I have become increasingly aware of a theme running through neopaganism/neofolk thought patterns that I’m sure I’m not the first to pick up on. It’s just one that I’ve come increasingly sensitive to.
The basic idea is this-it’s perfectly fine to ask the gods/Universe/angels/whatever for ‘fertility’ or ‘abundance’ as long as you’re not asking for material items. It doesn’t matter why you need money (or food, and I’m going to touch on that in a moment), it’s against the ‘rules’ to ask for anything that you can actually touch-unless you’re talking about children. I mean, you can physically interact with a child. But they’re in a special class amongst themselves.
I have my pet theories on why this has happened, ranging from something tinged by Weber’s work on Calvinism to good old fashioned class blindness. But however it happened, this is the problem with it: abundance in the form of cash or crops or stuff in general, has a very very long standing history in mythological and folkloric thought.
There are the admonishments against too much stuff, ie greed-Midas didn’t end well. But the fact that he even got his wish is telling. Zeus turned himself into a shower of golden coins. The pathways back from Beltaine’s current emphasis on ‘fertility’ don’t have a straight line back to simple ‘gee I wish we could have more people,’ a lot of that fertility is framed around ‘gee, it would be awesome if this summer managed to produce enough food we don’t starve to death.’ As in, there’s definitely a ‘stuff’ angle here.
In fact, the undertone of ‘abundance is greed, but asking for children is awesome’ is fairly new and not really backed up fully in the folklore. People have been asking for kids right along, but there’s as much stuff warning about messing with human fertility as there is for asking for too much material items. There’s no real suggestion that fertility is better than abundance; there are as many or more warnings regarding the manipulation of love and sexuality as there are Midases and a love for too much gold.
But, should you be asking the Universe for abundance? And what is abundance in the first place? I ask the Universe for abundance daily, for whatever form of abundance the Universe sees fit that day-money, overtime, not missing my bus, easy social interactions. I just, put myself in the place I need to be to collect what I need. Ethically and historically speaking, there are schools of metaphysical thought that have no issues with abundance work (and not so ironically they’re paths that have always attracted a high amount of lower class and marginalized people-not great shock there. Also, common to American folk magic. That’s another tangent). There are generally limitations-it’s not going to be instantaneous, make sure you’re asking from a place of need, be willing to work…make sure you actually need the money-but it’s well within the limits of acceptable behavior.
I got lucky this year. People didn’t flood me with Krampus related links on social media. Because there’s a whole hell of a lot o folklore I like more than Krampus, and for some reason my friends got really stuck on some sort of connection between Krampus and myself last year. It was enough to make a person grumpy.
I’ve mentioned Krampus in passing, several times, but as his popularity has grown in American pop culture has grown over the past few years (want to smell like Krampus? Because you can. No, really…you can buy Krampus themed perfume) maybe it’s time he gets his own standalone entry.
It seems that European cultures are much more willing to play up the ‘bad’ side of Christmas-in America, at least, while there’s this veiled threat against misbehaving children the end result is pretty benign on the whole. The worst that can happen is that you don’t make it onto the ‘nice’ list and therefore don’t get presents. I suppose in a culture that is as commercially driven as my own, not being gifted-especially as a child-is pretty traumatic.
I suppose as a prior warning, if you click any of the links provided in the end of this entry, you might see vintage images of children being physically punished. It’s not horribly graphic, but if you don’t want to see these things you might want to avoid clicking those links.
You might also want to stop reading now, since that’s sort of the point of Krampus-otherwise known currently as the Christmas demon.
Krampus, like most folkloric figures, has a slight range of appearances, ranging from the Baphomet inspired cloven hooves and horns to a surly gentleman in black, to a gentleman in black who may be slightly furrier than normal. He comes holding some form of weapon for physical punishment (either rusty chains or whips) and a basket or other holding device. It should be noted however that there are other interpretations of the items he holds including the chains marking the binding of the devil by the Christian Church (Wikipedia has a full paragraph on the symbolism of his items; article is linked below.)
Krampus has one specific job: to accompany Santa Clause or St. Nicholas and heavily punish misbehaving children. If you’re lucky he’ll just beat you…if you’re not so lucky he’ll beat you and drag you into hell. This is not a minor folkloric, throw away concept either-December features Krampusnacht, held the night before St. Nicholas’ Day. Krampusnacht features dancing, singing, drinking, mummery, parades, and other carnival like events to ring in Krampus’ return.
Krampus even had his own Christmas cards, often with slightly more adult tones than you would think.
As the Santa Clause image began to filter into American culture, the Krampus image with its potential ties back to Pagan solstice rituals (National Geographic claims that Krampus is the son of Hel) and emphasis on punishment lost favor and was never really picked up in the States outside of regional traditions. While the image also never died out fully in Europe, Krampus is now slowly making a re-emergence both Europe and the States with increasing numbers of Krampus parades, the reintroduction of Krampus cards, and the reintroduction of the image back into popular culture.
However, the States would not be the only culture to reject Krampus. The Austrian government took an unfavorable view on Krampusnacht and banned the practice by law in 1934. In the 1950s they distributed pamphlets warning against the evils of Krampus. This was most likely was a reaction to political thought in that era than the actual image, however. Further, perhaps understandably, the Catholic church wasn’t exactly fond of him either.
(As an aside, while Buffalo hosts a Santacon this weekend-and I would very much like to see it-several cities hold a challenger Krampuscon. I’m assuming that if Santacon is drinking and collecting charity gifts-which it is in Buffalo- then Krampuscon must be drinking and brooding.)
I’m knitting again.
I know it’s a weird statement, on a knitting blog. But this rut I’ve been in has extended to anything harder than garter stitch blankets. But I’m working on a trade, a scarf for a Christmas ornament, and I’m really enjoying the project. I’m not working on anything terribly complicated-lace on largish needles with bulky yarn. It’s pleasant enough though-and I like the yarn. Always a bonus.
