ve talked a bit already about the Cacophony Society, but the Museum of Mental Decay was one of our Halloween events repeated over a few years. It was a sort of haunt or haunted house experience subversively interpreted – no readymade horrors from films, but stuff from a more dangerously surreal or dangerously real perspective – the latter, for instance represented by an installation with barely human urban panhandlers stationed in a sort of simulated back alley setting complete with stinking dumpster, all aggressively trying to sell visitors handfuls of human hair.  Another year, I constructed an immense walk-in womb installation covered in slippery amniotic goo.  I was covered in goo myself and trying to engage visitors with a giant man-sized fetus I’d constructed, encouraging them to hold the slimy thing or even spank it.  When they tried to escape, my assistant and I would try to lasso them with the 15-foot umbilical cord attached to the fetus.

On and off from 2004-2012, I directed The Art of Bleeding, a rather hard-to-define performance troupe of sorts offering live multi-media shows parodying first-aid and safety education. It was an uncomfortable mix of short original videos and animation I did, repurposed vintage health-and-safety films, puppets, costumed kiddy show characters, and nurses in fetishistic uniform. At the time I owned an ambulance that would also often be featured in the events, including one show about traffic safety staged in a parking lot filled with “crashed” cars (old junked cars I’d bought) with bloodied actors in each telling their accident stories. 

Over the last years, I’ve been sculpting and selling Krampus masks as well as costumes. My house is always a sort of evolving series of installations too, much of it with an increasingly folk horror vibe, including now a life-size sculpture of a sort of forest witch sculpted entirely from found woodland materials.

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FHR: I am assuming that horror films and possibly comics may have played a part in your childhood? Could you name a few of your favourite movies, books and artists or art-works for us please?

AR: I grew up on horror films, especially the old Universal pictures, which are more nostalgia now, but a couple I still I consider great films, like The Bride of Frankenstein, with all its visionary design, horror, pathos, and wall-to-wall music score.  I especially love it for its arch humor. Films that combine the morbid or grotesque and humor will always be near and dear to me– Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant, The Loved One, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Evil Dead II and Drag me to Hell, for instance.

My infatuation with Universal films encouraged a passion for Lon Chaney’s films, and silent films in general.  I love how they seem to emanate another, less substantial world. Guy Maddin’s art films are both wryly funny and evoke this silent world nicely.  His recent Forbidden Room is a truly phantasmagoric wonder!

I’m undeniably something of a Germanophile, and it’s possible that the German influence on those Universal pictures was part of it. 

in part because of the influence of Germany’s horror films of the silent era

 that trickled into those Universal pictures. Of all the silent German horror classics, Nosferatu was most formative.  The original, but also Herzog’s remake, are lifelong favorites. If you’ve not seen it, Herzog’s Heart of Glass is also a hauntingly dreamlike period piece, in which the actors all performed under hypnosis. I also love Scandinavian work like  (Häxen, Caligari, The Virgin Spring, The Juniper Tree, The Kingdom) and Eastern European/Russian films like Valerie and her Week of Wonders, Sweet Movie, W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism, and Viy (1967).  I worked in the film industry for ten years as an animator partly inspired by Jan Svankmajer’s stop-motion, and that of the Brothers Quay who emulate his style.

Peter Greenaway’s films seem to have something of the same painterly emphasis on formal compositions as the Quay’s, and he has that dry wit balancing all that sumptuous imagery. My taste in art has become a bit more curmudgeonly thanks to Greenaway, and I now feel a strong affinity for the northern Baroque he celebrates, particularly Flemish vanitas paintings, allegorical scenes, and of course Bosch and Bruegel. In my early incarnation with the Cacophony Society, I was more influenced by modern, transgressive art, particularly performance art, but not so much today.

I am not a big reader of fiction, though I have a strange and vociferous appetite for nonfiction about literary movements and authors, naturally the Gothic and Weird Fiction in particular. Flannery O’Connor is one exception, and I’ve read and re-read everything she’s written multiple times.

