Category Archives: Masks
Alternative Names: Apu Punchaur, Apu-punchau, Giver of Life, Inti-Wawqi (Brother of the Sun)
In the Quechua and primarily Incan cultures of what is now modern-day Peru, Inti is a god of the sun and war. Inti was second in importance only to Viracocha, the creator god. Inti is generally perceived as a benevolent deity much of the time, bringing the heat of the sun for crops to grow. In the same vein, Inti could show displeasure through solar eclipses in which sacrifices would need to be made to soothe his anger. Rulers of the Inca saw themselves as descendants of Inti, the patron of their empire and military might.
The Incan Empire once spanned from Chile to Colombia and had covered most of Peru and Ecuador in its heyday. The Incan people were an advanced culture with sophisticated records, astronomy, art, and wealth. The Inca originated from the Lake Titicaca region in the Andes. Like any empire, the Incas expanded, conquering other tribes and cultures. That is, until the arrival of the Spaniards who came looking for gold and their own conquests in 1533. Smallpox devastated many of the local populations, making it easy for the Spanish and other Europeans to come in and with it, the fall of the Incan empire.
Animals: Cougars, Snakes
Patron of: Creation
Sphere of Influence: Crops, Fertility
What’s In A Name?
Surprisingly, the word inti isn’t a Quechuan word but is instead a loanword from the Puquina language. Looking at the language groups of Aymara, Mapuche, and Quechua in the region shows why all these languages have a similar word for the sun. The Mapuche people have a similar sun deity known as Antu, the names for their spouses, and the Moon goddess are different from Quilla and Cuven.
In art, Inti would be represented as a golden disc with a human face. In the minds of the Incan people, Inti has a human form.
Gold – This metal was particularly associated with Inti as it was thought to be the sweat of the sun. There is a record of a gold statue to represent Inti. Within Inti’s temple in Cuzco, the interiors were lined with 700 half-meter panels of beaten gold. Outside the temple was a life-sized scene of a field of corn with llamas and shepherds all made of gold and silver. This statue represented Inti as a young boy known as Punchao or the Day and Midday Sun. From the statue’s head and shoulders, the sun’s rays shone forth. He was wearing a royal headband and had snakes and cougars coming out of his body. The stomach of the statue was hollow and would hold the ashes of the previous Incan rulers’ vital organs. This statue would be brought out every day into the open air and returned to the temple at night. When the Spanish arrived, the statue was taken to a place of safety, but eventually, it was found in about 1572 C.E. and has since disappeared from history where it was likely melted down for the gold along with so many other Incan artifacts.
Inti Masks – These masks were made of thinly beaten sheets of gold to form and represent the rays of the sun coming out of Inti’s head. The rays were often cut in a zig-zag design and some were known to end with small human faces or a figure. The most well-known mask was the one on display at the Coricancha temple.
Temples & Solar Constructions
Temples were often elaborately decorated with gold and jewels with intricate designs. This added a lot of prestige for those worshiping within, to offer something so abundant and plentiful to Inti to magnify the glory of the sun.
Coricancha Temple – (“House of the Sun”) and Sacsahuaman were sacred districts in the Incan capital of Cuzco. These are thought to have been built during Pachacuti’ reign. The High Priest of the Sun or Villac Umu presided over rites dedicated to Inti. They would be assisted by acllas or acyllyaconas (young virgin priestesses). Priests in other parts of the empire would carry out ceremonies and rites locally in those places.
Gateway of the Sun – This monolith located in Tiahuanaco by the Tiwanaku culture is thought to have a figure representing Inti while other sources will claim that it is Viracocha. The Sun Gate is also important as it shows the position of the sun on the days of the solstices and equinoxes.
