The Myth of Frau Perchta

frau perchta 2Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus, is a well-known Yuletide figure.  However, over the years we have seen some of the more… unsavory characters come into the spotlight.  Krampus was one of those characters from folklore who became wildly popular after his 2015 horror/comedy debut on the big screen.  However, there are still other mythic stories, legends and folktales of different Yule spirits and demons and elves and trolls. Today, we are going to be taking a look at one of these, a witch who punishes naughty children.  Her name is Frau Perchta.

Frau Perchta comes to us from Austrian and Bavarian tradition, becoming more well known with her other name Frau Berchta which was popularized by the brothers Grimm.  She is also associated with Berchta the Germanic goddess of abundance who was demonized by the Catholic church and referred to as a witch. Either way, Frau Perchta is generally depicted as a crone dressed in rage with a beaked, iron nose.  Sometimes she carries a cane, but almost always she carries a long, sharp knife that she keeps hidden beneath her skirts.

frau perchtaYou see, Frau Perchta — much like Santa Claus — will reward good children and punish the bad.  She also punishes women for unkempt households and unspun flax. For those she deems good, a silver coin is left for them.  If she deems you unworthy, if you forget to leave out a bowl of porridge for her, if your flax is half spun and unfinished, she slits open your abdomen, removes your organs, and replaces them with straw.  She was also associated with the Wild Hunt, flying through the night sky while accompanied by her demonic Perchten — Krampus-looking creatures — and elves and unbaptized babies. During the last three thursdays before Christmas, you will hear the sounds of thunder and wind roaring, however it is really Frau Perchta leading her Wild Hunt.

Either way, Frau Perchta doesn’t seem like a woman to cross.  Whether she is a crone who judges your housework, or someone who comes to punish the naughty and reward the nice, or even the leader of the Wild Hunt itself, Frau Perchta promises punishment for those who she sees as undeserving.  One thing is for certain: whichever version of her tale you believe, be sure to have your house dust-free and stay indoors on the nights leading up to Christmas or Frau Perchta might replace your organs with straw.

For more reading on Frau Perchta (sources):
https://boroughsofthedead.com/frau-perchta/
http://occult-world.com/germanic-gods-goddesses/berchta/

The Folklore of the Yuki Onna

yuki onnaImagine this: you find yourself lost in the woods, high up in the mountains of Japan.  Snow is falling in a thick curtain, and out of the corner of your eyes you see a woman dressed in white slipping amongst the trees.  You blink and she is there, sucking your life force from you as you freeze up, turning solid as ice. This is the fearsome creature known as the Yuki Onna.

Yuki Onna are Japanese yokai — a category of supernatural beings in Japanese folklore which includes demons, monsters, and creatures.  Their legends are more prevalent amongst the people living in the Japanese Alps where they can await — and eventually hunt — unsuspecting travelers who find themselves lost during snowstorms.

yuki onna 2The Yuki Onna are described as being beautiful, with long, black hair and violet eyes.  Their flesh is pale, their kimonos white to blend in with the snow. Their powers include being able to freeze a human by sucking out their souls with their icy breath and entering homes, flash-freezing entire families while they sleep.  However, not every interaction with the Yuki Onna ends with their human prey frozen. In fact, some lore suggests that they will fall in love and marry. However, the Yuki Onna are immortal, and when their husbands realize she does not age their marriages fall apart.

So be wary, travelers.  If you happen to find yourself lost on a snowy mountain road, keep your eyes out for a woman of great beauty dressed all in white.  For she may be a Yuki Onna, awaiting her latest prey.

For more reading on the Yuki Onna (sources):
http://yokai.com/yukionna/
https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/heart-cold-ice-japanese-legend-yuki-onna-beautiful-yet-dangerous-snow-woman-007186

The Folklore of “The Scottish Play”

macbethThe theater has been host to much folklore over the years.  There is the saying “break a leg” which means “good luck” — though you are never supposed to actually wish someone “good luck.”  There are stories of haunted sets due to deaths, of cursed parts — such as the ghost in “the Peony Lantern” which stems from a 1919 performance in which the two actresses playing Otsuyu and her maid fell sick and died within a week of each other.  However, there is one play that no one dares utter the name of. One that has supposedly been cursed for centuries. And that play is Macbeth.

