Hello everyone, and welcome to LukeLore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest.
Well, when I don’t take an unexpected hiatus. Sorry about that, but no one expected it less than me! I was ILL November. Feeling much better now, but on top of having too much of a cough to perform I had serious brain fog as well as exhaustion stopping me getting writing done.
Fortunately I’m now Folklore Fit for an important close out to the year. This episode we have even more Christmas Monsters, which I still haven’t quite run out of yet (although next year could be tricky…), then later this month we’re finishing up the Pagan Wheel of the Year with a deep dive into Yule itself.
Let’s hit the ground running now I am recovered, however, and let’s have us some Festive folklore monstrosities! Any holiday can be a bonus Halloween if you try hard enough, and as we’ve seen over the years the midwinter celebrations are weirdly rich in things that go bump in the night…
SECTION BREAK – Never trust a Scarecrow in Winter
Oh, we have a great one here! I was a little worried that after covering the obvious Christmastime crackers of Krampus, the Yule Cat, and the Mari Lwyd there wouldn’t be anything big left to showcase.
I was fantastically wrong!
Allow me to tell you the tale of Hans Trapp, France’s flesh eating Christmas Scarecrow.
This is a legend well known in the Lorraine region, but also the Alsace region in which the start of the story is set before moving over to Bavaria in Germany. Worryingly enough, it may even be based on a real person from the 15th Century. Although that gets a little complicated, as I’ll show you in the next segment. Let’s get the child eating out of the way first.
Okay, so the legend goes in the 1400s there was rich and powerful monster of a man called Hans Trapp. “Rich” is selling Hans short. So the stories go he was pretty damn wealthy, successful in the way the greedy and sociopathic are sadly able to be at everyone else’s expense. Also in line with the greedy and sociopathic of the world, no amount of wealth short of everything could ever be enough. Hungry for more in ways that no amount of land or coin could satisfy he terrified all the people of Alsace, going beyond simply a human monster to begin making deals with the devil to get even more power at the expense of his soul, and possibly even paid in human sacrifice if he could not be stopped...
So infamous was Hans Trapp that the Pope of the time personally interceded. Hans was excommunicated, all his hoarded riches and land got confiscated, and he was banished from Alsace to be chased entirely out of France.
A fallen monster, however, is no less of a monster while in exile. It just becomes someone else’s problem, and has a grudge to carry out against the world…
Hans Trapp the man fled to Bavaria, set to fester with his rage at the world that foiled his desires, determined to become something both more and less than a mere man. As despicable as Hans was, he was also capable. He constructed a home high in the mountains from which to plot his revenge, deciding he quite fancied the idea of tasting human flesh. As the days grew to their shortest, and the winter feasts were coming, dark inspiration struck Hans Trapp. He knew how to creep in the cold nights, he knew what kind of monster he wanted to become. Hans scavenged up everything he needed to dress as a scarecrow. The rags to hide under, the sticks to lean upon in between roaming the long nights, and plenty of straw to both complete the guise as well as keep himself bundled up warm. So the Christmas Scarecrow was now ready to creep in search of human flesh, moving furtively when no one was around. Resting propped up on its sticks along the side of empty roads to wait for a victim foolish enough be alone at night.
One day a shepherd’s boy, only some ten years old, had the misfortune to cross paths with the Scarecrow. Busy about errands in the dark, just looking to get done then get home, they didn’t consider how strange it was for a scarecrow to be abandoned right next to the road instead of the middle of a fallow field. The poor child didn’t stand a chance, the Scarecrow leapt into life and impaled him on the sharpened end of the stake it would lean upon to pretend to be an innocent bundle of straw. Hoisting the staked child up over its shoulder, the cackling Hans Trapp carried its meal back up to the mountaintop lair. A storm began to move in, but Hans Trapp didn’t pay it any mind. As peals of thunder rang out Trapp took time to slice the poor victim into thin slices of flesh and begin roasting up the meat. Once cooked to Hans’s satisfaction, likely still pretty raw given who we are dealing with, the cannibal trembled with anticipation as the first taste of flesh was raised to its lips…
Only to be promptly struck dead by a bolt of lightning before they could take a bite.
So the stories go this was a divine bolt of lightning. Maybe God was done with Hans Trapp, or perhaps Santa stepped in to permanently cross someone off the Naughty List. I suppose it could even have been Krampus, unhappy with a French interloper. Although if it was Krampus, it probably would have involved more being bundled into a sack and beaten to death against rocks.
But the stories did not end there. Naughty children are warned that the spirit of Hans Trapp roams the roads at Christmas time. Not even welcome in hell, the miserable flesh hungry scarecrow wants the special festive feast it was denied after coming so close to tasting it in life. So you better bloody well behave, or Hans Trapp may come a tapping at your window. The winter scarecrow so evil it still wants to devour a child even after the cosmos stepped in to kick its ass for trying such a low crime. Good children continue to benefit from the blessing that struck down the living Trapp. Naughty children, however? Well, maybe don’t be naughty. It’s not only not nice, it’s not worth chancing it!
