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Archive for the ‘Myth’ Category

Krampus // Pelznickle

In Animals, History, Language, Myth, Religion, Society on December 26, 2009 at 2:06 am

A DARK FIGURE hides behind the grinning countenance of Ole’ Saint Nick.  Sometimes he rides on a white horse, and sometimes he is accompanied by fairies or men in blackface dressed as old women.  Sometimes he is in rags and a long black beard, and sometimes he is covered in fur with the horns of a goat and a long red tongue.  He is just one of the many murderers and child molesters that make up Santa Claus’ posse.  Truth is, Jolly Santa’s “companions” are a hodgepodge assortment of rough-and-tumble characters; assorted fiends with sordid pasts and nightmarish agendas.  The companions travel with St. Nicholas or his various equivalents (Father Christmas, Santa Claus), carrying with them a rod (sometimes a stick, a mace, switchblade, sythe, revolver, a magic top hat, rusty chains, a birch branch, bundle of switches or a whip, and in modern times often a broom) and a sack. They are sometimes dressed in black rags, bearing a black face and unruly black hair. In many contemporary portrayals the companions look like dark, sinister, or rustic versions of Nicholas himself, with a similar costume but with a darker color scheme.

Santa and the Gang “Spring Break ’34”

The companion of the French St. Nicholas, Père Fouettard, is said to be the butcher of three children.  St. Nicholas discovered the murder and resurrected the three children. He also shamed Père Fouettard, who, in repentance, became a servant of St. Nicholas. Fouettard travels with the saint and punishes naughty children by whipping them.

In Germanic folklore, Knecht Ruprecht, meaning Knight Rupert, accompanies St Nicholas when delivering gifts and represents the more frightening side of this custom. He is also known as Black Peter, so called from the soot in the chimneys he goes down.  According to tradition, Knecht Ruprecht asks children whether they can pray. If they can, they receive apples, nuts, and gingerbread. If they cannot, he beats the children with his bag of ashes.  In some of the Ruprecht traditions the children would be summoned to the door to perform special tricks, such as a dance or singing a song to impress upon Santa and Ruprecht that they were indeed good children. Those who performed badly would be beaten soundly by Servant Ruprecht, and those who performed well were given a gift or some treats. Those who performed really badly were put into Ruprecht’s sack and taken away, variously to Ruprecht’s home in the Black Forest, or to be tossed into a river, or to be dumped into the fiery pits of Hell.  Over time, the image of St Nicholas has merged with Knecht Ruprecht to form “Ru Klaus” meaning Rough Nicholas, so named because of his rugged appearance; “Aschen Klaus”, meaning Ash Nicholas because of the bag of ashes he carries with him; and “Pelznickle”, meaning Furry Nicholas, referring to his fur-clad appearance.

One of the most notorious incarnations is Santa’s old pal, Krampus.  To say that Krampus is a bad seed is would be an understatement. The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen). In the Alpine regions, Krampus is represented by an incubus-like creature. Traditionally, young men dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly on the evening of December 5, and roam the streets in drunken revelry: dressing in pagan costumes and frightening children and women with rusty chains and bells.

It would seem that Krampus is an amalgamation of several pagan traditions and trickster archetypes leftover from the Pre-Christian Era of Germanic history like the Yule Goat. Yule was a winter solstice festival that was connected to the Wild Hunt and/or influenced by Saturnalia, the Roman winter festival. A description of Yule can be found Old Norse King’s Saga Heimskringla:

