Gothic Houses: Exterior

I think all creators of Gothic books and films have a love affair with houses.

In one of my favorite stories, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, it is Manderly.  For Jane Eyre it is Thornfield Hall. Anne Rice begins most of her Gothic novels with lavish descriptions of Greek Revival houses in New Orleans.  We know Anne loves houses! Mysterious houses cast their turreted shadows over characters from Fall of the House of Usher, by E.A. Poe, to Miss Haversham’s mansion in Dickins’s Great Expectations, to the Museum of the Addams Family, or the ruined manse in Diane Setterfield’s Thirteenth Tale. I struggle to think of one Gothic tale from Horror to Romance and everything in between that does not feature a stately home, or a haunted house, or  a haunted stately home, as the setting for drama and suspense.Unless its a castle, but that’s another post.

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In all stories, the protagonist leaves their ordinary life to either set out on an adventure, or has  an adventure visited upon them. In most Gothic stories, .it is going into a strange house. Every house, and by extension every family, especially Old Aristocratic families, are worlds unto themselves. The houses must be large with many unused rooms where mysteries dwell. There may be hidden staircases, rooms behind the fireplaces, widows walks, towers and balconies that extend the world of the house into the outside, into the garden, usually a walled garden, for these interior stories that address the soul.

This is why Gothic tales often indulge in descriptive passages designed to lure the reader into the book in the same way the heroine is lured into the house. The house may be derelict and darkly eerie, or bright and beautiful, like Manderly or Bly in Turn of the Screw by Henry James, but secrets lurk in the corners, or the attic, or in the woods.

The 1970s soap opera, Dark Shadows, drew on the classic Gothic tropes, including the house Collinwood on Widow’s Hill overlooking the sea. All of these houses are haunted either symbolically, psychologically or literally. All of them are overshadowed by death and harbingers of death.

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Many of my own stories were inspired by houses, many photographed by British photographer Simon Marsden. One of these was Crawford Priory falling to ruin in Scotland. But I’ll save that for  a post on ruins.

A Gallery of Gothic Houses

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I lived near this house when I lived in London Highgate.  I used to pass all the time. And yes, it is as evocative ad it looks in the photo.

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Used as a location for Thornfield Hall in a recent film of Jane Eyer.

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A Southern Gothic house than Anne Rice might appreciate.

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We enter the Otherworld of the house through the door. Therefore are doors Gothic.

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Gothic Marionettes

 

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Cheers!

First I want to wish you all a Happy New Year! I know I’m not alone being glad to see the backside of 2015. As the little kid said, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”

Chip off the old block, I’m sure….

I have been getting back to work on the pending books. A great help has been The Nine Day Novel by Steve Windsor. I figured I owed my readers at least an attempt to get a book done in nine days. Alas, life kept intervening. As it does. But I do have two very solid and detailed outlines to work from now, and that is half the battle won! These tales should be out in the Spring if not earlier.

i have three other first drafts, so I’m in good shape. Still behind on the 5 Year Plan, but that can happen to anyone, right?

Thank you for your patience….

Gothic Theme of the Month: Puppets

At the top of this post you see fireworks. These are not only part of the New Year celebrations, they also evoke the work of one of my favorite authors, Angela Carter. Her book of short stories, The Bloody Chamber, is one that inspired me to want to write fiction, ages ago! It took living in London to find my stories, though. One of her short story collections is called Fireworks and there is a story in there called :The Loves of Lady Purple about a very erotic and sinister marionette. She also wrote an award winning novelThe Magic Toyshop, which is extremely weird and deals with this puppet theme. I found a filmed version on youtube which I post for you below, in case you are not quite ready to give up the gloom.

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Something about London seems to bring out this murk of the soul. My other inspirational author, Tanith Lee, was also British and wrote in this poetic and macabre vein. In my case, I was sent toward these Gothic themes for the sake of what Carl Jung used to call: Shadow Work.

This Shadow Work began for me in the early 2000’s when my imagination was invaded by the ghosts and demons that lurk in the London ethers. As you know, my books are dark, dealing with themes of good vs evil and the moral struggles of the protagonists. I do believe that our moral choices can make or break our character, and that good and evil are absolute.

Now that I know these things to be true, the black veil has lifted and I feel redeemed…. I will continue the current projects until they are complete I will probably write Romance on the side–to vary the metal/ emotional diet as it were…. That’s how I feel now as the light at the end of the tunnel washes over me.

I also want to share this old movie from 1944. It ties together Angela Carter with the Bluebeard theme, and has some wonderful marionettes. Its called Bluebeard and has a very nice plot and a very young John Carradine who looks pretty striking.