SECTION BREAK – The Other Hans Trapp
The tale of the flesh eating Christmas Scarecrow is one wild ride, but it isn’t even the full story! There’s even more to unpack, centred on who may be the real life inspiration for the dark tale of Hans Trapp.
There was a knight who lived from 1450 to 1503 called Hans von Trotha who had command of two castles around the Palatine region that covers modern day borders of France and Germany. This marked the knight out as pretty important, covering a lot of contested ground. What may have spun out into the legend of a greedy monster who ran afoul of the church is an almost comical squabble between Sir von Trotha and an obstinate Abbot local to one of his castles. There was apparently a set of disputed properties, Hans von Trotha insisted that they were under the protection of one of his castles and therefore belonged to him. The Abbot of Weissenburg countered that von Trotha can kiss God’s ass, the church owns these properties and he can keep protecting them for free if he knows what’s good for his immortal soul.
It then devolved into impressive levels of pettiness, with the poor residents caught in the middle of this tug-of-war. Sir von Trotha built a dam to stop the water supply to the town of Weissenburg as leverage over what he saw as the church’s overreach. The Abbot responded by having the dam destroyed, which resulted in the poor Weissenburgers going from not enough water to far too much too fast as now the town was flooded. This came to the attention of Pope Innocent VIII, likely due to the townsfolk begging for help at this point.
The Pope promptly sides with the Abbot, which given the impression Hans von Trotha is giving may not even be a bias and could come down to choice words the knight had to offer about the church at this point. Sir von Trotha is at this point excommunicated, and that appears to be where a significant branch in the story occurs. Should Hans van Trotha have inspired Hans Trapp, it likely came from the church’s perspective and tall tales spinning off from that. In reality there was no retreating to a mountaintop defeated by the church, or child hungry descent into Scarecrow themed madness.
Instead Sir von Trotha would promptly go on to ignore being excommunicated, leading a life of distinguished service in the French court that culminated in King Louis XII awarding him the Chevalier d’Or, and continued antagonism with the Catholic church. When Pope Alexander VI was anointed the Papal court attempted to summon Hans von Trotha to review his case. The knight declined, instead sending a letter filled with choice language about what he thought of the institution of the Papacy. The assorted charges Sir von Trotha accumulated as a part of his excommunication and beyond were eventually dropped upon his death, forgiveness being given by the church (most likely as a political favour). This was not the end, however. In addition to potentially being the seed for the Hans Trapp story, Hans von Trotha has a Christmas legend directly attributed to him. It appears to be much more favourable, so if this is a branch in folklore and legend it comes from the supporting faction of this infamous figure of history.
Hans von Trotha took on a special festive role beyond death. Come Christmas Eve in some regions of France, the phantom of Sir von Trotha is the Black Knight accompanying Santa Claus. Should a child fall short of the Nice List and not have earned any presents this Christmas, instead of a gentle visit from Santa to be discovered the next day the notorious Knight will storm into their room to punish them! Less terrifying than the hunger of Hans Trapp, still not a happy alternative to presents.
I’ve seen some mention of Hans von Trotha being regionally tied into Wild Hunt myths. In his guise as the Black Knight he may head up his region’s Wild Hunt during midwinter storms. I would suggest that even if you are a fan of the man, this is a bonus reason to sit out a December blizzard.
The moral of the story remains the same: Be good for goodness sake, kids! Do you really want to have to fight Santa’s Black Knight when you can just behave for some cool festive loot instead?
SECTION BREAK – Frau Perchta’s Little Helpers
We’ve already talked about Frau Perchta on the second Krampusnacht back in 2020. In European folklore traditions she acts as something of a feminine counterpoint to the more masculine Krampus, Santa’s now pretty well known Goat Demon. The short version of Frau Perchta is that if you’re good and get all your chores done before Christmas she may reward people with a coin. If, however, you make the good frau angry with your naughtiness or by being lazy, she can fly into a rage where she slits open someone’s belly before stitching them back up filled with rocks and straw instead of the important squishy bits.
She is something of a localised phenomenon, however. It’s very easy to miss Frau Perchta, she wanders at her own pace around areas she has chosen to roam. She’s missing the key festive omnipresence of Santa and any entity accompanying him to deal with the Naughty List. Not that you should push your luck, of course. You shouldn’t mix up having your guts on the inside and rocks on the outside, so stay on top of your tidying up while being extra polite to strange old beggarwomen wandering on Winter nights. It’s not worth taking the chance, and a neat antique coin could be in it for you.
However, while limited in scope of how much damage she can do at one time the good frau wanders far and wide year to year, and in Switzerland she has some help punishing the naughty.
A strange multitude of festive fiends like her style, and are poised to rampage all over the unlucky.
This is the Straggele.
For all intents and purposes, the Straggele are a hoard of mini Krampus. Hairy horned demons that have taken a liking to Frau Perchta and as she wanders about on the 12 Days of Christmas taking in the sights and hoping to find some nice people to reward, they run about in her wake. This gives the good frau significant extra reach in Switzerland, where the Straggele call home.
While linked to Frau Perchta, the Straggele are more a force of supernature. The storm that swarms around her. They’re pretty simple, all told. Not that this means you would want to cross paths with them.