It was ancient custom that when sacrifice was to be made, all farmers were to come to the heathen temple and bring along with them the food they needed while the feast lasted. At this feast all were to take part of the drinking of ale. Also all kinds of livestock were killed in connection with it, horses also; and all the blood from them was called hlaut [ sacrificial blood ], and hlautbolli, the vessel holding the blood; and hlautteinar, the sacrificial twigs. These were fashioned like sprinklers, and with them were to be smeared all over with blood the pedestals of the idols and also the walls of the temple within and without; and likewise the men present were to be sprinkled with blood. But the meat of the animals was to be boiled and served as food at the banquet. Fires were to be lighted in the middle of the temple floor, and kettles hung over them. The sacrificial beaker was to be borne around the fire, and he who made the feast and was chieftain, was to bless the beaker as well as all the sacrificial meat.  Later, toasts were to be drunk. The first toast was to be drunk to Odin “for victory and power to the king”, the second to the gods Njörðr and Freyr “for good harvests and for peace”, and thirdly a beaker was to be drunk to the king himself.  In addition, toasts were drunk to the memory of departed kinsfolk… [This continues until everyone is plastered – sounds like Christmas, right?]

In his Dictionary of Northern Mythology, Rudolf Simek says that focus was not on the gods of the Vanir, but instead the god Odin, and he notes that one of Odin’s many names is Jólnir (Old Norse for “yule figure”).  Simek says that Odin was associated with Yule, and that the tradition of the Wild Hunt undoubtedly contributed to the association of the two.  According to Simek “it is uncertain whether the Germanic Yule feast still had a function in the cult of the dead and in the veneration of the ancestors, a function which the mid-winter sacrifice certainly held for the West European Stone and Bronze Ages.”

This is fascinating since the Norse Odin is directly related to the Roman Mercury / Hermes.  For instance, the name of the day “Wednesday” comes from the Middle English Wednes dei, which is from Old English Wōdnesdæg, meaning the day of the English god Woden or Odin.  When the Romans described the gods of Celtic and Germanic tribes, rather than considering them separate deities, the Romans interpreted them as local manifestations or aspects of their own gods, a cultural trait called the interpretatio Romana. Mercury in particular was reported as becoming extremely popular among the nations the Roman Empire conquered; Julius Caesar wrote of Mercury being the most popular god in Britain and Gaul, regarded as the inventor of all the arts.  Romans associated Mercury with the Germanic god Wotan, by interpretatio Romana; 1st-century Roman writer Tacitus identifies the two as being the same, and describes him as the chief god of the Germanic peoples.  Julius Caesar, in a section of his “Gallic Wars” describing the customs of the German tribes, wrote “The Germans most worship Mercury,” apparently identifying Wotan with Mercury.  That is why the Romantic languages use the Latin dies Mercurii (“Mercury’s day”) for Wednesday while the Germanic languages kept their Norse equivalent!

Father Christmas riding a Yule Goat

To tie it all together:  Krampus is related to the “Horned God” an archetype represents the personification of the life force energy in animals and the wilderness, fertility, sexual virility and the Hunt. Gods like Baphomet, Cernunnos, Pan, Faunus, and Innus are personified as being sex crazed or shown as having a large erect phallus.  Fertility, fecundity and the symbolism of the phallus all denote a connection to the rites, rituals, and celebrations of Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice.  Pan is the alleged offspring of Hermes/Mercury and follows in his progenitor’s footsteps as both trickster and psychopomp (a guide for the souls of the dead into the Underworld).  Pan is also equated with the Astrological sign Capricornus.

This is where it gets interesting.

capricornusCapricornus has one of the oldest mythological associations, having been consistently represented as a hybrid of a goat and a fish since the Middle Bronze Age, first attested in depictions on boundary stones, and explicitly recorded in the Babylonian star catalogs as “The Goat-Fish” before 1000 BC. The constellation was a symbol of Ea and in the Early Bronze Age marked the winter solstice.

Among the Greeks and Italians St. Nicholas is a favourite of sailors, fishermen, ships and sailing. As such he has become over time the patron saint of several cities maintaining harbors. In centuries of Greek folklore, Nicholas was seen as “The Lord of the Sea”, often described by modern Greek scholars as a kind of Christianized version of Poseidon.  Capricornus is a union between St. Nick and Krampus.  Half goat, half fish.