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FHR: What is next on the agenda? Are there any other books in the pipeline?

AR: Yes, absolutely! And very much within the FH wheelhouse.  I have not yet signed a contract, so probably should not mention specifics now, but within the year, I should have an announcement about a sort of survey book that I hope will interest the FH community.

As a sort of promotional adjunct to the book, and because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, I’ve also embarked on a podcast in which I discuss topics somewhat related to the upcoming book as well as my The Krampus and the Old Dark Christmas.  It’s called “Bone and Sickle”.  The core of the show is me sharing my research on a topic — say, Walpurgis Night or cuckoos — in a very discursive talk mingled with a constant stream of sound clips and quoted passages from 19th and early 20th century texts read by my partner Rick Galiher, who plays my butler.  The whole is set in a very M.R. Jamesian study full of these old volumes, and there’s a certain uncomfortable tension between my “character” and the butler throughout. Thus far, I think it’s hitting all the marks FH fans would appreciate, though it’s been a lot of serious production work with original music and effects flowing throughout the entirety of the show.  I’m very excited about it and the book!

Check out the Saint, Devil, Sugar-Bread & Whip: Krampus and Nicholas edition of Bone and Sickle here – https://www.boneandsickle.com/2018/11/28/the-krampus-saint-devil-sugar-bread-and-whip/?fbclid=IwAR2NPB5OMZ69xz035pnzWmXlmxvKTiiaewB8z1CCbR2n2rqWf-FYUXZ5WWs

Al Ridenour:
A native of Pasadena, California, Al Ridenour holds BA’s in German and English literature, has worked as an author, journalist, animator, and artist, and has been a fixture in the West Coast underground art community since the mid-1990s. His Krampus research has taken him to the Austrian Alps and Munich, and brought him in contact with cultural anthropologists working in Salzburg and Vienna as well as dozens of members of contemporary European Krampus groups. In 2013, Ridenour co-founded Krampus Los Angeles, an organization that’s made the city ground zero for American Krampusmania. Ridenour has translated and produced the only English-language version of 19th-century Krampus play, written articles, and lectured on the topic at the international Goethe-Institut and elsewhere, and exhibited his Krampus suits at the University of Southern California’s Doheny Museum.

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If any  UK Revivalists are in the Whitby area on Saturday 5th December pop along to the Krampus Run – more details here – https://spark.adobe.com/page/SabqDn8I1AN4L/?fbclid=IwAR0x4QWgEg12aShz1seqaTmRZeBIvhQcIq7ygZ3F_QB7ArsC5g-xhx0_znY

And read Another great Krampus interview with Decadent Drawing here – https://folkhorrorrevival.com/2018/11/23/the-whitby-krampus-run-an-interview-with-elaine-edmunds-and-laurence-mitchell/ 
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Interview with Al Ridenour first published in the book  Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies
Available from ~ http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/andypaciorek

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Folklore Thursday: Theatre of Dreams – Japanese Noh Masks

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Noh is an intimate form of Japanese traditional theatre that dates back to at least the 14th Century. Though generally light on props, Noh does however utilise masks to a large degree. As many Noh stories deal with supernatural themes, Kishin (demon) and Onryō (ghost) masks are prevalent.
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The Hannya mask above represents a woman who turned into a demon. It is a familiar mask to those who have seen Kaneto Shindo’s classic 1964 film Onibaba.
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This mask ^ is representative of Hashihime, a woman who fearing she had been abandoned by her lover drowned herself and became a jealous and dangerous spirit.
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Namanari is a creature midway between human and demon. Their corrupting element may be a desire for sexual revenge.
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Kitsune are trickster fox spirits that can transform into human form. Though in Japanese lore some foxes were sly goblin figures, others were the messangers of the Shinto spirit Inari.

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The Ushi-Oni or Gyūki are bovine like demons that although are sometimes said to attack people are represented as protective spirits at the Uwajima summer festival.
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Tengu are part bird-part human. They generally dwell in mountainous or forested regions where they may be considered protective spirits, but in some lore they are considered warlike beings.
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The name Daikijin literally translates as Great Devil God but they may be utilised at village ceremonies as protector spirits.

