(source: Mörk djevels, Ennstal, Steiermark, Austria)
While in Christian times everything with horns on is evil, the Krampus actually acts as a bringer of morale, even in a Christian sense. Krampus is a part of St. Nicolas host, something like the minion who takes the evil children to hell. Krampus was said to be a descendant of Loki, son of Hel, but also derives from the horned Gods of nature. One aspect is the holly king.
The holly king is the "green man" of English folklore and shares a lot of similarities to Cernunnos, the horned god, Herne the hunter, Robin Goodfellow and others.
(image source: Wikipedia)
Back to the figure of Krampus. He is never depicted as outright evil, but as a kind of negative psychopomp and acting as a cautionary mythological figure. The Krampus is a wood sprite (said to live in the deepest woods) in some traditions, and stands for the violent forces of nature. In a different place on this blog I have already referred to my presumption or theory that the Norwegian "Trolls" might have something to do with the "skóggángr mannar", the wood-walking men, people who had been banished from society due to a sentence, denying them the privilege to be a part of human society any longer. With the Krampus, however, I found a striking example of a Mongolian shaman costume:
(image source: pinterest)
This costume shares a lot of similarities to the Krampus costume. These are: Horned mask, sound-producing implements, a "shaman´s whip" (in the case of Krampus the bundle of birch twigs serves the same purpose besides being used to punish nasty children), staff (often a Krampus also holds a staff with bells on), shaman´s sword:
(image source: pinterest)
bells and drum. The shaman in Mongolian society, while being called a holy man, often came to shamanism via a mental illness or any other character trait that distinguishes him from the norm. He is ab - normal in a purely descriptive sense. Often he is a person of higher intellect and education, but not necessarily so. In most cases he lives away from the community of other men. Robinson (1985) postulated a correlation between introversion and emotional intelligence, just to mention it along. In any way, the shaman is seen as someone sitting on the hedge between the worlds. Having had the privilege to converse and make closer acquaintance with a genuine Mongolian shaman several years ago I can say that this quite certainly distinguishes a genuine shaman from all those self-entitled morons running around selling their so-called dream-travels. That gentleman was extremely practical-minded and saw his spirituality in much the same way in which he put up to everyday tasks. He was actually quite down-to-earth, but also had the capacity of having "one foot in the spirit world", as he put it.
In Mongolian society, the shaman is living apart from human society, not because he is despised or in any way banished, but because he is dangerous in a sense, dangerous because of a power that elevates him from human society. He is not entirely human, but able to share characteristics with spirit and animal. He is the one who talks to the world of spirits. In Saami culture, there are stories of shamans you could only look at through an iron ring to be able to survive their gaze.
The Krampus is something that lurks in the darkness and stands for the dark half of the year. Like trolls and dwarves, like elves and dragons, like white women and death itself, he stands for the uncivilized, for the woods, for the counterworld of civilization. In Arthurian romance we find the hero venturing into the woods where adventures, monsters and fair maiden dwell, to test his fortitude and then return as initiated to the court. It is a rite of initiation.
Now our society puts a lot of emphasis on stating that we are the good ones. We are praying to the forces of light, we bring other cultures the "light of civilization", the enlightenment movement has convinced us finally that there are no gods and no god at all.
Let me put it this way: St. Nicholas and Krampus do not agree at all. ;-) What we have done to nature and our fellow human beings, and what we are doing even now as I write, is worthy of the worst of the bad guys. We do not need to fear any devil anymore; we were better to fear ourselves.
But there are good news-or bad, that depends on your perspective. The old myths currently somehow rewrite themselves. Somehow old Krampus jumped out of the box this year, being all the rage (pun intended). If you listen, he might have a message for you.
Become a creature of the wildwood. And walk the world of man to remind them that you´re dangerous, not because you mean harm to anyone, but because it is your very personality and character. Become dangerous not like a mass - murderer or lunatic is. But because you are one with a wolf, an owl, or winter. Be Yule, and Yule will reward you with the gift of light in the darkest hour.
And remember to fill your boots with leftovers from the feast for Krampus and put them outside! You never know... ;-)