My own Bluebeard story, The Keys, has not marionettes, but automatons, which are their kissing cousins. This tale was directly inspired by Angela carter’s Bluebeard re-telling, The Bloody Chamber.

If somebody wants to make a film out of The Keys, let me know and I will add it to the Gothic Library. It has zombies….

I like this puppet theme. Ever since I was a child i loved puppets and dolls. But not all children love them. I did a brief stint as a puppeteer in a marionette house. We had to make the marionettes ourselves, so we really bonded with them. There was always a part of the show where we took the marionettes into the audience, to meet the patrons. Some of the children left screaming….

I think their instincts were actually pretty good.

And what are all these puppets and marionettes, you may ask? Masks, perhaps. Or animated beings without souls, certainly.

My automatons were a bit like Stepford wives…women reduced to robots, a kind of living dead. What makes them Gothic is the relationship to the subconscious, our fears, perhaps, of what we might be if there were no God.

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Looks like poor Angela Carter ended her days in a wax museum…

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Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow by Thomas de Quincy

On of my readers, Alessandra from Italy, writes to me all the time about Gothic books she is interetsed in or discoveries she has made. I have found some amazing things through her. She knows more than i do, that’s for sure!

One of the stories she found was this short piece by Thomas de Quincy (1785-1859) The themes in his short story Levana and Our Ladie sof Sorrow, was a surprise and a revelation to me. In developing the plot for the second Poppy Farrell Mystery, Taller Thna Our Souls, I was inspired by Dario Argento’s film Inferno, the second of his Dark Mothers Trilogy. The first of these Suspiria, influenced The Shadows quite a bit, so there’s some underlying continuity of theme. Though I can’t stand Argento’s graphic, almost cartoonish violence fests, I find the premis of these stories fascinating. I also found Argento’s inspiration In Levana.

So here it is:

Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow

 

INFERNO

 

OFTENTIMES at Oxford I saw Levana in my dreams. I knew her by her Roman symbols. Who is Levana? Reader, that do not pretend to have much leisure for very much scholarship, you will not be angry with me for telling you. Levana was the Roman goddess that performed for the new-born infant the earliest office of ennobling kindness,—typical, by its mode, of that grandeur which belongs to man everywhere, and of that benignity in powers invisible which even in pagan worlds sometimes descends to sustain it. At the very moment of birth, just as the infant tasted for the first time the atmosphere of our troubled planet, it was laid on the ground. But immediately, lest so grand a creature should grovel there for more than one instant, either the paternal hand, as proxy for the goddess Levana, or some near kinsman, as proxy for the father, raised it upright, bade it look erect as the king of all this world, and presented its åforehead to the stars, saying, perhaps, in his heart, “Behold what is greater than yourselves!” This symbolic act represented the function of Levana. And that mysterious lady, who never revealed her face (except to me in dreams), but always acted by delegation, had her name from the Latin verb (as still it is the Italian verb) levare, to raise aloft.
  This is the explanation of Levana, and hence it has arisen that some people have understood by Levana the tutelary power that controls the education of the nursery. She, that would not suffer at his birth even a prefigurative or mimic degradation for her awful ward, far less could be supposed to suffer the real degradation attaching to the non-development of his powers. She therefore watches over human education. Now the word educo, with the penultimate short, was derived (by a process often exemplified in the crystallisation of languages) from the word educo, with the penultimate long. Whatever educes, or develops, educates. By the education of Levana, therefore, is meant,—not the poor machinery that moves by spelling-books and grammars, but by that mighty system of central forces hidden in the deep bosom of human life, which by passion, by strife, by temptation, by the energies of resistance, works for ever upon children,—resting not night or day, any more than the mighty wheel of day and night themselves, whose moments, like restless spokes, are glimmering for ever as they revolve.
  If, then, these are the ministries by which Levana works, how profoundly must she reverence the agencies of grief. But you, reader! think,—that children are not liable to such grief as mine. There are two senses in the word generally—the sense of Euclid, where it means universally (or in the whole extent of the genus), and in a foolish sense of this word, where it means usually. Now, I am far from saying that children universally are capable of grief like mine. But there are more than you ever heard of who die of grief in this island of ours. I will tell you a common case. The rules of Eton require that a boy on the foundation should be there twelve years: he is superannuated at eighteen, consequently he must come at six. Children torn away from mothers and sisters at that age not unfrequently die. I speak of what I know. The complaint is not entered by the registrar as grief; but that it is. Grief of that sort, and at that age, has killed more than have ever been counted amongst its martyrs. tmc08
  Therefore it is that Levana often communes with the powers that shake a man’s heart: therefore it is that she dotes on grief. “These ladies,” said I softly to myself, on seeing the ministers with whom Levana was conversing, “these are the Sorrows; and they are three in number, as the Graces are three, who dress man’s life with beauty; the Parcoeœ are three, who weave the dark arras of man’s life in their mysterious loom, always with colours sad in part, sometimes angry with tragic crimson and black; the Furies are three, who visit with retribution called from the other side of the grave offences that walk upon this; and once even the Muses were but three, who fit the harp, the trumpet, or the lute, to the great burdens of man’s impassioned creations. These are the Sorrows, all three of whom I know.”
  The last words I say now; but in Oxford I said, “One of whom I know, and the others too surely I shall know.” For already, in my fervent youth, I saw (dimly relieved upon the dark background of my dreams) the imperfect lineaments of the awful sisters. These sisters—by what name shall we call them? If I say simply, “The Sorrows,” there will be a chance of mistaking the term; it might be understood of individual sorrow,—separate cases of sorrow,—whereas I want a term expressing the mighty abstractions that incarnate themselves in all individual sufferings of man’s heart; and I wish to have these abstractions presented as impersonations, that is, as clothed with human attributes of life, and with functions pointing to flesh. Let us call them, therefore, Our Ladies of Sorrow. I know them thoroughly, and have walked in all their kingdoms. Three sisters they are, of one mysterious household; and their paths are wide apart; but of their dominion there is no end. Them I saw often conversing with Levana, and sometimes about myself. Do they talk, then? O, no! mighty phantoms like these disdain the infirmities of language. They may utter voices through the organs of man when they dwell in human hearts, but amongst themselves there is no voice nor sound; eternal silence reigns in their kingdoms. They spoke not, as they talked with Levana; they whispered not; they sang not; though oftentimes methought they might have sung, for I upon earth had heard their mysteries oftentimes deciphered by harp and timbrel, by dulcimer and organ. Like God, whose servants they are, they utter their pleasure, not by sounds that perish, or by words that go astray, but by signs in heaven, by changes on earth, by pulses in secret rivers, heraldries painted on darkness, and hieroglyphics written on the tablets of the brain. They wheeled in mazes; I spelled the steps. They telegraphed from afar; I read the signals. They conspired together; and on the mirrors of darkness my eye traced the plots. Theirs were the symbols; mine are the words.

