Wednesday, December 18, 2013

8 strange things you didn't know about Santa, Christmas, and Winter Fairies

Father winter by alexson1
Article by Ty Hulse

 Chirstmas is a liminal Holiday, a time which like the fairies themselves exists betwixt and between. For it is a time of both death and rebirth, of transformation, when society is symbolically destroyed in war and reunited in peace. A celebration of the gods and times that came before, the original Winter Solstice Celebrations are likely more beautiful and strange than you likely ever imagined. As always my hope with this list is to give you inspiration from lore to create unique and engaging stories;

1-Christmas was originally very much like Halloween, as it was a time when the spirits of the dead and the fairies could visit, haunt, and hunt humanity. Among some people's this was mostly positive, ancestral spirits would come and visit and feast with them. Though not all dead spirits were good, nor were all fairies. For example, Russian vampires which came from the spirits of still born children known as Drekavac would be especially active at Christmas time, flying about the countryside in the form of birds looking for victims to drain the blood from. Thus people would often prepare for Christmas by hanging herbs, signs and other things that would drive away evil spirits. Similarly Draugr, undead corpses, were more active in Germanic and Scandinavian countries during Christmas as well. These undead beings were very much like witches, and may have been the spirits of those who had learned such magic in life or in death. They may also initially have been the nightmares of the dead (souls could leave the body during dreams, so the souls of the dead could also leave when they dreamed).

(It's possible, though I can't confirm it, that snowmen might have been built to be possessed by good spirits so that they could battle evil spirits... It could be fun for a story if nothing else)

2-There were many good nature spirits (fairies) which came out at Christmas time as well, and people would often invite these into their homes by bringing green pine, holly, and similar decorations into the home in order to give the spirits a place to hide and rest. (spirits of plants and nature which were often allied with humans would live on inside of trees and branches as well) Among Europe's last indigenous faith, that of the Mari-El, as well as similar descriptions among the Kalasha people, and from descriptions of many celebrations it's likely that feasts were meant to be shared with fairy and deity figures who loved to watch and participate in people's happiness (from hiding of course).

3-This indicates that there were many fairies which visited people during Christmas and in fact there were many fairies who were very much like Santa Claus, The Tylwyth Teg from Wales, for example, would often leave coins in the shoes of good servants and children, while in Spain the Anjanas would bring presents to poor people. In fact fairies often delighted in helping the poor and desperate so it shouldn't be surprising that during times when they were especially active the dangerous ones were more dangerous but the helpful ones were more helpful.

Interestingly enough the Kalasha People have a number of deities and spirits who bring them luck and fertility for their Winter Solstice. One of these Balimahin, rides a woman faced, winged, horse with fiery hooves. This is interesting because the Kalasha people of Asia have the same linguistic origins as most of the people's of Europe which shows that this idea may in fact be 5000 thousand of years old.

Indeed most people's had more than one helpful and kind fairy/deity figure which wondered about the land at this time. The Yule Goat, for example, would demand offerings. Though this was likely originally in return for gifts of luck, a rich harvest, etc. (Goats being a common form for spirits which controlled the fertility of the land). (It's also interesting to note that the Kalasha  would bake breads in the shape of goats during this time, and goats make offerings in the goat sheds, further goats are sacrificed to the deities on this day as this is in part a hunting festival, showing that the Goat might be a very old Christmas symbol as well)

In some places household and ancestral spirits would bring people blessings and luck on Christmas day. While in Italy there is a spirit named Befana who brings gifts.

This means that Santa Claus is the result of what I like to call "Character Mushing" which is when multiple famous characters get confused for each other over time. Take Charlemagne, for example. He was a real person, one of the most famous kings of the Holy Roman Empire who later took Odin's place at the head of the Wild Hunt. His fame somehow putting him into folktales which preceded his birth and originally had nothing to do with him.

