Category Archives: Fear
Also Known As: Hans Von Trotha, Hans Trott
The legends of this terrifying Christmas bogeyman from France say that he is the spirit of a wicked man who comes back during Christmas time as a scarecrow, waiting in fields and by roads to terrify his victims into behaving.
The legend of Hans Trapp comes from the regions of Alsace and Lorraine in France. There are numerous variations to this story. The most retold one is that Hans Trap in life was a wealthy, yet cruel man. It is said that Hans gained his wealth by means of magic and pacts with demons as he worshiped Satan. Hans was heartless, vain, and greedy, reveling in his wickedness and sin.
When the Vatican got wind of Trapp’s cruelty and his involvement with the occult, he was arrested and brought before the Pope. For his sins of worshiping Satan and occultism, Trapp was excommunicated.
Upon his return to France, Trapp learned that his land and property had been seized and that he was left without any money. The villagers of his home province shunned Trapp and he was banished to the woods nearby across the border in Germany.
Enraged by what happened, Trapp threw himself even more into his occult studies and demonology. Revenge consumed his every waking thought for those who had exiled him. Trapp’s time alone in the forest drove him mad and he began to crave human flesh. He became so obsessed with this new craving that Trapp came up with the idea to dress as a scarecrow, stuffing his clothing with straw and ragged clothing before going to wait in a field for the first of his victims.
Soon enough, a young shepherd boy passed through the field and Hans Trapp leaped forward with a sharpened stick, killing them. Trapp dragged the body back to his house where he proceeded to butcher the child and eat them.
Just as Trapp was about to take his first bite of human flesh, a bolt of lightning struck him dead. The story says that this bolt of lightning came from God. As to Trapp, he fell lifeless, his head cracking on the table.
Since then, parents in the north-eastern region of France warn their children to be wary of Hans Trapp’s spirit that returns every Christmas, in the form of a scarecrow and hood who will snatch misbehaving children and them to the forest, never to be seen again.
Another variation to this is that Saint Nicholas chained Hans Trapp much like he did with Krampus to accompany him on his holiday rounds and if Hans Trapp is to have any redemption for his wicked ways, he follows and accompanies the Saint.
Every legend has a kernel of truth, no matter how small. Though in this case, we have plenty of historical records.
There was a real Hans Trapp, known in life as Hans von Trotha presumably born in 1450 (the date really isn’t known) and who died in 1503 C.E. Hans was an imposing figure standing at close to 2 meters tall. A knight and marshal of the prince-elector, Hans von Trotha held two castles, Berwarstein and Grafendahn near the Palatinate Forest; a territory that stretched between France and Germany. Of course, two castles seem a bit much for a knight and there was a dispute between Hans von Trotha and one Henry, Abbot of the Order of Benedictine Monks at Weissenburg Abbey over the possession of the Berwartstein castle. Henry was adamant that Berwarstein was rightfully the property of the Weissenburg Abbey, that it had wrongfully been awarded to Hans von Trotha. Henry wasn’t about to give up the claim.
In response to the abbot, Hans von Trotha ordered a dam to be constructed that stopped the flow of water to the village of Weissenburg near the disputed castle. Henry complained of this, and Hans von Trotha ordered the dam to be taken down, causing the village to be flooded and a lot of economical damage. After this, Hans von Trotha began attacking Henry. The Emperor Maximilian I of Germany heard and tried getting Hans von Trotha to cease. The abbot then reached out to Pope Innocent VIII who sent a summons to Hans von Trotha, questioning him about his loyalty to the Catholic church. Hans von Trotha refused the summons and instead, wrote a letter to the Pope, accusing them of being immoral. This earned Hans von Trotha both excommunication from the Catholic church and an Imperial Ban placed on him by the Emperor.
Despite this, Hans von Trotha received the title of Chevalier d’Or, the “Knight of Gold” from the French monarch King Louis XII and served his court. Two years later, Hans von Trotha would die from natural causes. All charges against Hans von Trotha were dropped posthumously shortly after.
Hans von Trotha became a local legend in the Palatinate region where stories told depict him as a robber baron, and his name would become Hans Trapp or Hans Trott. He would become a figure used to terrify young children, going from an infamous Black Knight to a restless wandering spirit.
In the “Legend of Jungfernsprung,” Hans Trapp’s name became associated as a fiend who seeks to rape a young woman out picking berries in a nearby forest.
Saint Nicholas’ Day
On Saint Nicholas’s Day, in the region of Alsace, Hans Trapp replaces the figure of Knecht Ruprecht as the Saint’s companion and scares children into behaving. As for Christmas, Hans Trapp will accompany the Christkindel on his journey.
Also Known As: Angel of Death, Death, The Reaper, The Grim Spectre of Death, der Tod (German), Kosač (Slavic), La Muerte (Latin), La Mort (Latin), La Calaca (in Mexico), Pietje de Dood (Dutch), Smrt (Slavic)
“Only two things are certain in life, death and taxes.”
- Benjamin Franklin
In the modern, Western mindset, the Grim Reaper is either a personification of Death, an angel, spirit, or psychopomp who comes to take the souls of the recently deceased to the afterlife.
Since the earliest times, there are numerous stories showing death being a part of life. Even modern literature and media will show that death happens and that the figure of the Grim Reaper is frequently one who’s there to guide people on to the next life.
One can rightfully argue that the concept and personification of the Grim Reaper have existed for a very long time. Even before their modern appearance, numerous cultures have some variation of a Death deity or psychopomp. Prominent deities are the Greek Thanatos, God of Death, and more recently from Brittany, France the Ankou who bears a striking resemblance to the modern Grim Reaper, it’s easy to see them as both the same entity doing the same job.
From European history, it’s easy to see a personification of Death taking on the skeletal visage they have during the fourteenth century when the Black Death plague is sweeping through, with so many people dying and bodies piling up. Artists would paint images of skeletons with weapons or scythes, riding on white horses through the streets with wagons full of bodies. From all of this would eventually come the dark figure dressed in black robes and carrying a scythe.
As for the name “Grim Reaper,” that wouldn’t come until 1847 when the name “Grim” was a popular name for Death that can be traced to the thirteenth century.
The Grim Reaper is often described as a skeleton dressed in black robes with a hood pulled up and carrying a scythe. In Europe, the Grim Reaper or Death may be dressed in white, a traditional color worn during funerals in some cultures.
During the Medieval Ages, the Grim Reaper was thought of as a decaying corpse before becoming the more familiar skeletal figure.
The Grim Reaper is a familiar figure who appears in numerous media and literature and can appear as either his familiar robed figure or as an ordinary person, male or female going about doing their job.
Scythe – It should go without saying, the scythe represents a harvester’s tool for bringing in the grain. So does the scythe representing harvesting a person’s soul or spirit when they did. Depending on the story, the Grim Reaper doesn’t have to use their scythe, just their mere presence and arrival is enough to signify that a person’s time has come.
Hourglass – Some depictions of the Grim Reaper have them with an hourglass representing the ticking off the sands of time and moment of death.
White Horse – When connected as a Horseman of the Apocalypse, the Grim Reaper or Death as they are then known is seen riding a white horse or possibly, riding in a chariot pulled by white horses.
Regardless of the description of the Grim Reaper that you go by or calling them Death, the Angel of Death, their job is that of a psychopomp, an entity that guides and takes the souls of the deceased to the afterlife.
While researching the Grim Reaper, I came across numerous articles that break down and go into all the myriad personifications of Death around the world, either as a deity, angel, or psychopomp. Including dozens of examples of the Grim Reaper in modern media where they are still a very active figure who is simply doing their job.
Or the “Dance of Death” is a medieval French allegory for how death unites everyone, regardless of age or social status in life. The Danse Macabre has been shown in various forms of the arts beginning as theatre plays and poems, wall paintings, and drawings. The majority of these come from the 15th century, an era of numerous famines, plagues, and wars. All things that people associated with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The imagery invoked is Death summoning the spirits of the dead to come and dance along their graves. The more commonly used figures would be the pope, a king, the young, old, and the laborer to remind the audience watching that death is an inevitable part of life and the Danse would highlight those too attached to worldly possessions.
The French believed the Grim Reaper would arise every year in the local cemetery at midnight, the Witching Hour. The Grim Reaper would then play a fiddle, summoning all the skeletons and ghosts of the dead to come dance until dawn, and the rising sun would force them back to their graves. This belief inspired Henri Casalis’ poem “Danse Macabre” which would be made into a musical piece by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns in 1874.
Kalan Goañv – A Breton festival occurring on October 31st and similar to Halloween and Samhain. Similar to the tradition in the Mexican Dio Los Muertos, the Bretons would feed the Ankou, a figure similar to the Grim Reaper with milk, cider, and crepes. The tombstones in cemeteries across Brittany have small cup-like holders where offerings for the dead can be left.
Looking at the Grim Reaper through the lens of Christianity, the Grim Reaper is the angel of death sent by God to do his bidding. This is the angel who is to have smote some 185,000 Assyrians in their camp. The same destroying angel who killed the firstborn of the Egyptians. Just about any time that an angel of death or destroying angels is mentioned, there’s a connection made to the Grim Reaper. With this connection, the Grim Reaper’s name is Azrael. The Talmud will connect him to Samael. In Eastern Orthodox beliefs, Death is one of the three enemies of humanity, with the other two being sin and the devil.
Getting into the Biblical Book of Revelation, particularly in chapter six, there are four horsemen who appear, each signaling another sign of the end of the world and Judgement Day. The four horsemen are said to be Pestilence, Famine, War, and Death. It is the figure of Death, the only one outright named, riding a pale horse that has many connecting the imagery of the Grim Reaper. Many modern depictions of the horseman Death will show him being dressed and looking like the Grim Reaper too.
In the Major Arcana of the tarot cards, death is one of the cards that can turn up. Depending on the specific deck in use, the death card may depict the familiar robed figure of the Grim Reaper.
The modern imagery of the Grim Reaper and how he or she appears varies wildly depending on the media in which the figure appears. From the traditional skeletal figure dressed in robes with a scythe to a very ordinary-looking human woman or man just doing their job. But they almost always appear in some capacity to release the soul of the recently deceased and guide them to the afterlife. For some characters, they’re ready to go, for others they are scared and don’t want to go and try to find a way to cheat death, claiming a false death, one more chance, unfinished business before some stories have the character realize they can’t beat the inevitable and that it’s time.