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  What is it the sisters are? What is it that they do? Let me describe their form, and their presence: if form it were that still fluctuated in its outline, or presence it were that for ever advanced to the front, or for ever receded amongst shades.
  The eldest of the three is named Mater Lachrymarum, Our Lady of Tears. She it is that night and day raves and moans, calling for vanished faces. She stood in Rama, where a voice was heard of lamentation,—Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted. She it was that stood in Bethlehem on the night when Herod’s sword swept its nurseries of Innocents, and the little feet were stiffened for ever, which, heard at times as they tottered along floors overhead, woke pulses of love in household hearts that were not unmarked in heaven.
  Her eyes are sweet and subtle, wild and sleepy, by turns; oftentimes rising to the clouds, oftentimes challenging the heavens. She wears a diadem round her head. And I knew by childish memories that she could go abroad upon the winds, when she heard the sobbing of litanies or the thundering of organs, and when she beheld the mustering of summer clouds. This sister, the eldest, it is that carries keys more than papal at her girdle, which open every cottage and every palace. She, to my knowledge, sat all last summer by the bedside of the blind beggar, him that so often and so gladly I talked with, whose pious daughter, eight years old, with the sunny countenance, resisted the temptations of play and village mirth to travel all day long on dusty roads with her afflicted father. For this did God send her a great reward. In the spring-time of the year, and whilst yet her own Spring was budding, he recalled her to himself. But her blind father mourns for ever over her; still he dreams at midnight that the little guiding hand is locked within his own; and still he wakens to a darkness that is now within a second and a deeper darkness. This Mater Lachrymarum has also been sitting all this winter of 1844–5 within the bed-chamber of the Czar, bringing before his eyes a daughter (not less pious) that vanished to God not less suddenly, and left behind her a darkness not less profound. By the power of the keys it is that Our Lady of tears glides a ghostly intruder into the chambers of sleepless men, sleepless women, sleepless children, from Ganges to Nile, from Nile to Mississippi. And her, because she is the first-born of her house, and has the widest empire, let us honour with the title of “Madonna!”