 

macbeth 2

According to lore, to even utter the name of the play was considered horribly bad luck, therefore it was always referred to as “The Scottish Play.”  This all stems from the notion that — again, according to legend — Shakespeare used actual incantations for the witches, causing a coven to curse the play forevermore.  Another theory is that the actual incantations the witches speak during the performance is the curse itself, causing all of the misfortune that has befallen this play since its opening day.

macbeth 3

As we take a look at a few of the accidents that have occurred throughout the years, we have to begin in 1606 when the actor playing Lady Macbeth died the day before the play was to debut.  This forced King James I to ban the play for years in order to prevent any further incidents. However, the actresses who have played Lady Macbeth have been known to suffer the worst of it.  There are stories of the actors being strangled, breaking both of their legs, falling to their deaths off the stage, and — the worst of it all — being attacked by audience members who become completely bewitched by the play.  This leads us to 1849 when — in New York — the audience was so bespelled by the play that a riot broke out, killing over thirty people. Macbeth 4When Laurence Olivier played Macbeth, he was almost killed by a heavy weight that mysteriously dropped from backstage, and during his performance they used real swords which, unfortunately, led to one flying into the audience, hitting one of the patrons and causing him to have a heart attack.  In 1942, three actors died under unexplained circumstances, and the costume designer took their own life on opening night. The final story we have of this play’s destruction comes to us from 1953 when actor Charlton Heston was in a horrific motorcycle accident during rehearsals, leaving both of his legs badly burned for his performance. The reason? His tights had been mysteriously soaked in kerosene, leaving them highly flammable.

With every curse there comes the chance to break it.  And this one is no different. According to theater folklore, should you utter the name of the play you must immediately exit the theater, spin around three times, spit, curse, then knock on the theater door in order to be allowed back in.  So if you happen to find yourself cast in “The Scottish Play” fear not! Just whatever you do, do not say the name of the play, or you might find yourself added to the list of unexplained deaths this play has been collecting since the very beginning.

For more reading on the curse of Macbeth (sources):
https://www.santacruzshakespeare.org/the-macbeth-curse-myth-or-reality/
http://www.scotlandnow.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/7-sinister-examples-curse-macbeth-6419261
https://www.rsc.org.uk/macbeth/about-the-play/the-scottish-play

The Folklore of Hekla

heklaImagine seeing a giant fissure open up, fire erupting into the sky as smoke and ash billow along the winds.  You might think that this explosion was nothing else but the gates of Hell opening onto the earth. Well, that is exactly what the people in Iceland thought back in 1104: our first written record of a volcanic explosion from Hekla.

hekla 3.jpgHekla is a volcano in the south of Iceland.  However, in 1104 when the volcano erupted there was quite the panic, especially from Christians who saw Hekla as one of the doorways into Hell.  Now, the volcano is known for throwing lava bombs — up to twelve tons in size! — from its fire fountains, and as they travel into the cold night air, they begin to hiss due to the cooler temperatures.  Well, when people had seen these projectiles, they believed them to be escaped spirits screaming in agony. Birds flying nearby would be accused of being souls circling the gates while others claimed that witches gathered around the crater to meet the devil and practice dark magic.

Hekla 2

Today, however, the volcano has become quite the tourist attraction. Hekla is still active, and people travel from all over just to see the fire fountains explode into the night.  Though you might be kept at a safe distance from the volcano, it isn’t hard to imagine why early European thought that Hekla was a gate into hell — especially when one witnesses the fire fountains erupting themselves.

 

For more reading on Hekla (sources):
http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/hekla-gateway-hell
http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/book/export/html/1015

The Folklore of Blood Stopping in the Ozarks

ozarks.jpgFolk medicine is comprised of rituals and medicines, herbs and crystals and stone.  Even as a child, my mother would prepare an herbal tea when I was sick and it would go away within the day.  And though it sounds a lot like ancient methods and miraculous magic, some people still use these techniques today.  In fact, in the Ozarks there are those who still practice a lot of these rituals today. One such practice is the stopping of the flow of blood and the people who practice it are called “blood stoppers.”

Let’s say that you sliced your palm with a knife, and there were no doctors around.  According to tradition, you would stab the knife into the ground to stop the bleeding.  However, these “power doctors” could supposedly cure illness and disease through supernatural methods.  And if they were available to help treat a wound such as that, they would burn the sole of the peron’s shoe and then rub the ash into the wound to avoid blood poisoning.

ozarks 2.jpgHowever, in order to cure something more debilitating, the power doctor would stop the “unnatural” flow of blood by reciting bible verses — usually from the Book of Ezekiel.  The belief that these people could stop the flow of blood was so powerful, that a story of a man who challenged a blood stopper traveled around in which he told the doctor to “try your luck on this beef.”  According to the story, the skeptic went hungry as he killed the cow which never bled a single drop, ruining the meat in the end. Similar stories of blood stoppers helping those in need can be found in abundance, from a woman who went into a barn and prayed for three minutes while a man bleeding to death in a wagon just stopped bleeding altogether and was saved, all the way to a man who suffered a nosebleed and placed a chip beneath to catch the blood, keeping the chip in a safe place so that it would go undisturbed and he wouldn’t get a nosebleed again.