Intihuatana – Or “hitching post of the sun” are solar astronomical stones (similar to a sundial but more sophisticated) that would be set at the highest point of a sacred precinct. They were used during the solstices to track the sun and connect it to the earth with a special cord or rope. Other astronomical observations for the sun and perhaps other celestial bodies would also be tracked with them. The most familiar and famous example is the one found at Machu Picchu. Other places are Pisac in north-eastern Cuzco, Ingapirca in Ecuador, and the Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca where Incan rulers would make a pilgrimage to once a year.
Sucanga – These were a series of twelve pillars arranged around the city of Cusco used in the Incan solar calendar. Each pillar was arranged so that each month, it would indicate where the sun would set and rise. Farmers used them to rely on their planting and harvests. In the Incan Solar Calendar, the year was divided into 12 moons with 30 days. Each moon corresponded with its festivities and daily activities.
This isn’t that much of a stretch, Inti is the Sun god, the sun way up in the sky is seen as him. It’s not that hard to see the sun as sacred, especially when needing crops to grow and bring light to the world.
Among the Inca, they began worshiping before the dawn. The emperor, his family, and everyone would head down to the main square of Cusco and wait silently for the rising of the sun. Once the sun rose, everyone would rejoice and kneel as the priests offered up a chicha to Inti in a silver bowl.
From there, the people would march to Coricancha to relight the sacred fire using mirrors to direct the sun’s rays.
The sun worship also included dances, sacrifices of grain, flowers, and animals that would be burned on bonfires.
Parentage and Family
Father – Viracocha, the creator god
Mother – Mama Qucha
Sometimes Pachamama, the earth goddess is Inti’s mother and in yet other myths, Inti will become Pachamama’s second husband.
Mama Quilla – The goddess of the Moon.
Pachamama – An Earth goddess
Siblings – Imahmana, Mama Killa, Mama Quilla, Pachamama, Tocapo
Inca Manco Capac I and Mama Oello
Through Inca Manco Capac I, Inti is essentially the progenitor of all the Incan people. Other myths will place Manco Capac as the son of Viracocha.
Ancestor & Protector Deity
Inti is noted as being an ancestor of the Incan people through his son Inca Manco Capac I. In this capacity, Inti is also the state protector of the Incan peoples. Inti taught both Manco Capac and his daughter Mama Ocllo the arts of civilization.
The ruling elite of the Inca were all seen as representatives or avatars of Inti on earth. A similar concept is found in ancient Egypt where the Pharoah was seen an avatar of Ra in the flesh. Every member of the Incan people, especially the nobles to see themselves as representing Inti when they traveled and that they needed to holy when entering certain cities within the empire.
Incan myths say that Inti is the founder of their culture and empire. Inti taught his children Manco Capac and Mama Ocollo the arts of civilization before sending them to the Earth to pass these skills on to humankind. Inti ordered his children to build the capital of the Incan empire where a golden wedge hit the ground. This city is often regarded as being the city of Cusco and had been founded by the Ayar.
Worship – Inti was regarded as the head of the state cult and his worship was enforced throughout the Incan empire. The Incan leader, Pachacuti is who is often credited for the spread of the Inca Sun Cult.
The High Priest or Willaq Umu placed this position as the second most important person in the Incan culture. The Willaq Umu was directly beneath the Sapa Inca and were often brothers as both were held to be descended from Inti.
In Incan beliefs, Inti and his sister, Mama Quilla, the Moon goddess are regarded as being benevolent. Inti is also to have married his older sister Mama Killa who bore him two children. Within Inti’s court, he and Mama Quilla are served by the Rainbow, the Pleiades, Venus, and other celestial bodies.
Where many will identify Inti as a sun god, he is more accurately viewed as a series of solar aspects, specifically the stages of the sun as it passes throughout the day.
Incan Astronomy – In Incan cosmology, the sun has three phases it goes through during the day. The first is known as Apu Inti, the “supreme Inti” and represents the father and is sometimes known as “The Lord Sun.” The next is Churi Init or “Son Inti” which represents the son of Inti and is known as “Daylight.” The last is Inti Wawqi, the “Sun Brother”. The name is also spelt Inti- Inti-Guauqui and Inti-Huaoqui. Inti Wawqi represents the sun god in his role as the founding father of Incan rule and ancestor of the Incan people.