All images © Inoue Corporation
Click on a mask image above to purchase or visit Here to browse and buy other items available in the Noh mask collection.

 

Folklore Thursday: Earth Movers – The Foawr

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Foawr Also known as: Stone-Throwing Giants, Fooar.
Upheavals in and on the earth that led to the creation of many immense and intriguing land formations and features were often accredited to the actions of Giants.
Many Giants in Britain and Ireland displayed a propensity for throwing stones, yet the Manx Foawr were absolutely notorious for heaving boulders around. They would throw rocks at humans, at ships, at each other and they would throw rocks just for the sake of throwing rocks. It seems however that the males of the species were more inclined towards trouble-making and stone-lobbing than the females. The masculine Foawr were despised by human farmers, not only for their rock-hurling but also for their other habit of ravishing cattle. It has been considered that the Foawr may be of the same lineage as the Celtic demonic race the Fomorii and some at least were said to be the children of the haggard storm-goddess, the Cailleach Bheur.

Text and image © Andy Paciorek
abridged and amended from the book
Strange Lands: A Field Guide to the Celtic Otherworld
View Strange Lands by Andrew L. Paciorek

#Folklore Thursday: Folk Magic – Horse Whisperers

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Horse-Whisperers were far more common in the times when horses were more widely utilised for transportation, agriculture and industry. Some horses more than others are loath to be ridden and strongly resist being tamed. It is in these circumstances that Horse-Whisperers would come into their own. They were so named because they were believed able to calm and train wild horses by whispering into their ears (the Horseman’s Word). There have been suggestions that concoctions of certain aromatic herbs may have also been utilised in the soothing of equine temper and nervousness. Whatever their true methods, it could not be disputed that the Horse-Whisperers generally had an excellent and impressive record of breaking beasts. Onlookers and clients would often conclude that supernatural powers were afoot, a supposition that Horse Whisperers did little to dispel and may even have encouraged. Not just anyone could become a Horse-Whisperer however, for they guarded their prowess with the utmost secrecy. Elaborate Masonic-style initiation was the only way into the ranks in Scotland, and women were never made privy to the Horseman’s Word. Rumours spread that the introductory rites and the deliverance of knowledge involved the presence of the Devil himself. The form of Horse-Whisperers known as Toad-Men heightened this sinister notion further. Their name was derived from their habit of carrying the skeleton of a Toad around in a pouch, apparently as a magical device.

Image and text. © Andy Paciorek. Adapted from the book Strange Lands: A Field Guide to the Celtic Otherworld

