- Pre-Christian Alpine traditions
urvival through the ages
Ancient customs survived in the
ruralparts of Austria, Switzerland, Bavaria, Slovenia, western Croatiaand Italyin the form of dance, art, processions, ritualsand games. The high regional diversity is a result of the mutual isolation of Alpine communities. In the Alps, the relationship between the Roman Catholic Churchand paganism has been an ambivalent one. While some customs survived only in the remote valleys inaccessible to the church's influence, other customs were actively assimilated over the centuries. In light of the dwindling rural population of the Alps, many customs have evolved into more modern interpretations.Even in Oberstdorf, in the southwestern alpine part of Bavaria, the tradition of the "Wilde Mann" (wild man) is kept alive. He is described exactly like Krampus (except the horns), dressed in fur and frightening children (and adults) with rusty chains and bells.
Krampusoriginates from the Old High Germanword for claw("Krampen"). In the Alpine region the Krampus is represented by an incubus in company of St Nicholas. Traditionally, young men dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December and particularly in the evening of December 5and roam the streets frightening children (and adults) with rusty chains and bells.In some rural areas also slight birchingespecially of young females by the Krampus is part of tradition.
The present day Krampus costume consists of red wooden
masks or Larve, black sheep's skin and horns. Considerable effort goes into the manufacture of the hand-crafted masks, as many younger adults in rural communities engage competitively in the Krampus events.
Originally, the word Perchten (plural of
Perchta) referred to the female masks representing the entourage of "Frau Perchta" or "Pehta baba" as is known in Slovenia, an ancient goddess(some claim a connection to the nordic goddess Freyja, though this is uncertain). Traditionally, the masks were displayed in processions ("Perchtenlauf") during the last week of December and first week of January, and particularly on 6 January. The costume consists of a brown wooden mask and brown or white sheep's skin. In recent times Krampus and Perchten have increasingly been displayed in a single event, leading to a loss of distinction of the two. Perchten are associated with midwinterand the embodiment of fate and the souls of the dead. The name originates form the Old High German word "peraht", or brilliant, meant as a warning against the sinof vanity.Regional variations of the name include Berigl, Berchtlmuada, Berchta, Pehta, Perhta-Baba, Zlobna Pehta, Bechtrababa, Sampa, Stampa, Lutzl, Zamperin, Pudelfrau, Zampermuatta and Rauweib. The Roman Catholic Churchattempted to prohibit the sometimes rampant practise in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but later condoned it, resulting in a revival.
Pongauregion of Austria large processions of "Schönperchten" (beautiful Perchten) and "Schiachperchten" (ugly Perchten) are held every winter. Other regional variations include the "Tresterer" in the Austrian Pinzgauregion, the stilt dancers in the town of Unken, the "Schnabelpercht" (beaked Percht) in the Unterinntalregion and the "Glöcklerlaufen" (bell running) in the Salzkammergut. A number of large ski resorts have turned the tradition into a touristattraction drawing large crowds every winter.
In the town of
Andrista, Valle Camonica, Italyeach year came a mythological figure of the forest: the Badalisc (or Badalisk). [ [http://www.demologia.it/brescia/feste/3cevo/basalisk.htm ADL ©Atlante Demologico Lombardo: Il Bresciano - Festa del Badalisc ad Andrista di Cevo ] ]
History of the Alps
Transhumance in the Alps
Continental Germanic mythology
Pre-Christian traditions of the Low Countries
Companions of Saint Nicholas
*"Wenn die Hexen umgehen", Claudia Lagler,
5 January 1999, [http://www.diepresse.at Die Presse] (newspaper), (in German)
*http://altesitte.ch/ Swiss neopagan site focussing on pre-Christian Alpine traditions
** [http://www.sagen.at/texte/sagen/schweiz/sagen_schweiz.htm Swiss legends]
** [http://www.sagen.at/texte/sagen/oesterreich/sagen_oesterreich.htm Austrian legends]
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