So what we have here is Santa Claus/St. Nick/Father Christmas as personification of Winter Solstice accompanied by his servant and messenger Krampus/Horned God/Hermes as the personification of Summer Solstice.  Basically a resurrection myth.  In a Christian sense we have the birth of the Christ Child as the celebrated rebirth of the Divine.  A promise that man will be redeemed through a Savior but also a forewarning of the suffering/death that he will have to endure before redemption.  Enlightenment that comes after a period of Darkness (Ignorance), i.e., “Out of Darkness, Cometh Light.”  In a Pagan sense we have the Horned Fertility God acting as psychopomp and leading us into the Underworld with the expectation of a later resurgence in reproductive energy come Springtime.  In an Astronomical sense we have Winter Solstice being the longest night of the year and the onslaught of deathly cold, but also the return of the Sun and the guarantee that the Summer will eventually save us from starvation.

And so the Holiday is really a celebration of the dualistic nature of reality.  An agreement that with the good comes the bad and vice-verse.  An alchemical union of opposites.  Christmas solved!


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Black Melancholia // Saturn

In Alchemy, Art, History, Image, Myth, Pharmacopeia, Psychology on December 9, 2009 at 9:55 am

Certain poisons worked by an occult and specifick property and have their essence from the stars and celestial influence which is apt to destroy the strength of man’s body, because being taken but even in a small quantity, yet are so precious a quality that they kill almost in a moment.

::Ambroise Paré::

Ambroise Paré was a French surgeon renowned for his ingenious experiments.  He once used a solution of egg yolk, oil of roses, and turpentine for war wounds instead of boiling oil and cauterization.  In 1565, Ambroise Paré described an experiment to test the properties of the Bezoar Stone.  At the time, the Bezoar stone was commonly believed to be able to cure the effects of any poison, but Paré believed this to be impossible. It happened that a cook at Paré’s court was caught stealing fine silver cutlery, and was condemned to be hanged. The cook agreed to be poisoned, on the conditions that he would be given some bezoar straight after the poison and go free in case he survived. The stone did not cure him, and he died in agony seven hours after being poisoned. Thus Paré had proved that the Bezoar Stone could not cure all poisons.

Albrecht Dürer, Melancholia I

The Mütter Museum has an interesting exhibit up about Lead.  The quote above was a reference to the physical dangers of that element. In alchemy, the planet / diety associated with lead was Saturn/Cronus.  A Saturnine disposition has been a common ailment of artists and philosophers since the beginning of time and is better known by its  synonym:  Melancholia.  The name “melancholia” comes from the old medical theory of the four humours: disease or ailment being caused by an imbalance in one or other of the four basic bodily fluids, or humours.  Personality types were similarly determined by the dominant humour in a particular person. Melancholia was caused by an excess of black bile; hence the name, which means ‘black bile’ (Ancient Greek μέλας, melas, “black”, + χολή, kholé, “bile”); a person whose constitution tended to have a preponderance of black bile had a melancholic disposition. The other humors are yellow bile, blood, and phlegm.

In 1921 Swedish physician Fahråeus suggested that the four humours were based upon the observation of blood clotting in a transparent container. When blood is drawn in a glass container and left undisturbed for about an hour, four different layers can be seen. A dark clot forms at the bottom (the “black bile”). Above the clot is a layer of red blood cells (the “blood”).  Above this is a whitish layer of white blood cells (the “phlegm”, now called the buffy coat). The top layer is clear yellow serum (the “yellow bile”).

The print-maker and theorist Albrecht Dürer ties all this together with his masterpiece “Melancolia 1.”

The alchemist’s lot was such that he was often depicted as a melancholy and frustrated being, as, for example, by Chaucer, Weiditz, Brueghel, and Teniers. In a wider sense, melancholy was held to be an attribute of students or seekers after knowledge. The doctrine of melancholy, moreover, is inseparable from the Saturnine mysticism that permeates alchemy. One of the elements of Saturnine mysticism is measurement, typified by the compasses, balance, and hour-glass.

The polyhedron lying beside the foot of the ladder (representing the base metal, lead) may be an image of the Philosopher’s Stone, or more immediately, of the so-called ” Stone of Saturn,” which Saturn (or Kronos), “swallowed and spewed up instead of Jupiter.” Saturn, who is often represented in alchemy as an old man with an hour-glass upon his head, was addicted to swallowing his own children; for this reason, infants, usually shown at play, enter into the Saturnine elements of alchemy.

