Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Buttermundl, Krampussen, & "Black Peter":

Winter is here, and the time has come round in Southern Germany for the appearance of the Buttermundl, Krampussen, & "Black Peter". As children we were warned that any bad behavior preceding Christmas would result in Santa Claus leaving us lumps of coal and switches. The apparitions in these photos are image personifications of those unwelcome presents ~ infernal and hard, bad deeds come back to haunt us. A glance at the walking sheafs reminded me of the "harvest wolf" traditions detailed in Frazer's "Golden Bough" ~ the last sheaf of grain is called, in certain European traditions, variously the wolf or witch or supernatural what-have-you, and in one ritual way or another, becomes representative of the harvest god or goddess. On another tack, they seem (to me, unfettered by any need to prove my theory!) to be lingering aspects of the Germanic Mannerbund, (neolithic - bronze age ) youth gangs who roved the countryside demanding sacrificial tithes to Odin, the one-eyed wolf/father god of war, amongst other things. Today I have little time to do more than sketch the equation, which goes like this ~ St. Nicolas aka Odin/Woden + the Buttermundl/wolf-sheaf/Krampussen/horned devils, "unmarried men" demand treats or dispense tricks on uninitiated children = the Germanic Mannerbund in modern folkloric disguise.

It's a bit of coincidence between Black Peter and our Germanic descendent family's Pete Dutton, who apparently had a special hand with children, but many tales are hung on less. (Odinic pun, that ~ now bone up on your Proto-Indo-European myths so you get the gist!)

A little less than coincidence is the similarity between these costumes and certain others, in Morocco, Central Africa, and Japan (Noh) where harvest deities appear in rafia, or masked, with horns, & Pan-like paraphernalia (etymological note ~ "the goods above and beyond a dowry that the bride brings with her"... slaves?) Oh it's all so wonderfully suggestive and magical.

One last connect ~ Jean Ritchie, my singing mentor from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, told me about the "Grampus" that lived in or about the branch near her family home, a sort of water-associated boogie creature. "Be good or the Grampus will get you." etc. The word, Krampus/Grampus was in most ancient times a name for the black pilot whale, smallish as whales go ~ so maybe the start is a dark thing that comes up out of the deep dark.

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