The aspects of Apu Inti and Churi Inti are separated cosmically as they each represent the Summer and Winter Solstices. Inti Wawqi is not associated with any astronomical spot.
The other idea in Incan cosmology is that these different aspects of Inti involved different duties they undertook. One of the suns represented the actual sun giving heat and light to the earth. Another of the sun was in the sky during the day much like the moon is out at night. And that the last sun was responsible for the growth of plants and agriculture.
Eclipses – Like many cultures, eclipses were seen as a sign of ill omen, and with the Inca, that Inti was somehow displeased. The Inca couldn’t predict a solar eclipse, part of what led to beliefs in an angry sun deity. The priests would seek to find ways to divine and figure out what had caused Inti’s wrath and then figure out which sacrifices needed to be made. With an eclipse, this is when the Inca would resort to human sacrifice to appease Inti’s anger. In addition, the ruling Inca would withdraw to fast for several days before returning to their duties.
Creation Myth – One of the interpretations of this myth has a conflict between Viracocha and Inti over the Sun’s creation and if it meant it should be worshiped as a separate entity.
Agriculture – As a Sun god, Inti is also instrumental as an agricultural deity. Especially in the highlands of Peru where the sun’s heat was thought to be the cause of rain. The correlation makes sense when during the rainy season, the sun is hotter and during the dry season, the sun feels cooler. Without that rain, the production of crops for maize and other grains would be more difficult.
Each province of the Inca empire would dedicate a third of their land and herds to Inti. Each major province would have a Sun Temple where priests and priestesses would serve.
Inti-Raymi – Meaning “Sun Festival,” this is an annual festival held during the time for the start of a new planting season. In the Quechua language, the name Inti Raymi means “resurrection of the sun” or “the path of the sun.”
The festival began with three days of fasting, no fires lit and people abstaining from sex, the sacrificing of 100 brown llamas. Once the festival began, it would last nine days during which time people consumed a lot of food and drink. There would be ritual dances, chanting from sunrise to sunset with animal sacrifices throughout the day all dedicated to celebrating Inti. Other sacrifices to Inti included simple prayers, food, coca leaves, and woven cloth. At the conclusion of the festival, people would leave with permission.
Sacrifices – Oftentimes animals of various livestock would be given. The most common sacrifices to Inti were white llamas. Any human sacrifices were done during a special ceremonial occasion or in the event of an event such as an earthquake, solar eclipse, or a death in the royal family. Such sacrifices and ceremonies were conducted to ensure the continuation of the Incan empire for its people and harvests.
There is one particular story of an eagle being attacked by buzzards and falling from the sky during a ceremony to Inti in roughly 1526 C.E. This was seen as an omen or portent for the collapse of the Inca empire. This would also coincide with the arrival of smallpox brought by Spanish Conquistadors from Europe. The smallpox epidemic would devastate numerous populations throughout the Americas and in the case of the Inca, it weakened them to conquered by the Spanish.
After the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, this festival would be changed to May or June to coincide with the feast of Corpus Christi. Of course, incoming invaders and conquerors saw the festival of Inti-Raymi as being too pagan and would try to replace it with Christian observances.
The Inti-Raymi festival has seen a revival and tourists are known to come to Cusco, the capital of the Incan Empire to observe it. Inti Raymi occurs during the Southern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, and June 24th by modern Calendar dates. And of course, no human sacrifices in the modern day.
With the arrival of Spanish Conquistadors, came also the arrival of Catholicism and Christianity. The incoming Christian priests saw any religion other than themselves as being Pagan. The Sun Worship observed among the Incans was no exception and quickly equated with paganism and thus evil. This religious zeal, fueled by Spanish greed led to many temples being destroyed along with many religious artifacts meeting the same fate.