Playing Games With Death – This has been a popular motif used and spoofed in many media and literature. The Swedish director Ingmar Bergman first brought this concept in his 1957 movie “The Seventh Seal” where a medieval knight plays a game of chess against Death. Since then, many movies and shows have spoofed or made use of this idea later. One of my personal favorites is in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.
“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” – This is a song from 1976 by Blue Oyster Cult found on their album Agents of Fortune. The lyrics to the song encourage listeners to not fear death, but rather instead to see it as symbolizing eternal love. Author Stephen King found inspiration from it for his novel The Stand and the song features in the opening of the 1994 miniseries adaptation and again in the end of the fifth episode for the 2020-2021 miniseries adaptation. Plus, if you want a song with more cowbell, this is for you.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – In the 1988 movie, Baron Munchausen is constantly being pursued by Death, shown as a skeletal angel with raven wings and wielding a scythe and hourglass. At the end of the film, Death takes Munchausen’s soul with Munchausen is given a lavish funeral where Munchausen then boldly states that this was “one of the many times I faced Death” before the movie finally comes to an end.
The Sandman – This graphic novel series and recent Netflix adaptation show Death as an immortal and one of Morpheus’ siblings. In the comics, she is shown as a Goth Girl and in the live-action, she is dressed casually. The episode featuring Death shows her appearing to a person at the time of their death and guiding them on.
I could keep going on with all the various appearances of Death or the Grim Reaper. Suffice to say they are still a rather active figure and one who is truly timeless whose motifs will always fascinate people and seek to explore.
Father Time’s Age-Old Companion
It’s notable how the imagery for both Father Time and the Grim Reaper are very similar in appearance. Both wear a robe, and both carry a scythe. One just happens to be an old man while the other is a skeleton. Despite how similar the two look in certain details, they are not the same being.
Syno-Deities & Entities
As a psychopomp and representation of Death, the Grim Reaper has numerous counterparts around the world. Many of the more European-based figures will certainly share similarities in their depictions while other cultures are likely to have different appearances. They do share in common, either being the guide to the afterlife or the one that greets spirits on arrival.
Ah Puch – The Mayan god or lord of death.
Ankou – Essentially, the Grim Reaper and Ankou are largely the same entity, both wear black robes and carry a scythe. The Grim Reaper is very much the modern Ankou, appearing in several various media and literature.
Arawn – The Celtic god of the Dead, the Ankou is sometimes equated with him.
Azrael – The Angel of Death in Jewish traditions. More accurately, they are the Angel of Light and Darkness from the Talmud.
Azrail – The Angel of Death in Islamic beliefs. He, along with many angels under him will guide and take souls to the afterlife.
Bag an Noz – The Boat of Night, those who live along the seashore in Brittany tell of how the last person to drown in the year, will roam the seas at night to collect the souls of the drowned and guide them to the Afterlife, just as the Ankou does on land. It is a ghost ship that appears whenever something bad is about to happen and disappears when people come too close. The crew of this boat is said to call out soul-wrenching sounds.
Charon – The Greek ferryman of the dead has also been equated with the Grim Reaper due to similar garb and taking souls to the Afterlife.
Church Grim – Or the Grim, in English and Scandinavian lore it is a black dog that has been killed and buried in the graveyard at either the beginning or end of the year in order to protect the church and graveyard. Other animals such as lambs, boars or horses.
Crom Dubh – This one is a bit of a stretch. Crom Dubh was an ancient Celtic fertility god who demanded human sacrifices every year, of which, the preferred method was decapitation. Eventually the god fell out of favor and somehow this god becomes a spirit seekings corpses and eventually becoming the Dullahan.
Death Coach – A general Northern European, especially in Ireland where it is called the Cóiste Bodhar. The Death Coach is known for arriving to collect the soul of a deceased person. Once it arrives on earth to collect a soul, it will not leave empty. It is a black coach or carriage that is driven or led by a headless horseman who is often identified with the Dullahan.
The Dullahan – also known as Dulachán means “dark man” or “without a head.” This being is a headless fairy often seen dressed in black and riding a black headless horse while carrying his head under an arm or inner thigh. The Dullahan is armed with a whip made from a human spine. Death occurs wherever the Dullahan ceases riding and when it calls out a name, the person called dies. Death can also come if the Dullahan tosses a bucket of blood at a person who has been watching it.
In other versions, the Dullahan rides a black carriage. Sometimes they are accompanied by a banshee. Nothing can stop the Dullahan from claiming a victim save the payment of gold.
Giltinė – The Lithuanian personification of Death. She was depicted as an ugly, old woman with a long blue nose and poisonous tongue.
Gwyn ap Nudd – The Welsh god of the Dead, in some later folklore, he leads the Wild Hunt, especially on Halloween to guide and take wayward souls to the afterlife in Arawn.
Hel – In Norse mythology from Scandinavia, she is the goddess of the Dead and rules over a realm with the same name.
Hermes – This is the Greek god sometimes known to guide souls down to the Underworld where Charon, the Ferryman would receive them for the next part of the journey to Hades.
La Calavera Catrina – A popular figure to see in Mexican culture and during Dia De Los Muertos.
Jeoseungsaja – Or Saja is the Korean version of the Grimm Reaper who escorts souls to the afterlife.
Magere Hein – Also known as Pietje de Dood, this is the personification of Death in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Maweth – In Hebraic scriptures, Death or Maweth is the personification of either the angel of death or a devil.
Memitim – A name for a class of angels in biblical lore that presides over those dying whom a Guardian Angel was no longer protecting.
Mercury – The Roman version of the Grecian Hermes, he too is a psychopomp that guides souls to Avernus, a crater in Italy thought to be the entrance to the underworld.
Mictecacihuatl – The Aztec goddess of death
Mictlantecutli – The Aztec god of death
Morana – The Slavic goddess of winter, death, and rebirth.
Mot – The Canaanite personification and god of Death.
Omolu – The Brazilian spirits known to bring death, disease, and even healing.
Pesta – Meaning the “plague hag,” in Scandinavia, during the Black Plague, she was depicted as an old woman wearing a black hood. Pesta would come into town carrying either a rake or broom. If she brought the rake, it meant some people would survive the plague. If she brought the broom, it meant that everyone would die.
Samael – This the name for another angel in Jewish tradition who does the Lord’s bidding as his executioner.
San La Muerte – A similar figure found in South America, mainly Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.
Santa Muerte – The female version of the Grim Reaper. Her imagery is very similar in appearance to the Ankou and Grim Reaper wearing robes and wielding a scythe. Santa Muerte is worshiped primarily among many Hispanics & Latinos, especially in places like Mexico.
San Pascualito – A folk saint of Death found in Guatemala and Mexico.
Śmierć – This figure of Death is female and comes from Poland where instead of dressing in black like the Grim Reaper, they dress in white.
Shinigami – These are the Japanese gods of Death.
Thanatos – The Greek god of Death.
Valkyries – The “choosers of the slain” and warrior maidens in Norse mythology, they would escort the souls of the dead with half going to Odin’s realm in Valhalla and the other half going to Freya’s Hall of Folkvangr.
Yama – The Hindu god of death, as well as the judge of souls in the afterlife.
Yanluo – From Chinese mythology, Yanluo is the god of the dead and ruler of Di Yu.
And if I have done nothing else, let death be greeted as an old friend instead of something to be feared…
Etymology: Faceless Monk, From the Japanese word “nopperi” meaning “featureless”
Japanese Kanji & Kana: 野箆坊, のっぺらぼう
Other Spellings: Nopperabo, Noppera-Bo
Also Called: Faceless Ghost, No-Face, Mujina, Nupperiho, and Zunberabo
In Japanese folklore and mythology, the Noppera-bō is a faceless ghost or yokai of which there are several different tales and stories surrounding them.
The Noppera-bō is a ghost or yurei in Japanese who at first glance appears to be human. They will sometimes appear to be someone the person knows. It’s not until a person gets closer or during interactions with them, that the Noppera-bō reveals, having no face and is just blank, featureless smooth skin where a face should be.
This is usually the goal and tactic of a Noppera-bō, scare the ever-living daylights out of a person for a good jump scare and send them running in fear. For added effect, some Noppera-Bō work in teams of at least two where the first scares their victim, and that person runs off to tell someone else what happened, only for that person to reveal a featureless face too. Otherwise, this spirit is rather harmless and really more prone to mischief.
A couple sources have said that the noppera-bō isn’t a ghost at all, but a Yokai; a broad category of supernatural entities and spirits in Japanese folklore. Narrowing it down from there, noppera-bō belongs to a category known as obake or “changed creature” referring to those yokai that are shapeshifters. Since other shape-shifting yokai could be mistaken for a noppera-bō, it’s sometimes not always clear which entity is being seen.
There are several stories of noppera-bō, a story of a young woman rescued from bandits by a samurai who finds that her face disappears, stories of nobles going to a tryst only to find that the courtesan in question they’re to meet turns out to be a noppera-bō.
There are two main stories involving noppera-bō.
The Noppera-bō & The Koi Pond
This story involves a lazy fisherman who decided to go fishing at the imperial koi ponds near Heian-Kyo Palace. The man’s wife warned him not to go as the pond is sacred and near a graveyard. Despite this, the fisherman ignores his wife and heads off anyways.
While on his way to the pond, the man is warned by another fisherman not to go to there. Again, the man ignores his fellow. Then, at the koi pond, a beautiful young woman pleads with the man not to fish. Once again, the man ignores them.
This time, the young woman wipes her face off, frightening the fisherman. Fleeing home in terror, he sees who at first looks like his wife. As the wife is scolding the man, she too wipes her face off.
When Is A Ghost Not A Ghost?
When it’s a mujina.
The word mujina is an old Japanese term for a badger or raccoon dog also known as a tanuki. As shapeshifters, the mujina were known to transform into noppera-bō in order to scare humans. Sometimes kitsune and tanuki are known to impersonate noppera-bō as well.
The Mujina of the Akasaka Road
This is the second of two well-known stories concerning the noppera-bō. This story is found in Lafcadio Hearn’s book “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things.”
A man was once traveling along the Akasaka road towards Edo when he came upon a young woman in a remote area near Kunizaka hill crying. The man attempted to comfort and console the young woman when she turned to face him, revealing a blank, featureless face. Frightened, the man took off down the road until he came to a soba vendor. Thinking he was safe; the man began to relate what had happened to him. The vendor then stroked his face as it changed to the featureless of a noppera-bō.
