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Yes, Virginia, There Is a Krampus

Krampus Charles Fréger Wilder Mann
Krampus Charles Fréger Wilder Mann
Krampuses, from Charles Fréger’s “Wilder Mann.” Copyright Charles Fréger.

In 2015, horror fans got a new kind of bad guy to worry about, though he was actually quite old. It was Krampus — if you forgot or never saw the movie, here’s the trailer:

Many Americans wondered “What’s a Krampus? Is that really a thing?” Yes, yes it is. We won’t quote the whole Wikipedia entry, but here’s the first line:

In German-speaking Alpine folklore, Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure who punishes children during the Christmas season who have misbehaved.

Krampus received mixed reviews and wasn’t a box-office sensation, though it wasn’t a flop either. Krampus himself or itself was spotted in a few other places, including the new Scooby-Doo series and his own comic book from Image. He was also in the comic-book series Klaus, by Grant Morrison (who was then Heavy Metal‘s incoming editor in chief). He’s the horny fellow on this variant cover:

Klaus cover Grant Morrison
“Klaus” #1 Local Comic Shop Day variant cover by Dan Mora.

But maybe the coolest Krampus images are those published in the 2012 book Wilder Mann, by photographer Charles Fréger. Fréger documented a whole bunch of figures from European folklore that still appear, regularly, today. It’s what Freger calls “tribal Europe,” and his photos of these obscure ceremonial costumes challenge the idea, promoted for centuries now, that such “primitive” displays only occur in non-white cultures.

Krampus Charles Fréger Wilder Mann
Krampuses from Charles Fréger’s “Wilder Mann.” Copyright Charles Fréger.

National Geographic says:

A primal heart still beats in Europe. Deep beneath the gloss of cell phone sophistication lie rituals that hark back to harvests and solstices and fear of the winter dark. Monsters loom in this shadowy heart, but so does the promise of spring’s rebirth and fertile crops and women cradling newborn babes. It turns out that Europe—at least pockets of it—has not lost its connection to nature’s rhythms.

Krampus Charles Fréger Wilder Mann
A Krampus from Charles Fréger’s “Wilder Mann.” Copyright Charles Fréger.
Krampus Charles Fréger Wilder Mann
A Krampus from Charles Fréger’s “Wilder Mann.” Copyright Charles Fréger.
Krampus Charles Fréger Wilder Mann
Krampuses from Charles Fréger’s “Wilder Mann.” Copyright Charles Fréger.
Krampus Charles Fréger Wilder Mann
A Krampus from Charles Fréger’s “Wilder Mann.” Copyright Charles Fréger.
Krampus Charles Fréger Wilder Mann
A Krampus from Charles Fréger’s “Wilder Mann.” Copyright Charles Fréger.

Below are a few more great pictures from Wilder Mann, although these are not Krampuses. The full, large gallery at Fréger’s website is worth visiting. Who knows, maybe the next great horror monster is lurking among these strange beings (photo captions taken from National Geographic):

Charles Fréger Wilder Mann
Austria: Every five years the men of Telfs collect lichen to create Wilder Mann, or Wild Man, costumes for the town’s Carnival festival. Tradition dictates that they nibble on a piece of this lichen before the festivities. (Photo copyright Charles Fréger.)
Charles Fréger Wilder Mann
Bulgaria: On New Year’s Day men cover themselves with goatskins to impersonate the Kukeri, who both embody and chase away evil spirits. In the past they’d brush against women to bestow fertility. (Photo copyright Charles Fréger.)
Charles Fréger Wilder Mann
Italy: Schnappviecher (snapping beast) on Shrove Tuesday. (Photo copyright Charles Fréger.)
Charles Fréger Wilder Mann
Spain: Juantramposo, a mischief-maker, appears on Mardi Gras in Alsasua. The festival ends with all the participants taking part in a celebratory dance. (Photo copyright Charles Fréger.)

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