Horned demons of Europe

According to the Demon Hunter’s Compendium, the horned demon of Europe “is known by many names across the world: Knecht Ruprecht, Black Peter, Perchten, Certa, Pelznickel, Schmutzli, the Christmas Demon, and Klaubauf. However, one of these names stands out from all of the rest: He is the Krampus.

The name Krampus comes from the old High German word krampen, meaning “claw” or “to seize.” The Krampus is a very old entity, quite possibly a pagan fertility demon, originating in Germanic folklore and dating back before the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The early Catholic Church strongly discouraged any kind of festivities revolving around goatlike creatures (and goats in general), and the Inquisition made great efforts to stomp such things out of existence. In fact, the Inquisitors would put anyone who dressed like or impersonated the Devil to death. But despite this, the Krampus endured, and by the 17th century the Krampus had been incorporated into Christian winter celebrations by pairing him with Saint Nicholas (now known as Santa Claus). Nowadays, the lore of this creature is most common in Bavaria, Switzerland, Austria, and Hungary.”

Picture of a masked reveler during Krampus, Salzburg, Austria

Photograph by Johannes Simon, Getty Images

With the city’s historic Christmas markets in full swing, church bells chiming in the crisp Bavarian Alpine air, and snow frosting baroque palace rooftops, Advent in Salzburg delivers a multisensory infusion of gingerbread-warm holiday spirit. Festivities begin in early December with informal and organized Krampusläufe or Krampus processions. According to legend, the shaggy, horned demon Krampus frightens naughty children, while his benevolent counterpart St. Nicholas rewards the nice ones. The Salzburg region (and the town of Grödig in particular) is known for its costumed Krampus parades, as well as for romantic holiday markets on Cathedral, Residence, and Mirabell Squares; at Hellbrunn Palace; and in the Sterngarten. Sip mulled wine, ice skate on the Mozartplatz, and ride Austria’s oldest funicular railway, Festungsbahn, to view the surrounding snow-dusted panorama from imposing Hohensalzburg Fortress. Beyond Christmas, the city’s celebratory energies focus on the International Mozarteum Foundation Mozart Week classical music festival (January 24 to February 3). Events include opera productions and chamber music, soloists, and orchestral concerts.

Source: National Geographic

See the work of photographer Carsten Peter whose photography book, “Alpendämonen,” or “Demons of the Alps,” also explores 20 different such wintertime traditions from the Alps that include gruesome masks, costumed processions and pagan rites. The at times terrifying figures often go by different names, but are most commonly known as Krampus or Perchten, who serve as helpers to Saint Nicholaus. They threaten to punish or even kidnap naughty children when he visits on the evening of Dec. 5, ahead of the Feast of St. Nicholas the following day.

Other monsters are the symbolic expression of driving out winter and its demons to herald warmer seasons to come, and their costumes and processions vary between regions. In the largely German-speaking northern Italian region of South Tyrol, for example, residents of a town stage the Wudeljagd, or “Wudel Hunt,” whereby dragon-like figures called Schnappviecher, or “snapping animals,” are slaughtered by men in butcher’s outfits during a procession. The butchers represent spring, which triumphs over winter.

See Terrifying Traditions | Ghastly Winter Demons Run Wild in the Alps by Stephan Orth


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