A similar retelling of this story is seen in the Studio Ghibli movie Pom Poko.
Modern Ghost Stories
Most stories of noppera-bō lean more historical and there aren’t very many reported sightings in the 20th or 21st centuries.
There is a story from 1959 in Honolulu there is a report of a sighting of mujina at the Waialae Drive-In Theatre in Kahala where a witness says they saw a woman combing her hair in the restroom. When the woman turned, she revealed a featureless face. The witness was also reported as having been admitted to the hospital for a nervous breakdown.
The Hawaiian historian, folklorist, and author Glen Grant tried to dismiss the story in 1981 during a radio interview only to have the witness call herself, giving more details about the story such as the mujina having red hair. The drive-in in question has long since been torn down. Noppera-bō or mujina sightings do continue in Hawaii where a number of Japanese have immigrated to.
Etymology: Due to the homophone or same sounding words, it is a portmanteau of German belzen/pelzen (to wallop or beat) or possibly bels/pels (fur) and nickel for Saint Nicholas. Alternatively, “bels or pels” meaning fur
Also called: Bell Sniggle, Bellzebub, Belschnickel, Belzeniggl, Belznickel, Black Pit, Buzebergt, Christmas Woman, Drapp, Gumphinkel, Hans Muff, Hanstrapp, Knecht Ruprecht, Kriskinkle, Pelzebock, Pelsnichol, Pelznickel, Pelznikel, Rumpelklas, Schmutzli, Stoppklos, Xmas Woman
The character of Belsnickel is another character from German and Pennsylvania Dutch cultures who appears during the wintertime, Christmas, and Yule traditions. Belsnickel is even known to make appearances in some communities of Santa Catarina, Brazil.
In more recent times, Belsnickel is more friendly, much like the Zwarte Piet tradition of the Netherlands, and not as scary as the seemingly darker figure of Krampus. Though Belsnickel will still come to punish misbehaving children while rewarding those who are well-behaved.
It can vary slightly what Belsnickel looks like. One source says they wear a black mask and carries a large black sack and then announces their arrival by knocking on windows or doors before bedtime on Christmas night. The family is expected of course to let Belsnickel in so he can hand out toys and gifts to good children and hickory switches to the misbehaving ones accordingly.
Other descriptions of Belsnickel say he’s filthy and dressed up in rags or furs. Clothing is often tattered or in some cases, a woman’s garb. Additional features will include a blackface, intended to be soot to show he’s dirty or he’s wearing a mask, bell, whip, and his pockets full of candy or nuts to pass out to good children. Sometimes Belsnickel will be more animal-like with horns and have a long tongue much like various images of Krampus. Another version of Belsnickel says they are a slender figure dressed in white who slips through keyholes in order to leave their gifts.
Bringing The Holiday Spirit!
The character of Belsnickel hails from the Palatine region of Germany along the Rhine, Saarland, and Odenwald area where he is sometimes a companion of Saint Nicholas. Alternatively, Belsnickel may arrive on his own, independent of Saint Nicholas.
When the American colonies were first established by the Puritans in the 1700s, they had banned the celebrations of Christmas as they felt them to be too pagan, taking away from the focus of honoring and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Plus, celebrations at this time involved a lot of riotous, drunkenness, and public displays of disorder. Christmas as it would be known today didn’t exist.
One step on the way to helping with that is the arrival of German and Swiss immigrants, bringing with them their traditions and celebrations. Settling in the Pennsylvania area, the image of Belsnickel helped to bring many of the Christmas traditions with family and friends gathering, singing, eating, and exchanging gifts. The Puritan colonies to the north didn’t pay much attention to what was happening south of them.
Today, many of these celebrations still continue in the Pennsylvania Dutch communities with some of these traditions extending as far west as Indiana.
This one can vary. In some places, Belsnickel will arrive a couple weeks before Christmas or he arrives on Christmas Eve to pass out his goodies or punishments. Often, an older, male member of the family, either father or uncle will come dressed up as Belsnickel. The first hints of Belsnickel’s arrival are heard by his tapping on the windows and then knocking at the door. Any frightened children who run away are gathered up by the parents and lined up so they can be questioned by Belsnickel if they’ve been good, to recite poems, a bible passage, or doing a simple math equation.
After that, Belsnickel would spread or toss out various treats on the floor for the children to get. Any child too eager and excited or greedy would be hit by Belsnickel’s switch to remind them to be good.
Belsnickel doesn’t accompany Saint Nicholas, he will appear either the night before Saint Nicholas’ Day or Christmas Eve or sometime in the one to two weeks before Christmas to hand out his gifts and treats or dish out punishments.
Other companions of Saint Nicholas such as Zwart Piete and Knecht Ruprecht are known to accompany Saint Nicholas.
Knecht Ruprecht – Belsnickel has also been identified as just another name for this gift-giving companion of Saint Nicholas in Germany. Knecht Ruprecht is known for wearing brown robes with a pointed hood and walking with a limp from a childhood injury.
Crime & Punishment
Receiving punishment from Belsnickel is comparably far tamer than one from Krampus. Belsnickel is known for handing out switches to naughty children as a reminder to be good.
Ominous Threat – There are versions of Belsnickel’s myth that say he will drag unruly children off into the forest for their behavior. Exactly what he does, is never specified.
Also called Klausentreiben , this activity is similar to mummery, in the 19th century, people would go out, and get drunk as they vandalized the city and played pranks. This will occur on the eve of Saint Nicholas’ Day, much like Krampusnacht where there is a parade or procession ringing bells.
On the South Shore of Nova Scotia, Canada, people will dress in multiple layers of clothing with scarves covering their faces when they go out Belsnickling. They would be given food and drink until people could guess who it was before the revelers moved onto the next house.
Etymology: “Bright One”, peraht (Old High German meaning “brilliant”). “Hidden” or “Covered,” pergan (Old High German)
Also Called: Behrta, Berchta, Berigl, Bertha (English), Bechtrababa, Berchtlmuada, Berchte, Butzen-Bercht, Frau Berchta, Frau Faste (the Lady of Ember Days), Frau Perchta, Fronfastenweiber, Kvaternica (Slovene), Lutzl, Pehta, Perchta, Perahta, Perhta-Baba, Posterli, Pudelfrau, Quatemberca, Rauweib. Sampa, Stampa, Spinnstubenfrau (“Spinning Room Lady”), Zamperin, Zampermuatta, Zlobna Pehta, The Lady of the Beasts, The Belly Slitter
Perchta has her beginnings and roots as an Alpine goddess worshiped in the Germanic countries where she protected the forests and animals. Later, as Christian influences increased, Perchta would take on a more sinister appearance and role, especially during the dark winter months where she would become a boogeyman type figure used to scare children into good behavior.
This is one of those confusing ones. Is Perchta a goddess, a witch, demon, or something else?
To answer that, we start at the beginning.
Animal: Goose, Swan
Day of the Week: Friday
Sphere of Influence: Nature, Forests, Wildlife, Spinning, Weaving
Symbols: Staff, Knife,
What’s In A Name?
The meaning for Perchta’s name is fairly easy to find, it comes the Old High Germanic words “beraht” and “bereht” meaning bright, light, flame and white. The word percht was meant as a warning for the sin of vanity. Another potential word in Old High German is the verb pergan, meaning “Hidden” or Covered” as the origin for Perchta’s name.
Given the many different eras and regions of Germany, Perchta is known by several different names. In southern Austria, there is a male form of Perchta known as Quantembermann (German), or Kvaternik (Slovene), meaning “The man of the Four Ember Days.” Jacob Grimm holds the idea that Perchta’s male counterpart is Berchtold.
Perchta is notable for a dual nature where she will have one of two forms that people see her in. During the Spring and Summer months, Perchta takes on the form of a lovely, young maiden dressed in white, or during the colder, autumn and winter months, she is seen as an ugly old hag with a hooked nose and tattered, worn clothing as she carries either a knife or scissors to slit open people’s bellies. Some perchten masks showing the ugly crone aspect give Perchta an iron face and beak-like nose.
Jacob Grimm of the Grimm Brothers fame tries to say that Perchta is an ancient goddess. In some stories, Perchta will be described as having a goose or swan foot; this imagery connects her to having a higher nature and the ability to shape-shift. This same goose foot could also be the splay foot that a spinner develops with one foot pumping the pedal of a spinning wheel.
Swan Maiden – It has been noted that in several languages, that Perchta or Bertha is also referred to by her peculiar foot. Berhte mit dem fuoze in German, Bertha au grand pied in French and Berhta cum magno pede in Latin. The idea given by Jacob Grimm is that foot means that Perchta is a Swan Maiden.
Woodcut – There is a notable woodcut from 1750 that depicts Perchta as “Butzen-Bercht.” The word Butzen is noted to mean “bogeyman.” The woodcut shows Perchta as a crone with a wart on her nose as she carries a basket filled with screaming children, all of them girls. Perchta also holds a staff as she stands before a door to a house where there are more frightened young girls.
The earliest depictions and mentions of Perchta, date her to during the Middle Ages, first in around 1200 and then later in the 1400’s when mention of Perchta becomes more prominent. Perchta served as an enforcer of communal taboos. One such taboo is weaving on sacred days or not joining in the feasts enthusiastically enough. Many of Perchta’s punishments stem out of punishing those who are lazy and haven’t done the proper work.
As to Perchta’s retinue that accompanies her, the first reference to them is in 1468, however, these are the souls of the dead. With the passage of time, this retinue would become demons, and then by the coming of the 15th century, they would become the familiar horned figures of the perchten and the first mentions of costumed processions and parades would appear.
In Hans Vintler’s Die Pluemen der Tugent (“The Flowers of Virtue”) written in 1411, we have the first illustration of Perchta and more accurately someone in a mask posing as “Percht with the iron nose.”
Counter-Reformations & Witchtrials – It has been noted that the era of history that Perchta first emerges also overlaps and coincides with the Reformations and Religious wars between Catholics and Protestants over how Christianity should be observed and practiced along with trying to stamp out other non-Christian religions and practices through Europe.