This is why many people can claim that Santa Claus came from Odin, because Odin was one of the most important figures in early traveling the world in early Germanic Yule celebrations. Though Odin's character doesn't seem to fit Santa's exactly. I believe that instead Santa is the result of many shaman figures and fairies (which include Odin), many of whose names have been lost. These figures were highly moralistic, punishing the wicked and rewarding the good, which was a common fairy trait.

This means that rather than one Santa Claus, there were many gift givers, some of which actually lived in people's own homes, making it easy for them to give luck to everyone in a single night, but they were more active, more powerful on Christmas. Plus this was a time when relationships were renewed so it shouldn't be surprising that they would give blessings/gifts to people and people would leave them offerings (cookies) at this time.

4-Reindeer were a common spirit guide of shamans in the Lore of Northern Eurasia, especially the Ugric people's (from whom Odin might have been borrowed). Often times these reindeer helped shamans go out to gather and bring back luck with hunting and fishing during long rituals in which the shamans soul would fly into the spirit world and enter each home through the chimney in order to battle away spirits illness and or bring luck. These reindeer would also help shamans retrieve souls from the land of the dead in order to cure illness (which resulted from their souls being stolen by evil spirits). Such reindeer could be white, have three eyes, take the form of females in order to have intimate relationships with the shaman, and other strange things.

Of course others believed in magical horses as such guides, such as those with eight legs which Odin rode. Another had three heads, while I've already mentioned one with the face of a woman. The point is that many of these spirits traditionally had some very strange features.

5-Odin led the wild hunt during Yule time in much of lore, though other wile huntsmen and occasionally women led it in other tales. Regardless the Wild Hunt would often hunt for the spirits of evil men. Though the wild hunt wasn't exactly good as they would also often hunt innocent people and fairies. In fact Odin had a special enmity for wood wives (female tree spirits) who he would chase down, kill, and dress like rabbits. Humans in this case would often save the wood wives from him and the other wild huntsman by drawing the sign of a cross on trees so that he couldn't hurt the the forest spirits when they entered these.

6-Many of the fairies and spirits which make up our compiled Santa Claus figures, than, like most fairies were dualistic figures which were both good and evil depending on their mood which could be altered by gifts or bad behavior. These were highly sensitive spirits, so if you failed to act according to the season they might punish you, if you failed to finish your work or worked during the celebration they would punish you. In fact they might even become twisted and ugly if you were disrespectful not only to them but to other people. Therefore keeping the Christmas spirit was required to survive.

7-Christmas is a Liminal celebration, one which celebrates both death and rebirth. It is a time of between when the spirits of the dead can exist in the land of the living. This was true among the Kalasha, the Egyptians, the Romans and more. Many of the rules of society were ritually suspended during times as everything went topsy turvy Among the Romans and Greeks Slaves were allowed to speak their mind, everyone was allowed to gamble, and wild activities abounded. Among the Kalasha men and women would reverse roles in dances. Things that were normally deemed inappropriate were allowed, dressing strangly, acting wildly, etc. Here too girls from different villages would yell insults at each other in a symbolic braking of peace after which there would be feasts and other ceremonies to symbolically celebrate the rebirth of the union and peace between people.

The celebration of unification, the renewal of ties through feasts and or gift giving was common throughout most Indo-European peoples, for example, the Romans cemented their unions by participating with each other in games across classes.

8-Part of the Topsy turvy nature of Christmas might come from the fact that it was a celebration of a time before the world transformed. Among the Kalasha this was a time when humans lived in peace with the animals, the deities, and the fairies. While among the Roman and Greeks this was a time when the fathers of the deities still ruled the world (Saturn and Cronus respectively). This was a time of happiness and plenty which humans had lost and perhaps in some ways still sought to get back through Christmas, even if for only a moment.

9-Learn more about Santa's Magical Reindeer 


lirio mors said...

Hi!!! I just discovered your blog and I have to tell you, I think it's great, I love this subject: fairy tales, spirits and ancient folk tales, I really like the work you're doing and I can´t stop reading it
Greetings from Mexico

Nukiuk said...

Thank you so much fore the wonderful feedback. Please let me know if there are any articles you would like to see.