::John Read::

Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Children

Cronus envied the power of his father, the ruler of the universe, Uranus.   Gaia created a great adamant sickle and gathered together Cronus and his brothers to persuade them to castrate Uranus. Only Cronus was willing to do the deed, so Gaia gave him the sickle and placed him in ambush. When Uranus met with Gaia, Cronus attacked him with the sickle by cutting off his genitals, castrating him and casting the severed member into the sea. From the blood and semen that spilled out from Uranus and fell upon the earth, the Gigantes, Erinyes, and Meliae were produced. From the member that was cast into the sea, Venus later emerged. For this, Uranus threatened vengeance.  After dispatching Uranus, Cronus re-imprisoned the Hecatonchires, the Gigantes, and the Cyclopes and set the dragon Campe to guard them. He and his sister Rhea took the throne of the world as king and queen. This period of Cronus’ rule was called the Golden Age, as the people of the time had no need for laws or rules; everyone did the right thing, and immorality was absent.

Cronus learned from Gaia and Uranus that he was destined to be overcome by his own son, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the gods Demeter, Hera, Hades, Hestia, and Poseidon by Rhea, he devoured them all as soon as they were born to preempt the prophecy. When the sixth child, Zeus, was born Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save them and to eventually get retribution on Cronus for his acts against his father and children. Rhea secretly gave birth to Zeus in Crete, and handed Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, also known as the Omphalos Stone, which he promptly devoured, thinking that it was his son.  Once he had grown up, Zeus used a poison given to him by Gaia to force Cronus to disgorge the contents of his stomach in reverse order.

Cronus spent the last of his life as a prisoner of Tartarus, a dark, gloomy place that can be described as a pit of blackness.  Feelings of shame, fear, guilt and humiliation shackle us and keep us confined to the pit of darkness. Its mutations have become so ramified with time, so contradictory that soon one could no longer say just what melancholy was in the first place. Yet we all have a feeling for what it is being referred to, a sort of enormous black abyss which contaminates and sucks up everything in its vicinity.  Having recognised, for example, a sickle, a scythe, a broom, an oar, ankle shackles a crutch, or even an old man preparing to devour a child, the viewer would immediately recognize Saturn, who, in turn, he would automatically associate with melancholy.  If a picture contained devices alluding to geometry or mathematics, these too led back to the same theme, since in the Middle Ages, mathematicians and geometricians were regarded as melancholic. “The mathematician is a mirthless fellow,” wrote Martin Luther, and equipment related to that science is also visible in Dürer’s engraving.  Conspicuously present in the background of Dürer’s engraving is an enigmatic, eight-sided, and up to the present inscrutable polyhedron, one whose very inscrutability makes it mysterious, even uncanny. This polyhedron not only alludes to melancholy, it also radiates it, so to speak. It is no riddle, but rather a mystery. Nonetheless, by virtue of this polyhedron, Dürer’s image could be referred to as melancholic.  In place of transmissibility, the inexpressible aspect of melancholy moves to the foreground. In place of the concrete, the abstract.  Melancholy is the dark unknowable.

The Goya painting is also of note.  It is one of the series of Black Paintings that Goya painted directly onto the walls of his house sometime between 1819 and 1823.  Goya produced a series of 14 works, which he painted with oils directly onto the walls of the house. At the age of 73, and having survived two life-threatening illnesses, Goya was likely to have been concerned with his own mortality, and was increasingly embittered by the civil strife occurring in Spain.

Blackness, in alchemy means putrefaction or decomposition. The alchemists believed that as a first step in the pathway to the philosopher’s stone all alchemical ingredients had to be cleansed and cooked extensively to a uniform black matter. In depth psychology, Carl Jung interpreted alchemical blackness as a moment of maximum despair, that is a prerequisite to personal development.  James Hillman writes, “The rotting and blackening process of alchemy, dreadful wounds and suppurating sores, the ritual butchery of animals or their contagion and poisoning, and other such shocking imagery point to where something material is losing its substance and thrust, where a physical impulse or animal drive is descending toward the underworld.”