Among Wiccans and Pagans, the period between 1450 and 1700’s is called The Burning Times when thousands of men and women, upwards of around 100,000 were executed and burned at the stake for the crime of witchcraft. Germany had the worst of it with historians reporting that entire villages could see their population of women gone. There’s some sense to Perchta appearing as a dark figure who carried off girls who didn’t behave and the changes to her appearance during this era.
In the southern parts of Germany and Austria, the name Frau Perchta is attributed to a witch who comes during the twelve days of Christmas, spanning from December 25th to January 6th for Epiphany. If a person is naughty or sinful, Frau Perchta is fierce and terrible with the punishment she will hand out. We are talking she will rip out a person’s intestines and other internal organs to replace with straw, rocks, and other garbage. In this terrible, punishing aspect, this image of Perchta looks very similar to that of Krampus, and figures dressed as her, called perchten are known to also appear in the annual Krampus parades held in several Alpine towns.
Before her darker imagery took hold, Perchta was held in a more benevolent light. Many of her positive attributes would be twisted under Christian influence causing many people to associate Perchta as a dark, Wintertime, Christmas entity to be feared. The influence of Christianity also creates a seeming, conflicting goddess with a dual identity.
Given when the change to her darker appearance happens, Winter when the nights are longer, when it is cold, and nature becomes that much more precarious if people haven’t properly prepared for the cold months. When evil spirits are thought to roam.
Protector Of Women & Children
In this role, Perchta is a goddess who protects women, children, and infants. For those children and infants who died, Perchta is a psychopomp who guided their souls to the Afterlife.
Goddess Of Nature
In this role, Perchta was mainly concerned with tending to her forests and taking care of nature. As a nature goddess or spirit, Perchta was known as “The Lady of the Beasts.” In this aspect, Perchta holds some similarities with Holda and Germany’s ancient hunting cultures.
It was only during wintertime and Christmas, the Winter Solstice that Perchta would concern herself with the affairs of humans. During Winter, Perchta will withdraw up into the mountains where she will create snow. In addition, Perchta will protect her followers by removing evil spirits as they travel.
In this role and aspect, Perchta not only governs the mundane arts of weaving and spinning, but she also presides over fate, much like the Moirai or Fates of Greek mythology.
During the Summer months, Perchta is believed to live in the depths of various lakes, during which time she busies herself with spinning flax upon her golden spindle. During the night, Perchta can be encountered walking along the steep slopes of the alps carrying her spindle. Those who approach Perchta with their flocks can get her to bless them.
The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt is a phenomenon found in many different European countries and cultures. It is a nightmarish, supernatural force led by some dark spectral hunter on horseback and accompanied by a host of other riders and hounds as they chase down unlucky mortals, either until they drop dead of exhaustion, are caught, and forced to join the Wild Hunt or they can evade the Hunt until dawn.
Just exactly who it is that leads the Hunt does vary country by country in Europe. The Wild Hunt is known for making its ride during the Winter Solstice or New Year’s Eve. Jacob Grimm of Grimms Brothers fame makes a connection of Herne to the Wild Hunt due to the epitaph of “the Hunter.” That does seem to work, a Huntsman, connect him to the Wild Hunt and for Britain, the idea really jells of a local person who becomes a lost soul, doomed to forever ride with the Hunt.
According to Jacob Grimm, Perchta is one potential leader of the Wild Hunt. Given that during Midwinter, Perchta is known to wander around the countryside at this time with her entourage of perchten, it’s no surprise to see Perchta be suggested as a leader of the Wild Hunt.
Ultimately, just who leads the Wild Hunt will vary from country to country. In Welsh mythology, it is Gwyn ap Nudd or Annwn who lead the hunt with a pack of spectral hounds to collect unlucky souls. The Anglo-Saxons of Britain hold that it is Woden who leads the hunt at midwinter. Herne the Hunter has been given as the name for another leader of the Wild Hunt. Wotan is very similar to Odin (just another name for the same deity really), Herne has been linked to them as both have been hung from a tree.
The arrival of Christianity is about when we see Perchta become a minor deity and then diminished to be some sort of magical creature or spirit. As more time passed, Perchta would then become an evil witch or sorceress. Later, Christian clergy would equate Perchta in official documents as being synonymous with other female spirits and goddesses such as Abundia, Diana, Herodias, Holda, and Richella.
Thesaurus Pauperum – This text and collection of recipes and natural cures was written by prominent Catholic officials for use by the poor. This text mentioned a Cult of Perchta who would leave out food and drink for Perchta on Epiphany for wealth and abundance. This same document would be used to Perchta’s cult in Bavaria in 1468. In 1439, Thomas Ebendorfer von Haselbach in De decem praeceptis also condemned this practice.
Frau Perchta – Christmas Witch & Bogeyman
During wintertime, especially during the month of December and Yule, as Frau Perchta, she becomes a fierce some looking hag or witch with two faces. Those children who are good and have behaved, have nothing to fear from Frau Perchta. However, for those who are deemed bad and have misbehaved, Frau Perchta is known for slitting open the stomachs of people and pulling out all of their organs to replace them with straw, stones, and garbage.
These wild spirits are known to be active between the Winter Solstice and up to around January 6th, for the Twelfth Night. The percht are an offshoot of the older goddess, Perchta from the Alpine regions where she guarded the beasts of the forest. The percht would be depicted as humanoid goats with elongated necks and wearing animal furs. These same percht are believed to become the basis for Krampus. It is in the late 20th century that both Perchten and Krampus appear together in the same processions so that the two have become indistinguishable from one another. The wooden masks worn for these processions are called perchten.
Originally, the term perchten, (the plural for Perchta), referred to the female masks that represent the entourage of spirits accompanying Frau Perchta or Pehta Baba in Slovenia. The perchten are associated with midwinter where they personify fate and the souls of the dead. There are several regional names and variations for the perchten. Their names include: Bechtrababa, Berchta, Berchtlmuada, Berigl, Pehta, Lutzl, Perhta-Baba, Pudelfrau, Rauweib, Sampa, Stampa, Zamperin, Zampermuatta, and Zlobna Pehta.
Other Perchten names are:
Glöcklerlaufen – “bell-running” from the Salzkammergut region.
Schiachperchten – Or “ugly Perchten,” they come from the Pongau region of Austria. They have fangs, tusks and horse or otherwise ugly features. These perchten, despite their appearance, come to drive off evil spirits and demons as they go from house to house.
Schnabelpercht – Or “trunked Percht” from the Unterinntal region.
Schönperchten – Or “beautiful Perchten,” they come from the Pongau region of Austria. These perchten come during the Twelve Nights and festivals to bestow luck and wealth to the people.
Tresterer – From Pinzgau region of Austria.
Sometimes the spirits that accompany Perchta will be those of children, particularly unbaptized children in Christian beliefs. Food offerings left out for Perchta and her retinue are said to be consumed by these Heimchen.
For many women, before the arrival of modern medicine, there was a high infant and child mortality rate. Having a benevolent goddess who would come and take care of their children was likely very comforting for many women, to think of their child in a better place or in better hands.
This period is also known as the Twelve Days of Christmas. These nights are also known as Magic Nights when Perchta leading the Wild Hunt are known to ride.
This is a seasonal play that is found throughout the Alpine regions during the last week of December and through the first week of January up to January 6th for Twelfth Night or Epiphany. It was known as Nikolausspiel or “Nicholas’ Play” at one time. These plays stem from the Medieval Morality Plays from Antiquity. The Nicholas plays feature Saint Nicholas rewarding children for their scholarly efforts instead of good behavior. People dress as perchten with masks made of wood with brown or white sheep’s wool.
For a while, the Roman Catholic Church tried to prohibit the practice of Perchtenlauf during the 17th and 18th centuries. Despite its best efforts, the parade and processions continued either in secret or as a result have made a resurgence in later centuries.
The great Krampus run is an annual parade held every year in many Alpine towns. For the first two weeks, especially on the eve of December 6th, young people will dress in Krampus costumes and parade through the town, ringing bells and scaring parade watchers. Some participants may dress up as perchten, a wild female spirit from Germanic folklore. Alcoholic beverages of Krampus schnapps and brandy are common during this celebration.
Also known as Little Christmas in Italy, Old Christmas in Ireland or Epiphany, this holiday is held on January 6th. The feast held on this day is called Berchtentag. In Salzburg, Austria, Perchta is believed to wander the halls of Hohensalzburg Castle during the night.
In Germany, this is when Perchta will go about collecting her offerings, where she will reward her followers, often with a silver coin or other small gifts, and punish those who haven’t observed certain practices and traditions. This is where Perchta, as Frau Perchta appears in her fearsome guise mentioned earlier to slit open the bellies of wrongdoers and those deemed naughty, only to stuff them full of straw, rocks, and garbage. Perchta would also be interested in making sure that women had spun the wool needed for the year.
In observance of this holiday, there would be a feast held with a ceremonial dance. Several people would dress up, pretending to be evil spirits that someone dressed as Perchta would then chase away, “slaying” the evil spirits in a pageant to invoke a ritual to protect the people of the village.
A special porridge consisting of gruel or dumplings and fish called Perchtenmilch would be eaten during this time. While the family ate, an additional bowl would be left out for Perchta and her entourage. If this traditional meal is forgotten, it is one of the taboos that angers Perchta so that she will cut open people’s stomachs and stuff them with straw.
Note: My earlier section for Frau Perchta gives the time for this celebration closer to Yule in December. Given multiple sources, this change of observances could easily be people conforming old traditions to those of the newer, incoming Christian religion and observance of Christmas along with a change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.
Also known as: Bechtelistag, Bächtelistag, Berchtelistag, Bärzelistag, Bechtelstag, Bechtle. It is a celebration typically observed on January 2nd in Liechtenstein and Switzerland and has been happening since at least the 14th century. There are various theories about the origin of this holiday. There is a Blessed Bertchtold of the Engelberg abbey who died on November 2nd of 1197. Another theory holds that it commemorates the first animal killed during Duke Berchtold V of Zähringen’s hunt and the naming of his new city.
Like the English practice of mummery, another idea is that this holiday comes from the word: berchten” meaning to “walk around, begging for food.” Obviously, there is also Perchta given the similarity of the names and that when the celebrations of Epiphany were abolished by the various Protestant regions, those refusing to give up the Twelfth Night traditions, simply moved them to the day after New Year’s to gain another day off. There is a “nut feast” where children build hocks of four nuts with a fifth nut balanced on top. Masked parades are held, along with folk dances and families going out to the pubs to eat.