As I settled into the rhythm, I realized that the needles I’m using are bright green-which triggered an idea I’ve had for this column for a long time and have mentioned in passing on occasion. But it’s unofficially Memory Month, so if I’m rehashing an idea, it’s actually appropriate.
There is an idea, in relation to folk magic and urban legend, that you can work spells and raise energy with fiber arts. The basic idea is an extension of knot magic: knitting is basically a series of needle-worked knots, and knots can be used to ‘trap’ or catch energy. So in theory, you could work up spell bits and bobs, in various colors, and hold onto energy that way. If you wanted, you could hold the piece until the end of the spell and burn the piece then to release the energy. Or you could hold onto it like a talisman. This idea actually extends to a superstition that’s floated around my Internet career on various fiber sites-that different cultures had the idea that it was terrible to rip out your own work because it tears out your own luck.
The idea of this binding means that you can also bind a person to you through knitting or other fiber work-working your hair or the hair of another person will bind the two of you together.
Knitters will sometimes say that projects and yarns have personalities, and you can ‘raise’ energy will working on a piece. It’s not necessarily bad luck to work a project that you don’t like, but it can be rough going and sometimes yarn will tell you what it does and does not want to be-it’s easier to work with a yarn that wants to be, say, a scarf than yarn that doesn’t.
In terms of energy, it also possible to use fiber to work with manifestations, meditations, and other mindsets that are aided by repetitive motion. If you wanted to work an abundance chant, for example, you could use green needles (hence what triggered this post), green yarn, or both (or neither, to be honest) and work your chant across each chant. Spinning and knitting are both helpful to clear the mind for meditation.
Folklorically, a lot of the myth surrounding European hearth spirits mention fiber, at least in passing. Many of these spirits (fae or otherwise) are deeply interested in spinning and other fiber arts. Some will actually do the spinning for you if you stay on their good sides, for others, if you slack on your fiber work, you risk enraging them.
Knitting is not without its own little urban legends and superstitions-it’s terrible luck to knit for a baby before it is born. As in, potentially fatally bad luck. There is also the infamous sweater curse-don’t knit for your partner before you’re engaged, or you run the risk of breaking up the relationship. You should also try to never hand a person a pair of needles with the points to them or risk damaging your relationship. Dropping needles is bad luck. Don’t leave knitting needles empty.
I said last week that it was impossible to track the beginnings of Halloween.
We do know that it’s linked to early harvest rites that were often further linked into death and renewal nights (Samhain being one of them).
(A minor sidetrack, I said years ago that I didn’t see the connection between Samhain and fae faiths. Being too trained not to, I have readjusted that stance in the years since. I’m just too lazy to go back and readjust that entry. But, yes, I’m willing to meet people further up the road on that one, though I’m still not sure that that the mounds were the main drive of that holiday.)
(A complete sidetrack, speaking of faeries and Halloween. Try coming up with a fast, simple, yet thorough way of describing the sluagh and the Wild Hunt to someone who knows absolutely nothing about fae lore.)
Once the Catholic church rose to cultural dominance, the holiday that we now call Halloween began to take shape-but we don’t have a set, easily verifiable date to look at and say, ‘this is the year that it tipped over into what we would recognize as Halloween.’
Except for the United States and a city called Anoka.
Prior to the 1920s, there was really nothing to control children and teens from heavy pranking during events such as Nut Crack and Bonfire Nights. Halloween was practiced, but it was mainly a home-based holiday with parties and other events held on private property. While there was limited practice of treat or treating at the time, it was not as well established as a cultural icon as it would be in later decades. The pranking aspect of the holiday was in full force, leading up to Halloween night proper.
Towns would wake up destruction from the annoying but not necessarily completely damaging such as eggings and toilet paper to outright destruction of property and thefts.
In Anoka Minnesota, a town leader named George Green held a meeting in 1920 to address the pranking issue in a manner that would fulfill the population’s desire for social outlets, interesting enough to divert attention away from pranking and other less than desired activities, and community minded. What the town decided to put together was the first known civic Halloween event-which solidifies the town as the birthplace of American Halloween as we know it (sorry Salem, you have nothing to do with this one).
The events included a giant bonfire that has been held every year since, other than years affected by World War II in the 1940s, a giant parade, and mass distribution of candy. According to Anoka’s history website, the event has changed over the years to account for changing tastes; at one point, a giant snake dance was involved.
Was the Anoka the first place in the United States to shift into a ‘modern’ style Halloween? Probably not. In fact, I would be more surprised if it was. But Anoka has been acknowledged as the first place to fully ritualize it as a community event. Therefore, in a sense, you can date American Halloween to Minnesota, 1920.
The south-wind strengthens to a gale,
Across the moon the clouds fly fast,
The house is smitten as with a flail,
The chimney shudders to the blast.
On such a night, when Air has loosed
Its guardian grasp on blood and brain,
Old terrors then of god or ghost
Creep from their caves to life again;
And Reason kens he herits in
A haunted house. Tenants unknown
Assert their squalid lease of sin
With earlier title than his own.
Unbodied presences, the pack’d
Pollution and remorse of Time,
Slipp’d from oblivion reënact
The horrors of unhouseld crime.
Some men would quell the thing with prayer
Whose sightless footsteps pad the floor,
Whose fearful trespass mounts the stair
Or burts the lock’d forbidden door.
Some have seen corpses long interr’d
Escape from hallowing control,
Pale charnel forms—nay ev’n have heard
The shrilling of a troubled soul,
That wanders till the dawn hath cross’d
The dolorous dark, or Earth hath wound
Closer her storm-spredd cloke, and thrust
The baleful phantoms underground.