View Strange Lands by Andrew L. Paciorek

Folklore Thursday: Vasilisa the Brave

VASILISA

One of the most popular characters of Russian folk characters is a heroine named Vasilisa (or Vasilissa) who appears in several Russian fairy tales collected by the folklorist Alexander Afanasyev. Known variously as Vasilisa the Wise, Vasilisa the Brave and Vasilisa the Beautiful, her virtues are held in esteem.
In a trope familiar to fairytales the world over, Vasilisa’s mother died whilst Vasilisa was still a child and her father remarries another woman who proves to be an unkindly stepmother to her. Furthermore her stepsisters were none too kindly either. When her father had reason to travel away for a while, the family moved into a cabin deep within a huge forest.
Vasilisa was given a heavy workload of chores by her new family, but she had in her possession a magic doll that was her mother’s final gift to her and which assisted her with her work. Also the stepmother would send Vasilisa out into the forest to collect sticks or mushrooms, but really in the hope that the girl would become fatally lost.
Whilst living in that remote cabin within the woods, the girls were instructed always to have a single candle kept alight from which other fires could be lit. It so happened one day that one of the elder stepsisters let the candle go out, so the young Vasilisa was ordered to gather fire from their nearest neighbour, who was none other than the witch Baba Yaga. So Vasilisa made the considerable trek beneath the darkness of trees to the macabre chicken-legged hut of Baba Yaga. On the way she is passed in turn by three horsemen. Each of which is clad in a single colour which also corresponds to their mount; first a white rider, then a red then finally a black rider whom nightfall followed soon after. Reaching the abode of the old witch, Vasilisa is petrified by the skulls on the fenceposts, whose eye-sockets burn with an eerie glow. Upon finding the girl, Baba Yaga instructs her that in order to retrieve fire Vasilisa must undertake certain tasks.
However should she fail in these chores or attempt to leave without performing them, then she was informed that she would be cooked and eaten.
The duties allocated to her were to clean Baba Yaga’s hut, to separate bad kernels of grain from the good and to separate poppy seeds from soil. Baba Yaga left the girl to her business but Vasilisa was distraught and already exhausted from her long walk through the woods. However the magic doll again assisted her in her tasks and the girl slept.
In the morning, Vasilisa looked out and saw the white rider pass by, later on the red rider passed and finally the black rider, followed both by darkness and the return of Baba Yaga. Seeing the chores beset Vasilisa completed, the witch proceeded to invoke several pairs of invisible hands to wring juice from the separated grains. She asked Vasilisa if she had any questions. The girl enquired about the horsemen and was informed that the white rider was the break of dawn, the red rider was the midday sun and the black one was the fall of night. Vasilisa was then about to enquire about the disembodied hands that worked for the old woman, but sensing this the magic doll in her apron pocket shook as if to warn her to hold her tongue. Vasilisa understood this and asked not of the mysterious hands.
Instead Baba Yaga asked How Vasilisa had managed to complete the difficult chores she had beset her. Vasilisa replied not too revealingly but not untruthfully that she had managed through her mother’s blessing.
The old witch wanted to hear of no blessing in her abode so cast Vasilisa out into the dark, but did not renege her promise and gave the girl a skull upon a stick. The fire in the dead eyes would both illuminate her path home and relight the fires within the cabin.
Upon returning there however, her stepmother and stepsisters became transfixed by the smoldering eyes of the skull and were reduced to nought but ashes. Vasilisa buried the skull.
Different tales follow the further life of Vasilisa, in one she is seen to weave threads of flax into gold or the finest silk. So impressed is the Tsar himself upon seeing the cloth, that he bids Vasilisa to meet him. Upon seeing her he is smitten with her beauty and takes her for his wife. In another variation Vasilisa is named as the girl whose kiss transformed a frog into a prince, who was then to become her husband. Whatever the tale of Vasilisa’s later life, there seems to be a common agreement that she and her father spent it in greater wealth and happiness than before.

From the book Black Earth: A Field Guide to the Slavic Otherworld. Written and Illustrated by Andy Paciorek

BABA YAGA

Folklore Thursday: Samhain and the Celtic Vampires

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In Ireland, the Failte na Marbh (Festival of the Dead) was held annually on the 31st October. (also known as Samhain. All Souls and most commonly Halloween).  At this time, the dead would pay a short visit to their living relatives and, after a year in the grave, they were obviously thirsty and famished. It was then the duty of the living kin to provide them with food and drink. If sufficient victuals were not offered, the dead would then feed from the veins of the living. These creatures were known as Marbh Bheo – the Night-walking Dead. On the Scottish Isle of Skye pure vengeance was often thought to be the prime mover for the Biasd Bheulach. These Vampire-like creatures would not only spare their revenge for the specific individuals who had done them wrong in life, or had sent them to the grave, but would exact grim penance upon any living soul that fell within their grasp. In England the dead thought most likely to rise again were suicides & executed criminals, and Northumbria in particular was said to have suffered several Vampire plagues. Prevalent also in both Irish and Scottish lore were Vampires that had no discernible human heritage, and instead seemed to be of a malevolent Fay stock. Such a shadowy creature was the Irish Dearg-Due or Dearg-Diulai – the Red Bloodsucker. Frequently the Dearg-Diulai appeared as beautiful, pale females cloaked in a sanguine-red capes. Attracting warm-blooded males with their feminine charm, seduction soon turned to slaughter.

