Embarking on The Darkest Days project has opened up my world to dark lore I may never have otherwise encountered. With each passing day of researching and capturing with my camera the folklore, superstitions and traditions of this haunted time, I find myself becoming all the more ravenous for new knowledge, the darker and more obscure the better. It was always my aim to share one photo a day with this project…but I’ve been getting a little bit – though excitedly – carried away.
Today’s subject – Frau Perchta – is well known in the folklore of Germany and Austria, but up until a week or so ago, I was completely unaware of her existence. In her book The Old Magic Of Christmas, author Linda Raedisch says that ‘Perchta’s overriding mission has always been to serve as a grisly embodiment of winter.’
Most often depicted as a rag wearing, withered crone with an astoundingly long nose, Perchta carries a knife hidden under her skirt, which she uses to disembowel children who haven’t behaved. (She may also use a sickle or scissors for the terrible job.) After she’s gutted her victim, Perchta will fill the cavity with a variety of things including straw, snow, dirt and rocks. She’ll then sew the bulging belly shut with an iron needle.
Perchta’s visits aren’t only about dealing with naughty children though…she’s also extremely particular about the spinning of flax. If she enters a house to find that the flax hasn’t been spun before Epiphany Eve, Perchta ruins it, sometimes wiping the unspun flax with her excrement.
There are several legends which associate Perchta with the Wild Hunt. She’s said to fly through the night sky with her horde of wayward souls, which include the monstrous Perchten and the souls of unbaptized children. Apparently, if the wind and thunder roars on the last three Thursday’s before Christmas, it’s Perchta guiding the Wild Hunt.
The Old Magic Of Christmas by Linda Raedisch
The Krampus And The Old Dark Christmas by Al Ridenour