Translating to mean “Fast Night” or “Almost Night,” this is a celebration that is held on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and Lent. It is a night where people eat the best foods possible, and yes, the preferred food is doughnuts. A procession of perchten is known for showing up in some modern celebrations.
This is a dominion of Heathenry inspired by the Pennsylvania Dutch culture. In it, Perchta or rather, Berchta is a major goddess instead of a minor. The eleventh day (Elfder Daag) and twelfth night (Zwelfdi Nacht) are notable days for the Yuletide celebrations that fall on December 31st. In Urglaawe tradition, this feast day is known as Berchtaslaaf.
In this tradition, Berchta is held as either another name for the goddess Holle or is her sister. In this respect, Berchta becomes a goddess of order, notably for one’s own actions, thoughts, and behaviors. Owls are held sacred to her and are her messengers. In the Deitsch lunar zodiac, the Eil or Owl symbol occurs near Yuletide. Like many various cultures, the owl tends to be a symbol and warning of death and danger.
Syno-Deities & Figures
Freyja – Norse
Sometimes a connection of Perchta to this Norse goddess is made, however it’s noted to be rather dubious at best as Freyja and Frigg are often confused together as being the same goddess.
Frigg – Norse
The wife of Odin, placing he as the mother of the Gods, she is associated with marriage, prophesy, clairvoyance, and motherhood along with spinning. Frigg is more likely to be whom Perchta is associated with or stems from.
Holda – Germanic
The goddess Holda has been equated as the southern cousin or a syno-deity to Perchta as they both hold the same function as a guardian of the animals and come during the Twelve Days of Christmas to inspect the spinning.
La Befana – Italy
The Italian Christmas Witch is sometimes compared with Perchta during Winter celebrations. This is more the contrast of where La Befana is portrayed as an ugly, yet good witch and Perchta is in her more monstrous appearance.
Saint Lucy – Germany
A local Saint whose feast day fell near the Winter Solstice. She is primarily known and revered in Bavaria and German Bohemia. Saint Lucy is often equated with Perchta.
A type of fairy or enchanted being, these white women are a variety of light elves. Jacob Grimm saw connection between the goddesses Holda and Perchta in their white forms with these beings.
Etymology: From Icelandic leppur (“rags”) and lúði (“oaf”)
In Icelandic folklore, Leppalúði is currently the third husband of the fearsome ogress or trolless, Grýla. Both Leppalúði and Grýla are known for being cannibals, eating children. Leppalúði is often mentioned in conjunction with his wife, Grýla as a means by parents to frighten their children into good behavior.
This is reportedly the home of the fierce some Grýla, Leppalúði, and the Yule Lads. It is a labyrinth field of lava in North Iceland.
Grýla – A cannibal ogress or troll, Grýla is the fierce, infamous wife of Leppalúði
Some stories hold that Leppalúði and Grýla have had many children together, one count says that there are as many as twenty children.
Jólasveinarnir – The Yule Lads, in the 17th century, when Grýla became associated with Christmas, she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. There are 13 Yule Lads who started off causing all sorts of mischief and trouble. Over time and influenced by the American Santa Claus tradition, the Yule Lads became associated with gift-giving and will leave either a gift of sweets or a rotten potato in a shoe left on the window sill depending on a child’s behavior.
Jólakötturinn – The Yule Cat, is more Grýla’s monstrous giant pet black cat. The Yule Cat will prey upon children and adults alike who have not received the gift of a new article of clothing. The Yule Cat will swell to a monstrous size before tearing apart its victim. So make sure your Nana or favorite Aunt has sent you a new article of clothing for Christmas. Even if it’s a pink bunny outfit, it will keep the Yule Cat from eating you!
Twins – The last children Grýla had with Leppalúði, when she was 50 years old, were twins. The twins died very young and still young enough to need a crib.
Most of Leppalúði’s fierce reputation comes from his association and marriage to Grýla and the Jólasveinarnir who go out hunting misbehaving children to eat. If it wasn’t for them, Leppalúði is likely to have died of starvation long ago due to his laziness and that he frequently stays home.
Also Called: Black-Eyed Kids
Warning – It is said that Black-Eyed Children only approach those that already know about them. If you don’t want to risk that one of these entities approaches you, don’t read further.
That said, stories surrounding Black-Eyed children is an interesting American Urban Legend that begins in 1996. Most of the stories and encounters seem to fit in the same vein as ghost stories that get passed on with no real hard evidence or proof. After all, any adult can have an unsettling encounter with a child and then later claim it as a black-eyed child.
For the most part, Black-Eyed children are going to look like ordinary human children typically between the ages of 6 and 16. What sets them apart from regular children is that Black-eyed children have pale skin and black eyes, as in the whole eye is black. We are talking about the white of the eyes, known as the sclera, not just the pupils are black. In some stories, people say these “children” have talon-like feet.
These “children” are often encountered trying to hitchhike, beg or approach the doorsteps of a home where an adult is at. For some encounters, the children appear to stand very still, they’re dressed in outdated clothing or they’re very persistent in the need to come into the house or to get a ride home.
Those who report having seen these “children,” claim feelings of dread.
The Urban Legend
1996 is when we get the first tabloid coverage of Black-Eyed children. These tabloid stories would claim that sightings of these unsettling children date back to the 1980’s with some stories claiming as far back as the 1950’s.
The first such stories were written by Brian Bethel, a Texas reporter on a “ghost-related mailing list.” Bethel tells of encountering two black-eyed children in Abilene, Texas 1996. He had been out late one night and had stopped in a parking lot near a movie theater. As he was busy in his car writing a check, that is when two young boys approached his car. It wasn’t until he rolled down his window to talk to them that Bethel felt an immediate sense of fear that he couldn’t explain.
Apparently, the boys wanted to see a movie but had forgotten their money. Could Bethel please give them a ride? What was unnerving for Bethel is the assurances from the older boy that they were just two kids and didn’t have a gun. Bethel noted that the movie the two wanted to see had already started and that by the time he could have gotten them home and back, the movie would be almost over.
Bethel notes in his story how when he broke eye contact with the kids, his fear became overwhelming and that after he broke eye contact that the eyes of the kids turned completely black. How the older boy started to get upset with Bethel’s excuses of not letting them get in the car to give them a ride. That he eventually tore out of the parking lot.
Bethel then says that a second person also had a similar encounter in Portland, Oregon. As for this second encounter, there isn’t much to report that I could find.
In 2012, Bethel would go on to tell his story on the reality T.V. series, “Monsters and Mysteries in America.” There is also a follow-up article that Bethel wrote for the Abilene Reporter-News where he maintains his encounters happened.
Black Eyed Kids – Movie
In 2012, there was a Kickstarter that successfully funded the “Black-Eyed Kids” horror movie.
The following years after, 2013 would see MSN run an episode on Weekly Strange about black-eyed children. And September of 2014 would see the British tabloid, the Daily Star would run a series of three front-page stories with people claiming to have seen these children. Of course, this was all connected to the sale of a haunted pub in Staffordshire.
I Wanna Know, I Wanna Know!
That really depends on who you ask. For some, the black-eyed children are a form of a ghost sighting, they might be aliens, demons, or maybe even vampires.
It’s part of what can make it hard to classify Black-Eyed children. They definitely are a paranormal encounter. Most certainly a Cryptid when they’re that hard to classify. Though after a post a few months back, I might say a Tulpa or Thoughtform if new encounters with these things happen after someone has learned about them. It might explain some claims of people having sleep-paralysis attacks and nightmares. As I’ve said before in another post for Slenderman, be careful what you feed these things. For the most part, they’re just unsettling and meant to cause fear.
Stranger danger with some unknown kids? Who wants to be that adult letting them into your car or house and then something happens? Sorry kid, do I know you? Don’t be pulling that Black-Eyed Kid or Children of the Corn routine on me. Yes, it is human nature to help, but if it’s the creepy vibes, drive away, shut the door. Better yet, offer to call the police, social services, or their parents to come help.
Also Called: Goat Man
The Goatman is a figure from American Urban Folklore. It is often described as being humanoid in appearance with a goat head. It is infamous for stalking Fletchertown Road in Prince George’s County where it attacks people in cars with an axe.
The main sightings and legends of Goatman are from the state of Maryland with a few other states claiming their own Goatman cryptid. In Maryland, the Governor’s Bridge Road, Lottsford Road and Fletchertown Road in Prince George’s County along with the Glenn Dale Hospital have all become places that people claim to have seen the Goatman. The Goatman is blamed for the deaths of many pets and from time to time, hikers along with harassing people in cars or more accurately, terrorizing people in their cars with an axe. Especially on any hot spot roads claimed to be lover’s lanes.
The Goatman is a cryptid whose stomping grounds are Prince George’s County. After a number of dogs went missing or died, the Goatman was held responsible despite the evidence of passing trains being the cause.
Despite, the Goatman is popular among students and often there is graffiti reading: “Goatman was here” that can be found in various places. Even local law enforcement receives several calls claiming sightings of this creature. Most calls and reports are likely to be pranks that perpetuate this Urban Myth and Legend. The 1970’s saw a large number of sightings in Bowie.
Description: The accounts can vary, but most descriptions of the Goatman say that it is a humanoid with a relatively human face and body covered in hair. Other descriptions state that the Goatman resembles the fauns of Greek mythology with the upper body of a human and the lower body being that of a goat. Accounts vary with the creature being between four to twelve feet tall with most accounts placing a Goatman sighting at about six to eight feet tall. When riled up, the Goatman makes a high-pitched squealing sound.
Stories circulate that the Goatman makes his home somewhere in the forested, northwest region of Prince George’s County close to Bowie living in a makeshift shelter. From time to time, the Goatman comes out to kill a stray dog or beat on random cars with an axe.
Mad Science – One variation to the birth of this Urban Legend is that the Goatman was once a scientist who worked at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. There had been an experiment with goats that backfired, and the hapless scientist mutated into a half man, half goat monster who began to attack cars in the area.
Crazed Hermit – This variation to the legend places the Goatman as a crazy hermit living in the woods. He could often be spotted walking alone at night on Fletchertown Road.
Goat Herder – This variation sees this legend as an angry goat herder who went berserk on discovering that some teens killed several of his goats.