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The Baobhan Sith, or Spirit Women, are a strange breed of Scottish Vampiric entities. They most frequently manifest as small groups of beguiling women, dressed in flowing green cloaks that almost conceal the fact that their legs are of a form more befitting Deer. They may also at times take the forms of Hooded Crows. Highland tales relate how they may entrance men with their dancing before sinking their fangs into them. The Baobhan Sith display a fear of cold iron.

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The Glaistig are green-clad Fay women of fair beauty despite their lower bodies which are actually those of Goats. They are solitary creatures of converse character, for whilst they at times may greatly assist children, old people and cattle-farmers, should they chance upon lone male travellers or shepherds then their temperament changes entirely. They will first engage their victim in a seductive dance, before murdering and feasting upon them. In addition to fresh man’s blood the Glaistigs also have a taste for fresh cow’s milk.
Abridged text and amended images from Strange Lands: A Field Guide to the Celtic Otherworld – © Andy Paciorek


Folklore Thursday ~ Night Hags and Demon Lovers

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Night Hags: Also known as: Night-Mares, Mara, Mera, Mares, Crushers, Drudes, Mare-Demons, Hagges, Haints, Entities, Mallt y Nos, Night-Fiends, Cauchemar, Night-Elves.
Sometimes people who suffered from wasting diseases such as Tuberculosis Consumption were said to look ‘Haggard’ or ‘Hag-Ridden’. This refers to the belief that, as they slept, a Night-Hag had entered their bedchambers and either sat upon their chests crushing them (but not to the point of fatality) and perhaps sucked away at their breath, or their vitality, or alternatively had actually ridden their victims entirely into the air and sometimes over distance. Either way, their human victims were left exhausted and often diseased. The alternative name of Mara and its similar derivatives is said to have meant Crusher in Old-English, and it is from this word that the term Night-Mare originated – initially meaning not a bad dream but an actual external terror. The term Hag-Riding has also been applied when horses who had been left resting have been found to be exhausted and covered in sweat in the morning. Again it was considered that the Night-Hags had been riding the horses around in circles to the point of collapse during the hours of darkness. In some locations it was thought that these fiends on horseback delivered bad dreams to households, thus giving an additional meaning to Night-Mare. An alternatively used term to Hag-Riding is to be Owl-Blasted, which refers to the belief that Night-hags would sometimes take the form of these nocturnal birds.

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Demon Lovers: An Incubus is a male spirit that seeks to indulge a mortal woman in carnal activity, whilst a Succubus is a female spirit that likewise preys on the passions of mortal men. However it has been suggested that both spirits are one and the same, and that the Incubi / Succubi adopts only a specific gender in relationship to its particular victim. The nature of these nocturnal paramours preyed heavily upon the minds of the Medieval Church, possibly because many of the alleged victims were members of their own ministry who had prescribed to a life of chastity. (Merlin, the great sage of Arthurian legend was thought to be the offspring of an Incubus and a Nun). The Church scholars deliberated on whether the phenomenon was mere hallucination borne out of celibate frustration, or sinful fantasies made flesh, but this held their own people to blame almost as much as the other considered option that such claims were in fact a cover-up for actual corporeal liaisons with human partners. Frequently, though, those who claimed an encounter with an Incubus / Succubus seemed not to have been pleasured by such a visit but to have been genuinely shocked and frightened. Therefore further attention was concentrated on seeking out an external, supernatural culprit. They questioned whether these night-visitors were perhaps a salacious breed of Faerie, or maybe vengeful Ghosts, but as all were considered agents of the Devil anyway then it was simple enough to label them Demon-Lovers.