Every night and every morn

Some to misery are born.

Every morn and every night

Some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight,

Some are born to endless night.

::William Blake, Auguries of Innocence ::

Superficial Identities in Emerging Æsthetics

In Art, Image, Internet, Myth, Society on December 4, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Laura Brothers, Danger Dialogue

Who are you? Who cares? With proper self-branding, not only will you find out who you are, you will make the right people care, opening up a slew of the right opportunities specifically tailored for you. Maximize marketing potential and get the type of work and respect one deserves.

::Excerpt, www.artofselfbranding.com::

REVIEW:  EXPENSIVE DEATHSTYLE

In his new project, Santiago Vernetti invites each of us to redefine “selling out”.  Repackaging commodified party culture in Los Angeles to make it appear palatable to intellectual scrutiny, Monsieur Vernetti’s images of lost children slide down our corroded psychic arteries easier than a Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks.

The superficiality of a youth culture obsessed with AND TRAPPED BY an oversaturation of images, readily available for consumption, causes excessive narcissism and a preoccupation with oneself (not to mention an unpleasant feeling of self-consciousness when one realizes that one is being watched or observed, the feeling that “everyone is looking” at oneself, i.e. paranoia).  This leads to a state of constant performance in the struggle to secure a public identity.  Private identity has dissolved giving rise to self-branding and the art of discrimination.  In laymen terms, what Facebook pictures do I choose to associate with myself?  How do I craft a profile that accurately reflects the identity I am trying to sell?

But if all is performance than EDS and FB could be seen as historical documentation of a never-ending, continuous spectacle.  Mr. Vernetti gives us each front row tickets to the Fall of the Times New Roman Empire.  His website gives public access to a fun house of seemingly perverted mirrors.  It is only after a deeper glance do we see the truth: each picture is a portrait of Dorian Gray.

Party photography on the internet as vehicle for the dissolution of celebrity // or // a hypocritical exercise that participates in the creation of celebrity albeit an illusory one // or // things I go to, and the people I see there as platform to launch a moonlighting career // or // just something to pass the time… ::Santi Vernetti::

…this time however I come as the victorious Dionysus, who will turn the world into a holiday…Not that I have much time…  ::Nietzsche, Letter to Cosima Wagner::

Indeed, as reported in his mythic death/rebirth:  unable to recognize himself in the vague and distorted reflection produced by the mirror, Dionysus nods his head in a vain search for his own image and identity.  The Titans interpret this action, in its telling motions and gestures, as his consent to be sacrificed. They kill and dismember him, and then proceed to boil and broil his flesh. After which they party.  Dismemberment can be unserstood psychologically as a transformative process.  It is original unity submitting to dispersal and multiplicity for the sake of realization in spatio-temporal existence.  Party Photography as a dissolution of celebrity is a psychological transformation of a non-event:  The Autonomous Zone:

Stephen Pearl Andrews once offered, as an image of anarchist society, the dinner party, in which all structure of authority dissolves in conviviality and celebration…  The media invite us to “come celebrate the moments of your life” with the spurious unification of commodity and spectacle, the famous non-event of pure representation.  In response to this obscenity we have, on the one hand, the spectrum of refusal and on the other hand, the emergence of a festal culture removed and even hidden from the would-be managers of our leisure. “Fight for the right to party” is in fact not a parody of the radical struggle but a new manifestation of it, appropriate to an age which offers social networking sites as ways to “reach out and touch” other human beings, ways to “Be There!”

Pearl Andrews was right: the dinner party is already “the seed of the new society taking shape within the shell of the old” (IWW Preamble). The sixties-style “tribal gathering,” the forest conclave of eco-saboteurs, the idyllic Beltane of the neo-pagans, anarchist conferences, gay faery circles…Harlem rent parties of the twenties, nightclubs, banquets, old-time libertarian picnics–we should realize that all these are already “liberated zones” of a sort, or at least potential TAZs. Whether open only to a few friends, like a dinner party, or to thousands of celebrants, like a Be-In, the party is always “open” because it is not “ordered”; it may be planned, but unless it “happens” it’s a failure. The element of spontaneity is crucial.