Barry Pearson, a folklorist from the University of Maryland, says the Goatman legends began long ago…
The first reports for the Maryland Goatman began in August 1957 in Upper Marlboroa and Forestville of Prince George’s County. A young couple were spending an evening at a popular lover’s make-out spot, just off the road at dusk. They were interrupted by a loud banging on their car hood. The couple looked up to see a large hairy horned beast wielding a double-bladed axe. The creature ran into the woods shortly after.
A few nights later, another couple living nearby reported seeing a hairy wild-man rummaging through their trash. The Upper Marlboro Fire Department and local hunters organized a search for this mysterious creature to no avail. More sightings would come in the following weeks, but eventually the authorities would declare it all a hoax.
Some few years later, another young couple in their car, near Zug Road in Huntington would report having seen a similar creature staring at them from the woods. The creature was described as having a tall, ragged animal with human features.
The Goatman legend would continue throughout the 1960’s with Teenagers being warned against parking in the woods at night lest they have an encounter with the ax-weilding Goatman. Sightings and claims of encounters would continue.
The Goatman would begin to gain popularity in 1971. More accurately, the first story to feature the Goatman was on October 27th, 1971 in the Bowie area of Prince George’s County News. An article written by Karen Hosler used information found in the University of Maryland Folklore Archives that mention the Goatman and some ghost stories centered around Fletchertown Road. Later, Karen Hosler would write another article titled: “Residents Fear Goatman Lives: Dog Found Decapitated in Old Bowie.” This article would relate the story of a family searching for their missing puppy, Ginger. Unfortunately, Ginger would be found days later near Fletchertown Road decapitated.
To sensationalize the article, the Goatman was connected to the story with a group of teenage girls claiming they had heard strange noises and had seen a large creature the night that Ginger vanished. Nor did it help that the article reported how sightings of a large animal-like creature walking on hind legs were increasing for Fletchertown Road.
Increasing Goatman’s notoriety, the Washington Post would run an article on November 30th titled “A Legendary Figure Haunts Remote Pr. George’s Woods.” The article goes into detailing the men who found Ginger. The article continues with local police commenting how they’re getting more sightings of Goatman. How teenagers perpetuate and keep Goatman legends going by repeating stories of this creature attacking people in their cars, especially on the local lover’s lane. Of which, Fletchertown Road is one of them.
Other Goatman-esque Cryptids
The legend of the Goatman has become very widespread through the U.S., reaching a number of states that all claim some variation of the Goatman legend or at least a giant, hairy Bigfoot cryptid.
Old Alton Bridge, Texas
Also known as Goatman’s Bridge, this has been a location for many sightings of this cryptid in Texas. The bridge connects Denton and Copper Canyon. The Goatman of this region is known to wander the surrounding forest.
The origins of this story are tragic. As the tale goes, there had been a black goat farmer who lived with is family on the north side of the bridge. He was well liked and known for his honesty and dependable-ness. Locals began to call the farmer the Goatman and he posted a sign on the bridge reading: “This way to the Goatman.” The success of a black farmer brought the ire of the local Klansmen who showed up at the farmer’s home, kidnapping him and hanging him from the Old Alton Bridge. When they looked to see if the farmer had died, he was gone. The Klansmen panicked and returned to the farmer’s home to murder his wife and children.
This Goatman legend continues with locals warning how if you want to see the Goatman, park your car on the bridge, turn off the lights and honk the horn three times and he will appear. Like any ghost story, people tell stories of being touched, grabbed and having rocks thrown at them.
The “Goat Man Of Texas” legend tells the story of how the Goatman of Marshall and Denton, Texas is essentially sex crazed and goes after anyone, man, woman or beast for sex.
Lake Worth Monster, Texas
Another Goatman urban legend and cryptid from Texas. In July of 1969, people began to believe in and report some half-goat, half-man creature with fur and scales. This Goatman has been known to jump on cars denting them, to throw tires at people, of which a group of ten witnesses testified to that event.
A Tommy Burson reported that this goatman cryptid jumped on his car after leaping from a tree and causing an 18-ince long scar on the side of the vehicle. Burson uses this scar as proof his story and the local police investigated the matter.
It is after Burson’s report, the next night that people report a similar creature hurling a tire from a bluff over a group of people. Debrah Grabee claims possesion the only photograph taken by Allen Plaster who took it in October 1969 during the thrown tire incident.
Pope Lick Monster
A Goat-Sheepman found in the state of Kentucky. It is believed to live beneath a Norfolk Southern Railroad trestle over Floyd’s Fork Creek, Louisville. Claims for sightings of this cryptid began in the 1940’s and early 1950’s. Where the Goatman of Maryland could described more as a satyr, the Goatman of Kentucky has a fur covered body like a human and goat head. The earliest versions of this legend hold it responsible for cattle mutilations while in later stories, it is a foul tempered beast that seeks only to be left alone and other legends say that the screams of the Goatman are in imitation of the train that passes through its territory that extends to the Jefferson Memorial Forest to the South.
The trestle over the Pope Lick Creek is unfortunately a hotspot for many teens who will dare each other to cross the trestle that rises some 90 feet in the air and spans over 700 feet. Due to the lack of sound carrying in the area, many people don’t hear the on coming train in time and have either been struck by the train or jumped to their death.
Proctor Valley Monster
Not so much a Goatman, but more like some deranged cow-like animal that stands seven feet tall. This creature is blamed for numerous cattle mutilations.
I came across one version of a Goatman who appears in Australian urbans who appears to help people who have gotten lost or lead them to water.
Or Big Foot, many people tend to categorize sightings of Goatman in the same vein as this legendary cryptid. Especially with height comparisons of six to seven feet tall, humanoid and hairy as all get out.
Also known as the White Thing is a cryptid found in West Virginia folklore that is often described as a being bear-like or canine in appearance with goat or sheep horns. If people are looking at the goatman as a cryptid with the horns, Sheepsquatch also comes to mind.
This is a cryptid found in the small town of Waterford, Pennsylvania during the 1970’s. It too has been called Goatman given the descriptions. This creature was often seen running across roads into farm fields.
Part Urban Legend, part Ghost Story, the Goatman of Washington County, Wisconsin appears to date back to mid-nineteenth century. The story goes that a Civil War veteran was traveling along Hogsback Road with his new bride when the wagon they were in broke an axle. The veteran got out to go look for help. While she waited, the bride heard the sound of sniffing and growling outside the wagon. When the bride looked out, she was terrified of a dark, hairy creature with the body and head of a goat that walked upright like a man. She hid within the wagon until the creature was gone. The bride went running off in the direction her husband had gone. She followed muddy footprints until she came across his bloody body hanging from a tree with hoof prints all around the base.
Urban legends continue today warning travelers along Hogsback Road to be wary as the Goatman preys on unsuspecting drivers.
Urban Legend Vs Mythology
The cryptid and Urban Legend known as the Goatman is not completely unique. When we go back far enough into mythology, we can see that other cultures have had their own versions of a Goatman or Goat Deity.
Bocánach – A type of goblin or spirit described as being hairy humanoids with goat heads in Irish mythology known for haunting battlefields.
Glaistig – Hailing from Scottish mythology, the Glaistig is a ghost who appears in the form of a woman with the lower half of a goat, much like satyrs. Depending on the story she appears in, determines if she’s good or bad. Sometimes she lures men in with song and dance in order to drink their blood. Other stories have her throwing stones at people.
Naigamesa – Either a Deer or Goat-Headed deity of fertility worshiped in India among both Jain and Hindu beliefs. Naigamesa is a protector of children in Jainism while in Hinduism, he is feared and worshipped to ward off evil.
Pan – A goat deity of fertility worshiped in ancient Greece. Early depictions of Pan show him as a black goat with later descriptions giving him the familiar half-man, half-goat appearance.
Ptah – An Egyptian gods worshiped in Mendes. Ptah is a creator and fertility deity depicted with the body of a human and goat head. Male goats were sacred to the Mendesian mystery cult where they were involved in fertility rituals.
Púca – A spirit or fairy found in Celtic/Irish Folklore. The Púca are known tricksters and shapeshifters. One of the forms they would take is that of a goat.
Satyr & Fauns – These are the most notable and immediate that come to mind with half-man, half-goat creatures from Roman and Greek myth, respectively. With this claim and connection for Goatman, the earliest sightings can then go back to 520 B.C.E.
Folklorist Barry Pearson thinks that the inspiration for Goatman comes from students studying Greek mythology and the stories of Satyrs and the god Pan who is half goat, half human.
Yang Jing – This is a somewhat obscure Chinese Goat God whom mountain villages would offer sacrifices to, to ensure and protect their livestock and harvest.
Also known as: Black Mass, Shadow Beings, Shadow Figure, Shadow Men
The appearance of Shadow People seems to be an offshoot of the Boogeyman. Instead of parents using the Boogeyman to frighten children into good behavior, the appearance of Shadow People appears more tied to, just as the name says, a dark, shadowy figure or mass where something might be. Appearing at the foot of the bed, in a corner of the room, in the closet. Wherever a darkened shadow appears, and the imagination fills in the blanks. For the believers, this extends to possibly seeing something from the corner of your eye with nothing there when you turn your head to look.
Researchers of the Paranormal and Supernatural have latched onto the idea of Shadow People as inter-dimensional beings or aliens. This tends to go into a lot of potentially pseudo-scientific ideas of what they could be and explanations. In terms of modern folklore and Urban Legends, it’s certainly a way to expand upon the classifications of potential ghosts and spirits, along with what they might really be.
A Shadow Person is essentially nothing more than a dark, shadowy figure that is vaguely humanoid in appearance or just a formless mass, sometimes it has tendrils, sometimes it doesn’t. Usually there are no other discernible features, though in some cases, red eyes have been noted.
Further descriptions mention where there is one main tall shadowy figure with numerous smaller hooded shadow figures. Reports say these types of Shadow People are not see-through. That this type is more prone to be drawn towards an individual than a particular place.
As the stories and accounts of Shadow People persist and grow, the descriptions begin to really vary. Ranging from small, child-sized figures, to tall with a jack-o-lantern head, and those of a tall figure wearing a hat.
Some of the sightings of Shadow People are reported to be mainly in Rhode Island and North Carolina in the United States. Some people claim they have been attacked physically with scratches and burns. Others will tell how they have been choked or attacked in their sleep during a sleep paralysis attack.