It is known that the Spanish Conquistadors seized a huge golden disk that represented Inti in 1571. It was sent back to Spain and given to the pope. Since then, this artifact and religious icon have been lost and there is speculation it may have been melted down to bullion.
Nowadays, in the 20th and 21st centuries, Inti is equated with the Christian god by the Quechua people.
Apollo – A Greek god of the sun also worshiped by the Romans.
Arinna – A Hittite goddess of the sun and light.
Helios – An ancient Greek sun god.
Huitzilopochtli – The Aztec god of the sun.
Kinich Ahau – The Mayan sun god.
Lugh – The Celtic sun god and fierce warrior.
Mithra – The Persian god of the sun.
Ra – A solar god worshiped among the ancient Egyptians.
Sol – The name of the Roman personification of the sun.
Sunna – Or Sol, one of the few sun goddesses and venerated by the Norse.
Surya – The Hindi god of the sun.
Tawa – The Sun Kachina in Hopi beliefs.
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.
Also called: Krampusz (Hungarian)
Etymology: Claw (Old High German, Krampen)
Also Known As: Bartl or Bartel, Klaubauf (Austria), Krampusz (Hungarian,) Niglobartl, Parkelj (Slovenian,) and Wubartl
Once more December is upon us with its many familiar Winter Celebrations and Holidays.
In the Alpine regions of Austria and Germany, and even to Bavaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, northern Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland, there is the familiar horned and sometimes hairy figure of Krampus who arrives on Krampus Night to punish misbehaving children. Where Saint Nicholas is who gives gifts to good children. Krampus, like Zwarte Piet and other characters of Christmas, are seen as the companions of Santa Claus or Sinterklaas.
Krampus is a figure who seems to originate in Germanic paganism before the arrival of Christianity in the region.
While there are a few variations to the appearance of Krampus, many descriptions do agree on this figure being very hairy with brown, black or gray fur, cloven hooves, and horns of a goat. He will have a particularly longer than usual tongue that hangs out.
Krampus will also be carrying or wearing chains that symbolize the binding of the Devil by Saint Nicholas. These chains will be shaken and sometimes have bells on them. The other items that Krampus is known to carry are ruten or bundles of birch branches that he will either hand out to naughty children or beat them with. Sometimes this branch is replaced with a whip instead. Krampus can also be seen carrying a sack or washtub on his back that he uses to carry off naughty children whom he either eats, drowns, or takes to Hell.
Crime & Punishment
On December 5th, Krampusnacht, the figure of Krampus is known for going about and punishing naughty children, similar to the role that Zwarte Piet has in the Netherlands. Unlike Zwarte Piet, Krampus never gives out treats or gifts. They are one of the original Nightmares before Christmas. Or, if we do like with the 2015 Krampus movie, Krampus is who comes when all hope dies at Christmas.
Some of the punishments that children might expect are:
- If a child is lucky, they only get handed a birch branch.
- If said child was particularly naughty, they could expect to be beaten with the birch branch.
- In the cases where children were extremely naughty, they would get carried off by Krampus in either a sack or washtub that he carries on his back. What happens now to the child varies on the legend. In some cases, Krampus might eat the child, drown them or simply carry them off to Hell. These older legends where Krampus carries off a child do make a connection to the time when Moors would raid the European coast and carry off people into slavery. A connection also seen with the previously mentioned Zwarte Piet.
The history of Krampus is a bit murky and many scholars do agree that this figure has to date before pre-Christianity. Some try to make a connection back to the Epic of Gilgamesh and Endiku, the original Wild Man. Even if that source is flimsy and suspect, the European traditions of going out in disguises and mummery have long been a part of the Winter Solstice celebrations and have survived in some form or another.
The description of Krampus shows him as being demonic with a half-human, half-goat appearance for the long fur, horns, and hooves. It has been theorized that Krampus may have been a fertility deity before the arrival of Christianity in the region. At this point, anything that didn’t fit under the umbrella of Christian beliefs or couldn’t be incorporated tends to be labeled as evil and demonic.
