There is perhaps no better-known Christmastime monster than Krampus, the half-goat, half-demon from Germanic folklore who punishes the children who were bad during the holiday season. He is the anti-Santa. (Anti Claus, if you wanna get cute about it.) He’s big, has horns, and he’s terrifying. Most people are probably familiar with those creepy turn of the century greeting cards that feature him scaring tots while wagging a big, red tongue.
But did you know he has a female equivalent? Her name is Perchta, and I’m here to tell you: she is far, far more scary than Krampus – in fact, she’s downright horrifying.
Hailing from the same West Germanic folklore as Krampus, Perchta has embodied many interpretations over the centuries. In traditional narratives, she was the goddess of Alpine paganism. She was closely associated with the Wild Hunt – a myth involving elves, fairies, and the dead – which spelled certain doom for anyone who witnessed it. Under the designation Frau Perchta, she was thought to be something far more innocuous: a white-robed goddess who oversaw spinning and weaving. However, contemporary culture has rebranded her as something a bit more insidious: a “rewarder of the generous, and the punisher of the bad, particularly lying children“.
Her physical description varies, though none of it pleasant: occasionally she’s been described as an old woman with a very wrinkled face, hook nose, and disheveled appearance. Other times, she’s a shape-shifting beast, with one foot bigger than the other. Perhaps most creepy of all, she’s been described as having two faces: a nice expression for the good children, and a wretched one for the bad.
What really sets her apart from Krampus is her punishment of the naughty ones. Krampus delivered coal and sticks to the children he thought were bad. Perchta? Well…
If you were good, you had nothing to worry about. Come the 12th night of Christmas, Perchta would sneak into the homes of everyone who had been good and worked hard that year and would leave a small silver coin for them. Those who’d been bad, however, would have their bellies slit open – their organs would be removed and replaced with dirt, pebbles, and straw. She also slit open the bellies of those who didn’t feast enough during the holidays; if you weren’t eating, drinking, and being merry, then you were in direct violation of not invoking the holiday spirit and therefore at risk of a slit. And if slitting bellies wasn’t bad enough, she was also known to boil the female yarn-spinners who didn’t get their work done.
Suddenly, coal and sticks don’t sound like such a bad punishment.
These days, Krampus and Perchta have become almost interchangeable, mostly due to the well-known Alpine celebration Krampuslauf (“Krampus run”), the wintertime event where men dress as Krampus and parade through town. Perchta is often also represented during Krampuslauf, but is usually seen wearing very similar attire or almost identical masks to that of Krampus.
If I were them, I’d give Perchta her own distinction. Otherwise, she might get mad. And I wouldn’t want to be on her bad side.