The Hat Man – This type of specific Shadow Being is described by some people as wearing a top hat and suit. This one is generally seen as being more demonic or evil in nature. This being was identified by the author Heidi Hollis who says that this being and others like it are trying to build an army for the dark side.
It is also strongly likely that the appearance of this Shadow Man is influenced by pop culture in terms of movies like the Nightmare on Elm Street series and the perpetuation of Urban Legends and similar stories.
Guardian Spirit – Some forum sites dedicated to the Paranormal & Supernatural Phenomenon will claim that a Shadow Person could be a guardian angel or spirit watching over a person. Given how often so many of the reports and stories have a negative view of Shadow People, this is not really likely.
There are claims that Shadow People have existed for thousands of years, found in every culture and religion. Which only makes sense with stories of spectral, shadowy beings and shades. The use of the term Shadow People would be more modern and expand the ways in which such entities of folklore and mythology are classified.
One story pointed out is “Le Horla” (“The Horla”), written in 1887 by French author Guy de Maupassant. In this story, shadow beings live on milk and water, they bedevil the human mind and stalk the unwary.
The specific term of “Shadow People” first appears on September 21st, 1953 as the title to a radio drama from the “Hall of Fantasy” broadcast on Chicago’s WGN-AM station. Later, on April 12th 2001, the late-night radio show, Coast to Coast AM would bring back and modernize a belief in Shadow People. On the show, the host, Art Bell interviewed a Native American elder by the name of Thunder Strikes, also known as Harley “Swift Deer” Reagan. Listeners to the show were encouraged to submit drawings of Shadow People and those drawings, in turn, were posted to the show’s website.
Later that year, in October 2001, author and researcher Heidi Hollis published her first book, “The Secret War,” where she goes into more information on Shadow People. The book details Shadow People having many traits that cross over to folklore with the Nightmare attacks and imagery of ghostly or spectral figures. Hollis goes on to say that Shadow People may be related to the alien entities of Greys and Reptilians. Hollis details how Shadow People don’t like to be spotted and as such, she does provide several means by which to decrease encounters with these beings.
Master your fear and don’t let it control you, focus on positive thoughts, hold your ground, use the name of Jesus to repel them, keep a light on and bless your room or house.
Side note: Given the whole alien Reptilians and the conspiracy theory around them, I do find much of what Hollis says, suspect. Plus, the name of “Hall of Fantasy” for the radio drama, gives the whole Shadow People as real, as being just made up. Especially if anyone is trying to assign them any significant power.
Most will agree that ghosts are spirits of the deceased who have not moved on for any number of reasons. Most ghosts often have descriptions of appearing as balls of light, being misty white, and having a distinctively human form to them, such as clothing, facial features, and other details that can be described.
This Arabic entity has been suggested for what Shadow People might really be, especially if you are leaning towards Shadow People being demonic in nature. The Jinn are usually invisible to humans, but some descriptions say when they do appear, it is that of black smoke that may or may not have a vaguely humanoid outline.
If Shadow People aren’t the ghosts of the deceased, their ethereal and incorporeal natures do say that they belong to the broader category of Spirits. As to what type of spirit, it’s hard to say. Some speculate that Shadow People may be a type of demon. What is it that they want, other than to frighten people, remains unknown.
Native American Spirits – Taking the “Hall of Fantasy” interview with elder Thunder Strikes or Harley “Swift Deer” Reagan, I can see, while researching Shadow People, that some of the sites I looked at concluding that Shadow People are Native American in origin. When looking at the Hat Man Shadow, his description fits just enough to suggest the Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot from the Tall Man Spirit in Lakota lore. It’s also easy to see a connection to the Urban Legends of Slender Man.
In some of the older Lakota lore, they have stories of bad spirits or giants that once wandered the Earth. They had become prideful and arrogant to the point that they challenged the thunder and lost to it. These stories lend themselves to the Tall Man Spirit and if we’re looking at more than one entity, they could account for some of the Shadow People stories and sightings that people claim.
Also known as Egregores or Tulpas. Whether intentional or not, the negative thoughts and energy can or could create and manifest an entity identified as a Shadow Person. A strong enough belief and enough people believing can also cause manifestations. Especially if people believe, want to believe, say they saw something, jumping the “me too” bandwagon. This would explain easily why there’s an increase in the number of people claiming to see Shadow People or just having another term of what to call previously known folklore and mythological figures.
This certainly leans more into Pseudo-Science. After all, mainstream science acknowledges and speculates about there being more than three dimensions to as many as 10 spacetime dimensions and how the laws of physics would work differently in those dimensions where these different dimensions interact. Add in too, psychics claiming they can sense the vibrational frequency of these other dimensions and beings.
In Paranormal studies, the idea then is that these beings who live in other dimensions can sometimes, partially cross over, interact or be seen. That how we might perceive these beings who live in these other dimensions is as shadows.
Ufology & Aliens
Some people claim that Shadow People might be aliens, extraterrestrial beings abducting people. Those who claim to be the victims of the alien grays say these beings can pass through walls, closed windows and have advanced technology that enables them to appear and disappear quickly.
Fear Is The Mind Killer
I will not fear.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Frank Herbert, Dune
The existence of Shadow People seems to thrive on a fear of the unknown. These entities show up and hang around, feeding off the fear and dread they cause by their unsettling appearance.
Anywhere with strong negative associations and energy could easily attract the presence and sightings of Shadow People. It’s only in movies, video games, and books that such entities get to have any “extra powers” or abilities.
Even if a case got chalked up to an overactive imagination, human beings are pattern seekers, we’re prone to letting the mind fill in the blanks on vague shapes and patterns, putting a recognizable form or image to something. This tendency is called Pareidolia, to think we saw something out of the corner of our eye and then to fill in the blanks on what it might be.
Possible Reality Behind The Myth
Overactive Imaginations – To shine a light on things, figuratively and literally, you do have to rule out possible overactive imaginations involved. I know I’m repeating myself, human beings are prone to pattern-seeking and if we see a vague human outline in the shadows, we are likely to fill in the blanks to see something that isn’t there.
I know that explanation puts a damper on many people who claim to have seen Shadow People or study the paranormal and believe.
Apply a little bit of the Scientific Method here. Is it the active imagination of a child who is having trouble going to sleep at night? Everybody loves a good ghost story and stories of encounters with Shadow People tend to be remarkably similar. As such, these accounts can also be very anecdotal and subjective with no real good way to verify them.
Hallucinations – Are you sleep deprived and not getting enough sleep? Is there a particular substance or drug that was taken known to cause hallucinations? Mental Illness?
Electromagnetic Fields – There are theories that in the right conditions, electromagnetic fields can mess with human perceptions, causing both audio and visual hallucinations. It could allow for people to believe they saw any manner of things from ghosts, to spirits, aliens, fairies, Elvis.
Any old buildings with substandard wiring, power plants nearby, a place with strong magnetic fields? Researchers have been able to recreate in laboratories the experiences that people have had with such hallucinations, including those of seeing Shadow People.
Rule out the possible causes before whatever remains, no matter how improbable is taken as the truth.
Pareidolia – I’ve mentioned it before, humans are wired and have a tendency to see patterns, mostly faces and other human characteristics.
Sleep Paralysis Attacks – This can be frightening for those who have experienced one. It is when you wake or have a lucid dream and are unable to move while sleeping, especially during REM sleep. Some people will claim terrifying images of dark, shadowy beings surrounding them, in the room or trying to attack them.
From the folkloric view, the description of a Shadow Person trying to choke or suffocate someone in their sleep matches the classic Nightmare and Hagging Attacks.
Sleep Walking – This is close on the heels of the Sleep Paralysis Attacks, only instead of being paralyzed, the person sleeping is getting up and moving around. Some sleepwalkers report dreams where they’ve seen shadowy figures or beings as they move around the house.
Substance Abuse – Is the person using drugs known for causing hallucinations?
Mental Illness – I’m not trying to make light of this, is it possible that a person claiming to see Shadow People prone to seizures and other mental health issues such as delusions or hallucinations?
Substance Abuse and Mental Illness can be why some of the descriptions of Shadow People are inconsistent.
For small children, night lights work wonders and don’t underestimate the power of a favorite stuffed animal or other toy to comfort them as they sleep. If it is an overactive imagination at work, many children will outgrow this stage or learn to control it so this overactive imagination isn’t getting the better of them.
If there is an entity there, like the Boogeyman, such entities tend to only be able to feed a fear, again something children grow out of or once you confront it, it goes away.
A Dream Catcher; try hanging one above the bed where you sleep. Especially if you know you are prone to sleep paralysis attacks and nightmares. Depending on your religious affiliation, prayers, crystals and other protective charms can be effective.
Other Names: Jólasveinar, Yule Lads, Yuletide-Lads, Yulemen
These mischievous pranksters are the present bringers in Iceland, not Santa Claus. Not one Santa Claus, it’s thirteen! How exciting is that!
Though, the Yule Lads didn’t always start off so friendly. These lads used to work for their mother, Grýla to help her hunt down naughty children as well as wreak all sorts of havoc and mischief during the long, dark winter days. The oldest versions and stories of the Yule Lads come from East Iceland.
This is reportedly the home of the fierce some Grýla and the Yule Lads. It is a labyrinth field of lava in North Iceland.
Reykjavik – This is another place that the Yule Lads can be spotted around in December. This place serves more a tourist destination where there’s a game to find all the Yule Lads and visit the local Troll Garden to sit in Grýla’s cauldron.
The descriptions of the Yule Lads have varied over time. In their pre-Christmas descriptions, they are troll-like beings who have no torsos.
Later, when they became more associated with Christmas, the Yule Lads would dress much like the American and European Santa in all red garments. Another push was made to have the Yule Lads dress in a more traditional medieval Icelandic garments in an effort to push away from the often overly commercialized versions of Santa and Christmas that are seen.
Grýla – The infamous Icelandic Christmas Ogress or Trolless is the mother of the Yule Lads, it would explain so much of their behavior. Grýla is known for eating misbehaving children and goes out in search of them at Christmas time.
Leppalúði – He is Grýla’s current husband and the father of the Yule Lads. Leppalúði is known for being very lazy. He lives in their cave found in the Dimmuborgir lava fields. Aside from the Yule Lads, Grýla and Leppalúði also have twenty other children.