God of the Witches – This connection seems a bit speculative. Maurice Bruce makes a connection of Krampus with the Horned God of the Witches. That the birch branches may have been part of initiation rites into a coven. That the chains that Krampus carries are part of the Christian tradition of “binding the Devil” much like Sinterklaas is to have done with Zwarte Piet with binding the devil. It’s easy to see a connection of the horns and hooves, woodland entity, and connect Krampus to satyrs, fauns, and possibly Pan. A horned god of the forest is a fairly common image in many of the early European religions and beliefs.
The Son Of Hel
This aspect of the myth is fairly recent and is introduced in Gerald Brom’s 2012 novel “Krampus: The Yule Lord.” In it, Krampus is stated to be the son of Hel, the Norse goddess of death. Even if it’s a recent addition, it does show an expanding and evolving folklore surrounding Krampus that seems to be gaining popularity.
However, do note that many serious scholars of Norse and Germanic mythology do not accept this connection of Hel and Krampus.
Mileage will vary, this is a decent book that expands on the conflict that Krampus and Santa Claus have with each other over Christmas and Yule celebrations.
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 if 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. It’s possible that Krampus is a representative or aspect of the darker and harsher winter months.
It does tie in for one legend that the Krampus parades stem from an ancient rite to parade through town and run off ghosts. This seems further tied in as an explanation for the bells on the Krampus’ chains as there are traditions that the ringing of bells at the Solstice would scare off or banish evil spirits.
A Krampus By Any Other Name…
There are a few other figures in the Saint Nicholas/Winter Solstice celebrations who are similar to Krampus.
Bartel – Also called Bartl is a local name or variation for Krampus in Styria.
Belsnickel – A figure who follows Santa Claus in some regions of Europe such as Germany and Austria, he is similar to Krampus in that he will punish naughty children.
Hans Trapp – A sinister scarecrow from France that scares children around Christmas time.
La Pere Fouettard – “The Whipping Father,” Pere Fouettard accompanies the French Pere Noel on his nightly visit of December 5th where like Belsnickel, Krampus and Zwarte Piete, he will punish naughty children.
Knecht Ruprecht – Another figure from Germany who punishes children.
Percht – The percht are an offshoot of an older goddess, Perchta from the Alpine regions who 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.
Ru Klaas – Another figure from Germany who punishes children.
Schabmänner or Rauhen – In the Austrian state Styria, these “Wild Man” figures will appear in addition to Krampus to dole out birch rods and punishments.
Zwarte Piete – A helper and companion to the Dutch Sinterklaas. Early depictions of Zwarte Piete show him as a punisher while later depictions have tried to soften the image.
Krampusnacht & The Feast Of Saint Nicholas
Where many American children get excited for Santa Claus on December 25th, in Europe, children get excited for Saint Nicholas’ arrival on December 5th (Aruba, Curacao and the Netherlands) or 6th (Belgium and Luxembourg). The celebrations of Saint Nicholas gained popularity in Germany right around the eleventh century. It is also around this time, that the patron saint of children would get paired up with a dark counterpart. With Saint Nicholas giving gifts to good children and Krampus punishing the bad children.
In Germany, things are a little different. The night before Saint Nicholas’ Day is December 5th, all well and good for the most part. However, December 5th though is known as Krampusnacht or Krampus Night and is a night of riotous revelry and fear for Krampus is known to come, punishing naughty children, or carrying them away in a basket on his back.
The next morning on December 6th, children will look to see if their shoe or stocking has gifts and presents in it or if a rod or twigs have been left for them.
Austrian Urban Centers – In many Christmas markets, watered or toned-down images of Krampus will be sold, presenting him in a humorous light to tourists. Some people have complained that by softening the image of Krampus, he may be getting too commercialized.
Bavaria – The celebrations surrounding Krampus have seen revivals that include artistic traditions of hand-carved wooden masks.