Whether you believe in folk medicines and folk magic does not really matter as there are others who do.  As we can tell from these stories, people do believe, and they have different tales of healing that have been passed around for generations.  Whether you have been stabbed or suffer nosebleeds or something equally as bad, it is clear that a blood stopper would be able to heal you with nothing more than the power of their faith.

For more reading on blood stoppers (sources):
https://listverse.com/2015/11/17/10-folk-magic-traditions-of-the-early-modern-era/Otto Ernest Rayburn.  Midwest Folklore.  Vol. 4, No. 4 (Winter, 1954), pp. 213-215

The Folklore of Vasilisa the Beautiful

vasilisaImagine going against a witch with iron teeth who rides on a mortar and pestle, lives in a house that stands on chicken legs, and eats people.  Not a very pleasant thought. However, Vasilisa the Beautiful wasn’t alone when she was forced to face the witch Baba Yaga. For Vasilisa was given a doll by her mother who helped her along the way.

The story of Vasilisa the Beautiful comes to us from Russian folklore.  A cinderella story in its own way, the girl is cast out of her home and sent to retrieve light from Baba Yaga in the woods by her stepmother.  Unbeknownst to the stepmother and stepsisters, Vasilisa was given a doll by her mother on her deathbed. So when she ventures into the woods, it’s her doll who encourages her.  As soon as Baba Yaga “saves” the girl, she is brought in and fed and told to work otherwise she would be eaten.vasilisa2

Thankfully, as the girl feeds her doll, the doll helps her through her tasks.  Unfortunately, this only enrages Baba Yaga who decides to roast her. Vasilisa then bribes the maid who is building the fire, ensures Baba Yaga sleeps soundly, and then offers gifts to the animals and tree that have been charged with attacking her should she escape.  On her way out, she grabs a skull whose eyes are glowing and brings it home, turning her stepmother and sisters to ash. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Cinderella story without a prince, and indeed she does marry one in the end. The doll living in her pocket forever.

So yes, we have a version of a Cinderella story with Vasilisa the Beautiful.  Yes, her mother does help her — not in the form of a tree but in the form of a doll.  However, I don’t remember Cindy having to fight off a cannibalistic witch. Vasilisa, on the other hand, is certainly a heroine in her own tale as she had outsmarted the witch Baba Yaga with nothing more than her wits and her doll.

For more reading on Vasilisa the Beautiful (sources):

https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/freaky-fairy-tale-ancient-folklore-vasilisa-beautiful-and-baba-yaga-009545

https://study.com/academy/lesson/vasilisa-the-beautiful-summary-characters-analysis.html

 

The Folklore of Roanoke

Roanoke-IslandThe story of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock is of course famous for being one of the first colonies to be founded in the “New World” — the first being Jamestown.  However, before they had come here, there was a group of one hundred and seventeen people who landed in Virginia, only to never be seen again. This is, of course, the story of Roanoke.

In 1587 colonists landed at Roanoke Island and established a settlement — the first of its kind.  Included in these numbers are John White and his daughter Eleanor Dare — who was pregnant — and her husband, and Chief Manteo who had become an ally to the English.  The group set to work repairing an old fort that had been erected on the island previously, and soon after Eleanor Dare gave birth to the first English child born on the continent.  A few days later, her father left for England to fetch supplies in order to help the budding colony.

roanoke.jpgJohn White was delayed in England, and when he arrived back in Roanoke — three years after his departure — he found that the fort was deserted.  The only piece of evidence that might hint as to where the colonists had gone or what had happened was the word “CROATOAN” which was carved into a nearby tree. Croatoan was the name of Chief Manteo’s home, though when John White went looking for them, he was stopped by a hurricane that damaged his ships so horribly he was forced to return to England.  Though he made several attempts to go back, John White would never return to look for his family and died never knowing what had happened to them.

The colonists of Roanoke had vanished from history.  No one knows exactly what happened — whether they were attacked or they fled or they starved to death remains a mystery.  Archaeologists still search for clues as to what happened to the lost colonists, searching for answers. So far there are none.

 

For more reading on Roanoke (sources):

https://www.ncpedia.org/history/colonial/roanoke-fact-or-fiction

https://www.outerbanks.org/things-to-do/attractions/historic-museums-sites/lost-colony/