Leppalúði had an affair with a girl by the name of Lúpa while Grýla was very ill and bedridden for an entire year. The girl, Lúpa was to play nurse to Grýla while she was sick. It’s no small wonder then, that when Grýla finds out that Leppalúði and Lúpa had an affair, resulting in a son by the name of Skröggur, that the trolless would become enraged and drive the girl and her son off from the cave.
The last children Grýla had with Leppalúði, when she was 50 years old, were twins. The twins died very young, still needing a crib.
Dark Winter Spirits
This ties into why Grýla is said to have so many children. As it concerns the Yule Lads, in the beginning their number varied wildly. The Yule Lads and their mother, Grýla in their pre-Christmas traditions, represented the dark, dangerous and capricious spirits of Winter. This time of the year, the weather is colder, the nights longer and it’s just more treacherous to go out into the wilderness if one is not prepared or wary.
Jól – The midwinter holiday that predates the modern Christmas, marks a time of people gathering together to feast and celebrate family both living and deceased. This older holiday is generally darker as elves, trolls and other mystical creatures that inhabit the Icelandic countryside are also out and would sometimes come to visit homes and farms, often as masked figures.
The Yule Lads at this time were portrayed as being trolls with no torso who would come down to the various villages and towns to cause havoc and chaos with their pranks or to outright carry off naughty children to their mother to feast on. The Yule Lads were just some of the many dangerous, unpredictable spirits and supernatural entities that wandered the countryside during winter.
Christianity – This religion was introduced to Iceland around 1000 C.E. after the King of Norway made a decree that everyone should convert to Christianity and sent out missionaries to the island nation. As with many ancient customs and traditions, the people weren’t that ready and willing to give up all their beliefs. As the Icelandic traditions and those of the introduced Christianity began to merge, one of the many points of note was a change to the calendar that shifted from the old Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar.
Sometime during the 1500’s and up to the 1700’s, the Julian Calendar was beginning to fall out of step and the celebration of the Winter Solstice was occurring on December 13th. As more European countries made the shift to the Gregorian Calendar, it placed the Winter Solstice back to the 21st. The change of calendars also so some 13 to 14 days getting removed.
For Iceland, many people didn’t like this and still wanted to celebrate December 13th as the Winter Solstice or Jól. To have the two traditions Iceland and Christianity merge more easily, the thirteen days of Christmas with the Yule Lads coming to visit began to form, starting from the eve of December 12th and stretching out all the way to the 25th and beyond to January 6th with Epiphany as the Yule Lads come visiting and then depart, back up to the mountains.
In the 16th century, a law was put into place that: “All disorderly and scandalous entertainment at Christmas and other times and Shrovetide revels are strongly forbidden on pain of serious punishment.” Parents still used the stories of Grýla and the Yule Lads coming to carry away naughty children during Wintertime and at Christmas. Things got so bad that in 1746, parents were forbidden and banned from using these stories to scare their children. It’s shortly after this, that the imagery of the Yule Lads would begin to further change.
Huldufólk – According to folklorist, Skarphéðinsson, the Yule Lads are the Huldufólk or the hidden people who live in Iceland right along humans, just another dimension that can’t be seen.
If you go for the Christian connection to religion and folktales, the Huldufólk were the dirty, strange and unusual children of Eve that she hid from God. When they were discovered, these children were sent to another world or dimension. Other ideas are that the Huldufólk are actually Fallen Angels.
Once the Yule Lads began to be associated with the celebration of Christmas, their image softened so that instead of being more malicious troll spirits that cause havoc and chaos, they became more benevolent. They’re still pranksters and the imagery saw them become more humanized to be half-troll figures.
The Thirteen Days Of Christmas – Yes, instead of one day of presents, children in Iceland get eight thirteen crazy nights!
The Yule Lads arrive during the thirteen days of Christmas, coming one at a time. Once December 25th comes, the Yule Lads depart back to their mountain home in the order that they arrived until the last day of January 6th, Epiphany.
Borrowing from Dutch tradition, children place a shoe out on their window sills during the thirteen nights of Christmas leading up to Christmas Day. In the hopes of receiving a gift or treat, children leave out small snacks for the Yule Lads such as laufabrauð (“leaf bread”), this is a thin, crisp flatbread. If a child has been good, they will receive a present or treat in their shoe. If a child has been particularly naughty, they will receive a rotten potato in their shoe.
If you ask me, that’s much better than getting carted away to their mother, Grýla to be eaten.
The Thirteen Yule Lads
The number of Yule Lads has varied over the years with as many as 82 and in more recent times with the 20th century, that number settled on there being thirteen. As the stories go, the Yule Lads live up in the mountains and come down in December during the Thirteen Days of Christmas. As there are thirteen of these lads, the various names they possess also speak of their particular quirk, feature or talent they have.
Jólasveinarnir – The Yule Lads Poem was written by the poet, Jóhannes úr Kötlum in 1932, this poem is still a popular piece recited each year in many homes and schools during December. This poem is where the Thirteen Yule Lads were made cannon for Iceland’s Christmas Tradition. The English translation of the poem is done by Hallberg Hallmundsson.
The sections below in italics are Kötlum’s poem in English.
Stekkjastaur – Sheep-Cote Clod (Or Stiff Legs)
Arrives: 12 December
Leaves: 25 December
The first of them was Sheep-Cote Clod.
He came stiff as wood,
to prey upon the farmer’s sheep
as far as he could.
He wished to suck the ewes,
but it was no accident
he couldn’t; he had stiff knees
– not too convenient.
Giljagaur – Gully Gawk
Arrives: 13 December
Leaves: 26 December
The second was Gully Gawk,
gray his head and mien.
He snuck into the cow barn
from his craggy ravine.
Hiding in the stalls,
he would steal the milk, while
the milkmaid gave the cowherd
a meaningful smile.
Stúfur – Stubby
Arrives: 14 December
Leaves: 27 December
Stubby was the third called,
a stunted little man,
who watched for every chance
to whisk off a pan.
And scurrying away with it,
he scraped off the bits
that stuck to the bottom
and brims – his favorites.
Þvörusleikir – Spoon-Licker
Arrives: 15 December
Leaves: 28 December
The fourth was Spoon Licker;
like spindle he was thin.
He felt himself in clover
when the cook wasn’t in.
Then stepping up, he grappled
the stirring spoon with glee,
holding it with both hands
for it was slippery.
Pottaskefill – Pot-Scraper
Arrives: 16 December
Leaves: 29 December
Pot Scraper, the fifth one,
was a funny sort of chap.
When kids were given scrapings,
he’d come to the door and tap.
And they would rush to see
if there really was a guest.
Then he hurried to the pot
and had a scraping fest.
Askasleikir – Bowl-Licker
Arrives: 17 December
Leaves: 30 December
Bowl Licker, the sixth one,
was shockingly ill bred.
From underneath the bedsteads
he stuck his ugly head.
And when the bowls were left
to be licked by dog or cat,
he snatched them for himself
– he was sure good at that!
As a side note, askur is a type of dish that Icelanders would eat from and keep under the bed as a means of storing it.
Hurðaskellir – Door-Slammer
Arrives: 18 December
Leaves: 31 December
The seventh was Door Slammer,
a sorry, vulgar chap:
When people in the twilight
would take a little nap,
he was happy as a lark
with the havoc he could wreak,
slamming doors and hearing
the hinges on them squeak.
Skyrgámur – Skyr-Gobbler
Arrives: 19 December
Leaves: 1 January
Skyr Gobbler, the eighth,
was an awful stupid bloke.
He lambasted the skyr tub
till the lid on it broke.
Then he stood there gobbling
– his greed was well known –
until, about to burst,
he would bleat, howl and groan.
Skyr is a type of yogurt found in Iceland.
Bjúgnakrækir – Sausage Swiper
Arrives: 20 December
Leaves: 2 January
The ninth was Sausage Swiper,
a shifty pilferer.
He climbed up to the rafters
and raided food from there.
Sitting on a crossbeam
in soot and in smoke,
he fed himself on sausage
fit for gentlefolk.
Gluggagægir – Window-Peeper
Arrives: 21 December
Leaves: 3 January
The tenth was Window Peeper,
a weird little twit,
who stepped up to the window
and stole a peek through it.
And whatever was inside
to which his eye was drawn,
he most likely attempted
to take later on.
Gáttaþefur – Doorway Sniffer
Arrives: 22 December
Leaves: 4 January
Eleventh was Door Sniffer,
a doltish lad and gross.
He never got a cold, yet had
a huge, sensitive nose.
He caught the scent of lace bread
while leagues away still
and ran toward it weightless
as wind over dale and hill.
Ketkrókur – Meat-Hook
Arrives: 23 December
Leaves: 5 January
Meat Hook, the twelfth one,
his talent would display
as soon as he arrived
on Saint Thorlak’s Day.
He snagged himself a morsel
of meat of any sort,
although his hook at times was
a tiny bit short.
I’m a told a favorite meat is lamb. The 23rd is also St. Thorlak’s Day, the patron saint of Iceland.
Kertasníkir – Candle Beggar (Or Candle Stealer)
Arrives: 24 December
Leaves: 6 January
The thirteenth was Candle Beggar
– ‘twas cold, I believe,
if he was not the last
of the lot on Christmas Eve.
He trailed after the little ones
who, like happy sprites,
ran about the farm with
their fine tallow lights.
Candles at this time, were once made of tallow and thus edible. It is little wonder that Candle Beggar is often the most favorite of the Yule Lads and seen as being the most generous as he comes on the last day just before Christmas. Some children will leave a candle out for Kertasnikir next to their shoe.
Lost Yule Lads & Lasses
More recent times sees the Yule Lads numbering as thirteen in all. This wasn’t always so and there were a few others, that were once part of their number.
Flórsleikir – His name translates as “dung channel licker.” Luckily this has something to do with the channel in the cowshed.
Flotsokka – One of two sisters who would place a piece of fat on a half-knitted sock or stuff a piece of fat up her nose. Eww!?!
Flotnös – The second of two sisters who would place a piece of fat on a half-knitted sock or stuff a piece of fat up her nose. Eww!?!
Lampshadow – He would go and put out all of the lights.
Litlipungur – His name translates to mean “small balls”. What he did, I’m not sure I want to know.
Lungnaslettir – Or Lung Flapper, he gets his name from his penchant for walking around with a set of still wet sheep lungs and hitting anyone who gets in his way.
Smoke Gulper – He would sit on the roof and swallow the smoke coming from the chimney.
Bunch of weirdos.