View Full Version : Pre-Christian Alpine Traditions

Sunday, August 19th, 2007, 09:23 AM
The central and eastern Alps of Europe are rich in traditions dating back to pre-Christian (pagan) times, with surviving elements amalgamated from Germanic, Gaulish (Gallo-Roman) and Raetian culture.

Survival through the ages

Ancient customs survived in the rural parts of Austria, Switzerland, Bavaria and Slovenia in the form of dance, art, processions, rituals and games. The high regional diversity is a result of the mutual isolation of Alpine communities. In the Alps, the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and 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.



The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word 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 5 and roam the streets frightening children (and adults) with rusty chains and bells. In some rural areas also slight birching especially 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 midwinter and 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 sin of 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 Church attempted to prohibit the sometimes rampant practise in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but later condoned it, resulting in a revival.

In the Pongau region 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 Pinzgau region, the stilt dancers in the town of Unken, the Schnabelpercht (beaked Percht) in the Unterinntal region and the Glöcklerlaufen (bell running) in the Salzkammergut. A number of large ski resorts have turned the tradition into a tourist attraction drawing large crowds every winter.

Source (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Christian_Alpine_traditions)

Sunday, August 19th, 2007, 12:42 PM
Good thread.

It's very interesting, since in mu country too there are similar celebrations.......in the Carnic italian Alps , in a region called "FRIULI",in two distinct moment of the year (summer solstice and Christmas) are celebrated traditional feasts ; all the peoples from the mountain villages begin to light up great bonfires........... http://www.carnyx.it/tradizioni/eventi/diavolo.html (article is in italian)


Sunday, August 19th, 2007, 05:41 PM
Ummm...no... Perchta is more likely to be another name for the goddess Frigg. The way this is always confused is that Frigg, in the Lower German regions was sometimes called "Frijo", sometimes even called "Frija", whilst Freya would have been "Freyja". I hate to constantly do this blatant self-advertisement, but for a little more on the goddess Perchta/Holda can be read from an article I wrote some time ago, which I posted here (http://forums.skadi.net/showthread.php?t=339). ;)

On another note, one thing that would be appreciated is saying your own opinion on an article/piece you post (unless it is written by yourself), after all most of us have agreed that we prefer to have this section more of a discussion section and less as a collection of articles. It is much appreciated that you take your time and find those articles, but maybe one or two lines about how you think about the matter discussed in that article - unless it speaks for itself and is a "crucial" piece - would always be appreciated, it would arouse discussion without delay. The idea was first proposed in this thread (http://forums.skadi.net/showthread.php?t=312) and the response by the members of the Althing was overwhelmingly positive to that suggestion. Just one, two lines maybe to stimulate discussion, doesn't have to be much. ;)

Monday, August 20th, 2007, 07:45 AM
Yeah, I thought this was pretty cool when I saw it on Wikipedia.

Interesting spin on things from that area.