They enjoy eating leftovers. Super simple to deal with! Leave your leftovers out each night of the 12 Days of Christmas. If the Straggele fall across your door, and they find leftovers? They will gobble them up and rush off to a different house at random.
If they don’t get leftovers, however…
They may rob your house. They may beat up and rob your children, which isn’t very nice (but they ARE demons). Then, there’s what they do to naughty children. If you mess up and the Straggele storm your town without being fed them, and there’s a naughty child to target, said naughty child is in serious demon related trouble. So some stories go, the Straggele will drag naughty children into the street and begin throwing them into the air over and over again – ultimately ripping the child to pieces before devouring the parts.
In what should be a surprise to no one, it turns out that a pack of ravenously hungry demons is best avoided.
Make sure you leave leftovers out to satiate the Straggele. Your best case scenario is having the door kicked down by a mob of demons who want to rob your house beating up any children they find. The worst case scenario is pretty damn drastic! Leaving out offerings for Christmas demons feels a little theologically dicey, but the alternative seems worse here.
SECTION BREAK – A Special Sunday in Norway
Okay, I’m pushing myself a little with this one. No easy English sources, and certainly not something I’m too familiar with, but it’s a fascinating one! Listeners of Norwegian descent, I apologise in advance for the mangled pronunciations that are about to follow. You’re about to enter the exclusive club of “At Least Luke Tried” the Welsh and Irish have to put up with.
This is the story of Immereftan. The night of the last Sunday ahead of Christmas, and the strange sights the people of Norway are best not to seek out. Immerkølludn, or Immersunday, is the day that the otherworldy folk of all different tribes would come together, culminating in parties in the night - the Immereftan. I first saw this referred to as Norway’s Fae, and regular listeners will know I have a bit of an issue with the relatively recent term “Fairy”. For Norway this is the Haugafolk or Huldrefolk, the “Mound People”. They share intriguing parallels with British folklore about the Aos Sidhe, those of The Otherworld sometimes called the Good Neighbours in the hope they will politely live up to that description instead of indulging in magical chaos at everyone’s expense. I’ve seen an interesting translation of the Haugafolk as “Hillbillies”, which may be a cute reference to them or could just be Google Translate going rogue. I’ll be referring to them as Haugafolk and hoping for the best that I’m pronouncing it right.
The Haugafolk are pretty distinct in appearance, again there’s some serious resonance here with assorted European storytelling traditions. They could almost be human at a glance, only a closer look would reveal they have pointed ears and a tail. If you can get them to turn around, or otherwise sneak up behind them, you could discover that they are hollow. Presenting something of a shell in appearance that you can completely see inside of from the right angle.
There are a few magical powers common to the Haugafolk. They can hide or else reveal themselves as they see fit, and they can transform a person’s perception of them to appear a lot more beautiful than they truly are. A Norwegian equivalent to the Celtic and Gaelic Glamour. Should they choose to appear to a human they may offer advice, anything from the simple up to the extraordinary or bizarre. If their advice should be followed, however strange it may be, they have the power to reward you for it. The flip side is, they can also punish anyone who went against that advice. My gut says the best thing to do is to not be offered that advice in the first place, as you don’t know what terms you may be blundering into, nor how bad the consequence may be should you fail to follow the instructions.
While they are similarly powerful to such otherworldly creatures across a wide range of cultures, they have a simple counter. If you throw steel at the Haugafolk they will disappear, along with any magic they have enacted. If you’re not careful they’re virtually omnipotent, but you can dispel not only them but their effects upon you and the world with the simple counter to them. It’s all about knowing what to do, and preferably not messing with them at all in the first place.
Which leads us back around to Immereftan. That night of the last Sunday before Christmas is when all the Haugafolk will be out and about. All the various clans will be meeting peacefully with each other on this night, a festivity of their own. The Haugafolk would not be looking to bother humans too much, this is their own holiday to meet and mingle amongst themselves. This doesn’t mean they won’t mess with the unwary or inadvisably foolish, however. Any given land’s Otherworld is best left well alone, so it is advisable that mere mortals stay indoors on the night of Immereftan. This takes us back around to the “inadvisably foolish” however, and people with a greater sense of adventure than that of self-preservation may go out on that night hoping to mingle at a Haugafolk party. Should you manage such a thing, whether by design or extraordinarily weird luck, follow the usual procedure for blundering into an otherworld. Stay polite, try not to accept anything offered (specifically advice in this instance), and leave as soon as you can without angering any Haugafolk doing so. Immereftan is a great time of the year to stay home in the warm, curled up with Christmas movies and hot chocolate, as opposed to be out looking for mischief. Maybe have some handy steel on you if you absolutely do have to go roaming about Norway on the last Sunday night before Christmas…
That’s all for this year’s batch of Christmas monsters, but we’re not quite done for 2022 yet. The Pagan Wheel of the Year has one last stop with a special look at Yule to come.
I hope you’ve enjoyed yet another pile of reasons to stay off the Naughty List, and I apologise again for vanishing for a month. Whatever I caught was NOT pleasant. Hopefully I stay off the Naughty List myself for this, but I needed that recovery time to be back on form for the festive season and beyond into the New Year.
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