The essence of the party: face-to-face, a group of humans synergize their efforts to realize mutual desires, whether for good food and cheer, dance, conversation, the arts of life; perhaps even for erotic pleasure, or to create a communal artwork, or to attain the very transport of bliss– in short, a “union of egoists” (as Stirner put it) in its simplest form–or else, in Kropotkin’s terms, a basic biological drive to “mutual aid.”

::Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.::

Primitive / Occult Revival in Modern Æsthetics

What is clear now is that the West’s fascination with the primitive has to do with its own crises in identity, with its own need to clearly demarcate subject and object even while flirting with other ways of experiencing the universe.   ::Bell Hooks::

We find ourselves in an uncertain state.  We seek structure and security.  This mediated world increasingly produces feelings of alienation and loss.  In our desperate attempt to understand our own nature, we seek the company of others. Obsessed with the material reality of the flesh we long to touch one another.   The intimacy once conferred by community and religion in tribal life has dissolved into a state metaphysical restlessness.  We travel from city to city but all is the same.  Italo Calvino recognizes that, “arriving in each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had:  the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”  What we look for is value and meaning.  “What is the meaning of life?”  The question cannot be answered in this form because it confuses objective, abstract meaning with subjective, living meaning.  In this case, it is an actual or possible derivation from sentience, which is not associated with signs that have any original or primary intent of communication.  Occult imagery, with its emphasis on the unknowable and its use of highly potent symbols allows exploration without limitations.

Laura Brothers, Robo Pop Float Void

Thanksgiving.

In Animals, Government, History, Literature, Myth on November 25, 2009 at 4:43 pm

*Above:  A Thanksgiving Prayer by William S. Burroughs.  Dir. by Gus Van Sant.

Some light fare and portentous quotes for the Holiday.  Remember to tip your waiters and enjoy your parade.

Also, if you are feeling really “thankful” today, try donating some time/money/help to Black Mesa Indigenous Support.  Maybe your Grandma would like a Navajo Rug.  Maybe she would rather shit in the blood of our ancestors.  I don’t know the woman.  But when we build our houses with the bones of our progenitors, it is good to pay tribute, lest the ghosts of those we have wronged hunger for flesh of the living.  Just sayin’.

Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for – annually, not oftener – if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians.  Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.

::Mark Twain::

Turkey: A large bird whose flesh, when eaten on certain religious anniversaries has the peculiar property of attesting piety and gratitude.

::Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary::

Got no check books, got no banks.  Still I’d like to express my thanks – I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.

::Irving Berlin::

To Demeter Eleusinia. O universal mother, Deo famed, august, the source of wealth, and various named: great nurse, all-bounteous, blessed and divine, who joyest in peace; to nourish corn is thine. Goddess of seed, of fruits abundant, fair, harvest and threshing are thy constant care. Lovely delightful queen, by all desired, who dwellest in Eleusis’ holy vales retired. Nurse of all mortals, who benignant mind first ploughing oxen to the yoke confined; and gave to men what nature’s wants require, with plenteous means of bliss, which all desire. In verdure flourishing, in glory bright, assessor of great Bromios [Dionysos] bearing light : rejoicing in the reapers’ sickles, kind, whose nature lucid, earthly, pure, we find. Prolific, venerable, nurse divine, thy daughter loving, holy Koure [Persephone]. A car with Drakones yoked ‘tis thine to guide, and, orgies singing, round thy throne to ride. Only-begotten, much-producing queen, all flowers are thine, and fruits of lovely green. Bright Goddess, come, with summer’s rich increase swelling and pregnant, leading smiling peace; come with fair concord and imperial health, and join with these a needful store of wealth.

::Orphic Hymn 40 to Demeter (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) ::