It’s getting cold outside. Living in the Alpine foothills means snow in winter and usually not only a small amount. Last year’s temperatures were down to 0,40 F/-18°C for several weeks so despite of having the luxury of a cosy home I get an idea how incredibly flexible and resourceful our ancestors must have been defying these winters with only the resources they had been gathering during the year.
Growing up in a different part of Austria than I live now I vaguely remember the Krampus of my childhood as being a black demon like creature but not even close to those beings that you encounter here during the nights beginning with December 20 which is also called the night of St. Thomas. The nights from St. Thomas until January 5 or 6 (in some parts of Austria only until January 1) are called the ‘Rauhnächte’, Innernächte’ or ‘Unternächte’ the latter two literally meaning ‘inner nights’ or ‘under nights’. During these nights folks still fumigate their houses, stables and everything else belonging to a household in rural parts of the country. By the way, it used to be a job for the local priest or the farmer in charge of the household until in the 16th century. Apart from fumigation there are quite a few traditional customs here closely tied to these nights. For example, in many parts of the country it was custom until the 19th century to elect a new municipal judge or mayor on this very day or the Sunday before St. Thomas Day. In former Bohemia people used to stay awake during this night and either spend it in the local pub or at the spinning wheel. In parts of Germany unmarried women used to stand naked on a stool, whisper a certain spell or prayer to St. Thomas and then go to bed in order to dream about their future husband.
The idea of twelve nights with a specific meaning is rooted in the use of a calendar based on 12 months in accordance with the moon which accounts for 6 months with 29 days and 6 months with 30 days making a total of 354 days. With a solar year consisting of 365 days the difference to the lunar year is exactly 11 days and 12 nights. This difference outside of the lunar calendar has been defined as ‘time in-between’, ‘outside of time’ or ‘dead time’.
In the middle of these nights, around December 31 the Wild Hunt hits the road. During these nights the underworld is said to be open and ghostly figures as well as the deceased have the chance to roam the earth again. Demons are allowed to wander around or ride along with the Wild Hunt. This idea is corresponding with the ‘Perchtenläufe’ where mostly male youngsters put on gruesome masks of devilish creatures and try to scare young girls while hitting them with rods in a kind of a strange fertility ritual.
As the veils between the worlds appear to be thin this time of the year is also considered an auspicious one for oracles and divination. At the same time it is thought of as dangerous and fasting and prayer are said to be necessary to ward off evil forces. In some communities the house had to be tidied up, no white laundry hung outside or inside – as otherwise it would be stolen by the Hunt and used as a shroud for its owner – and no clothes line around the house at all as the Wild Hunt might get caught in them. Women and children were not supposed to be outside after dark and card games were forbidden.
The animals being part of the livestock of a farm were said to be able to speak the human language in these nights and tell about the future but if you were present and listened to them you were supposed to die soon. They were also allowed to complain to a being of the house, a kind of familiar spirit, if they had been wronged by their owner who would then have to face punishment for his actions.
During those years living in a big city I never felt the tides of the year that intensely as I do in this rural part of the land now. Things shift if you don’t have that amount of light outside but only stars and the moon. Additionally, time starts to behave in a different way during this time of the year and although its still more stressful than it could be I also feel a steady dark stream of magick flowing through the land, coming down from the mountains, whispering and murmuring through the nights. It feels like many things loose their relevance and those hidden come into focus. Mundane activities like baking cookies are still part of my tradition but even those get a slightly different taste within my heart. Besides of lighting candles and inviting the forces that are the catalysts of change for the better, I’ll also visit some trees in the woods and have a chat with them in order to get an idea of what the land needs next year. Just a little reminder, it is not about the big things but the small ones offered constantly during the year, as it is the case with kindness, support and service in general. Open your doors if and as much as you can, there’s a lot more to gain than to lose in doing this.
I’ve never been the kind of ‘let’s say grace for everything’ type but I can honestly say I’m blessed by sharing my life with certain beings and having the opportunity to follow my heart. Having said that I promise to myself to focus on the energy that disrupts false pretense, hate, selfishness, injustice and builds a fundament for a community supporting each other emotionally, logistically and above all magickally.