Croatia – Here, Krampus is described as wearing sackcloth around his waist and chains on his wrists and ankles, not just around his neck. If a child misbehaves too badly, Krampus will keep the gifts that Saint Nicholas would have given for himself and leave a silver birch branch behind.
Northern Italy – In the Udine province of Italy, there is the Cave del Predil. An annual Krampus festival is held here where the Krampus comes out just before sunset to chase children and whip them. To satiate the Krampus’ anger, children and young people would need to recite a prayer.
Slovenia – In many areas of Slovenia, Krampus is called Parkeli and is one of the companions of Miklavž, the Slovenian name for Saint Nicholas.
Styria – In this Austrian state, Krampus has a few different appearances. Here, Krampus will present a bundle of birch rods, painted gold to families so they can be hung in the house as a reminder to children to be on their best behavior. In smaller, more remote villages, other horned or antlered figures known as Schabmänner or Rauhen, “the Wild Man” will make appearances too in addition to Krampus.
United States –The figure of Krampus is catching on in many places and there are more and more movies and shows that will feature Krampus as a main antagonist, even if for one episode. Some cities will hold their own Krampus Runs and there are parties held celebrating Krampus, even if they are nothing more than an excuse to drink.
“The Great War On Christmas”
In the 12th century C.E., the Catholic Church tried to banish the Krampus celebrations due to their pagan elements and Krampus’ resemblance to the devil. This would prove difficult as people in the more rural areas would keep alive their traditions.
People wearing devil masks and acting riotously with drunken revelries and causing trouble have been recorded since the sixteenth century. It was not uncommon for animal-masked devils to appear in Medieval Christian church plays. So, the appearances of Krampus masks at this time may very well have been part of these celebrations and the mummery that happens with many Winter festivals. The 17th century would see a full integration of pairing Saint Nicholas with Krampus. If they couldn’t stamp the Krampus traditions out, they would adapt him to the Christian religious observances.
When we get to the 20th century, the Austrian governments tried once more to prohibit the Krampus antics and displays. After the 1934 Austrian Civil War, the Dollfuss regime with the Fatherland’s Front and Christian Social Party tried to ban the Krampus traditions. The 1950’s saw the publication of government-issued pamphlets titled: “Krampus is an Evil Man.”
But you can’t keep a good Krampus down and by the end of the 20th century, Krampus celebrations and parades came back in force. So much so, that Krampus celebrations have been spreading around the world to places like the United States as part of an “anti-Christmas celebration.” He certainly does represent a darker side to the holiday where not everything is not always so joyous. It does play to earlier celebrations of Christmas with drunk revelries and anyone wanting to push back again the heavy, over-commercialization of Christmas.
Also known as Kränchen, this is a village-wide celebration held in southeast Austria. It is often held on the Saturday after Krampus Day. These festivities are typically held at local community centers, schools, or any facility large enough to hold some 300+ drunk revelers. Sometimes, Kränchen will be held a week before or after Krampus Day. It’s a way that some villages will turn Krampus Day into a three weekend-long celebration, particularly one for drinking and booze.
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.
Perchten – These wild spirits are known to be active between the Winter Solstice and up to around January 6th, Epiphany if you were in Italy.
These are the holiday greeting cards that feature Krampus on them. Krampus cards have been exchanged since the 1800’s during the Holiday Season. A typical greeting card reads: “Gruß vom Krampus” or “Greetings from the Krampus” and likely accompanied with some humorous rhymes or poems within.
Older versions of Krampus cards are likely to show a more sinister and frightening Krampus while newer, modern cards might show a more toned down, cuter, or humorous-looking Krampus figure.
This is a seasonal play that is found throughout the Alpine regions. 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 reward children for their scholarly efforts instead of good behavior.
As I mentioned above, the percht are an offshoot of an older goddess, Perchta from the Alpine regions who 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. Villagers living in the more remote regions of the Alpines would parade around in percht guises.