Images and Text © Andy Paciorek
Adapted from the book Strange Lands: A Field Guide to the Celtic Otherworld

#FolkloreThursday ~ The Banshee, Bean-Nighe & the Gwrach-y-Rhibyn

Presenting for Folklore Thursday a collection of strange entities from the Paciorek bestiary …
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The Banshee

Also known as: Beansidhe, Bean-Si, Benshee, Fairy Woman, Woman of the Hills, Bachuntas, Badbh-Chaointes, Cointeach, Wailers, The Keener, The One Who Keens, Mna-Sige, Mna-Sidhe, Cyhiraeth, Cyraeth, Cyoerrath, Cyhyraeth, The White Lady of Sorrows, The Weeper, The Skree, Caoineag, Caointeach, Fear-Sidh, Seinn-Bais, Death Music, Tolaeth, Ghost Sounds, Bocanachs, Bowa.

The wail of the Banshee (known as the Keening) is said to be heard either by the person whose death is imminent, or by someone closely associated to them. People with a strong Celtic bloodline are considered more likely to encounter a Banshee, and some old families may hold a peculiarly strong bond with one of these creatures. This is sometimes thought to indicate a distant Fay strain within their genes but others have suggested an earthier, more sinister reasons for the connection. The finger points at certain reputedly Banshee-ridden families with the accusation that one of their ancestors murdered a young lady, possibly a pregnant mistress or other similar unfortunate, and so it is believed that their descendants must carry a reminder of this shame for evermore. The shadow of this sin falls at the approach of their darkest hours and may be specifically regarded as being a Hateful Banshee. To those who have not heard the Banshee’s cries (and count themselves lucky for this), it is often imagined that this must be a loud, dreadful noise and sometimes it has been reported as such (usually in the cases of Hateful Banshees), but not always. Sometimes her Keening was described as being oddly melodic and strangely comforting, especially if heard by someone who was old and failing , had endured a long, discomforting illness or was of a family favoured by the Faeries.

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The Bean-Nighe

Also known as: Night Women, Washer Women, Caoineag, Ban Nighechain, Nigheag-Na-H’ath, Washing Women, Little Washers by the Ford, Washers by the Banks, Washers of the Shroud, Washers of the Night, Night Washers, Cannerd Noz, Konnerez Noz.

The Bean-Nighe are generally encountered either sitting beside, or sometimes paddling in, remote streams and the shallows of rivers. Here they attend to their laundry, yet they are not conventional mortal women tending bucolic washing chores. A single glance at their hideous visage and the grim cloth they wring betwixt their fingers is more than enough to determine their anomalous character. The clothing that the Bean-Nighe is seen to wash is either the blood-drenched clothing of the observer, or the burial shroud that will consequently wrap their lifeless body. These creatures are said to be the souls of women who died whilst giving birth, doomed to remain on this earth either until Judgement Day or, as it is more frequently thought, until the day that they would otherwise have died. As a grim consequence of their fate, they are also aware of all the other people that will soon be visited by death and are sometimes reported as crooning a mournful dirge to themselves that recounts the names of all the ill fated.

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The Gwrach-y-Rhibyn

Also known as the Hag of the Dribble, Hag of the Mist and also sometimes as y Cyhiraeth.

This Welsh portent of death may suddenly leap out of a water channel, but otherwise she will invisibly stalk her victims until they pass a crossroads or stream. Here she will become all too visible and audible, for in both instances her cries, like those of the Banshees and Cyraeths, are harrowing. If the person thus doomed to die (either the observer or someone they know) is a man the Gwrach-y-Rhibyn will holler “Fy ngwr! Fy ngwr!” (“My Husband! My Husband!”) but if a youth is to succumb, then she will cry “Fy mlentyn! Fy mlentyn bach!” (“My child! My little child!”) She is a hideous sight to behold, with her crooked back, hooked nose, long filthy hair and manic eyes. She is pinched and scrawny, yet her superficial mass likely betrays her true strength and vigour. The most frightfully inhuman of all her features, however, are her long thin arms, for not only do they end in dreadful talon-like hands, but black scaly wings also hang from these extremities. These bat-like appendages are thought capable of flight. Her negligible clothing is black and ragged.

All Text and Imagery © Andy Paciorek
For more on these subjects and many many others see the book
Strange Lands: A Field Guide to the Celtic Otherworld

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Available to purchase from – http://www.blurb.co.uk/user/andypaciorek