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  The second sister is called Mater Suspiriorum—Our Lady of Sighs. She never scales the clouds, nor walks abroad upon the winds. She wears no diadem. And her eyes, if they were ever seen, would be neither sweet nor subtle; no man could read their story; they would be found filled with perishing dreams, and with wrecks of forgotten delirium. But she raises not her eyes; her head, on which sits a dilapidated turban, droops for ever, for ever fastens on the dust. She weeps not. She groans not. But she sighs inaudibly at intervals. Her sister, Madonna, is oftentimes stormy and frantic, raging in the highest against heaven, and demanding back her darlings. But Our Lady of Sighs never clamours, never defies, dreams not of rebellious aspirations. She is humble to abjectness. Hers is the meekness that belongs to the hopeless. Murmur she may, but it is in her sleep. Whisper she may, but it is to herself in the twilight; Mutter she does at times, but it is in solitary places that are desolate as she is desolate, in ruined cities, and when the sun has gone down to his rest. This sister is the visitor of the Pariah, of the Jew, of the bondsman to the oar in the Mediterranean galleys; and of the English criminal in Norfolk Island, blotted out from the books of remembrance in sweet far-off England; of the baffled penitent reverting his eyes for ever upon a solitary grave, which to him seems the altar overthrown of some past and bloody sacrifice, on which altar no oblations can now be availing, whether towards pardon that he might implore, or towards reparation that he might attempt. Every slave that at noonday looks up to the tropical sun with timid reproach, as he points with one hand to the earth, our general mother, but for him a stepmother,—as he points with the other hand to the Bible, our general teacher, but against him sealed and sequestered;—every woman sitting in darkness, without love to shelter her head, or hope to illumine her solitude, because the heaven-born instincts kindling in her nature germs of holy affections which God implanted in her womanly bosom, having been stifled by social necessities, now burn sullenly to waste, like sepulchral lamps amongst the ancients; every nun defrauded of her unreturning May-time by wicked kinsman, whom God will judge; every captive in every dungeon; all that are betrayed and all that are rejected outcasts by traditionary law, and children of hereditary disgrace,—all these walk with Our Lady of Sighs. She also carries a key; but she needs it little. For her kingdom is chiefly amongst the tents of Shem, and the houseless vagrant of every clime. Yet in the very highest walks of man she finds chapels of her own; and even in glorious England there are some that, to the world, carry their heads as proudly as the reindeer, who yet secretly have received her mark upon their foreheads. But the third sister, who is also the youngest——! Hush, whisper whilst we talk of her! Her kingdom is not large, or else no flesh should live; but within that kingdom all power is hers. Her head, turreted like that of Cybele, rises almost beyond the reach of sight. She droops not; and her eyes rising so high might be hidden by distance; but, being what they are, they cannot be hidden; through the treble veil of crape which she wears, the fierce light of a blazing misery, that rests not for matins or for vespers, for noon of day or noon of night, for ebbing or for flowing tide, may be read from the very ground. She is the defier of God. She is also the mother of lunacies, and the suggestress of suicides. Deep lie the roots of her power; but narrow is the nation that she rules. For she can approach only those in whom a profound nature has been upheaved by central convulsions; in whom the heart trembles, and the brain rocks under conspiracies of tempest from without and tempest from within. Madonna moves with uncertain steps, fast or slow, but still with tragic grace. Our Lady of Sighs creeps timidly and stealthily. But this youngest sister moves with incalculable motions, bounding, and with tiger’s leaps. She carries no key; for, though coming rarely amongst men, she storms all doors at which she is permitted to enter at all. And her name is Mater Tenebrarum—Our Lady of Darkness.

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  These were the Semnai Theai, or Sublime Goddesses, these were the Eumenides, or Gracious Ladies (so called by antiquity in shuddering propitiation), of my Oxford dreams. Madonna spoke. She spoke by her mysterious hand. Touching my head, she said to Our Lady of Sighs; and what she spoke, translated out of the signs which (except in dreams) no man reads, was this:—
  “Lo! here is he, whom in childhood I dedicated to my altars. This is he that once I made my darling. Him I led astray, him I beguiled, and from heaven I stole away his young heart to mine. Through me did he become idolatrous; and through me it was, by languishing desires, that he worshipped the worm, and prayed to the wormy grave. Holy was the grave to him; lovely was its darkness; saintly its corruption. Him, this young idolater, I have seasoned for thee, dear gentle Sister of Sighs! Do thou take him now to thy heart, and season him for our dreadful sister. And thou,”—turning to the Mater Tenebrarum, she said,—“wicked sister, that temptest and hatest, do thou take him from her. See that thy sceptre lie heavy on his head. Suffer not woman and her tenderness to sit near him in his darkness. Banish the frailties of hope, wither the relenting of love, scorch the fountain of tears, curse him as only thou canst curse. So shall he be accomplished in the furnace, so shall he see the things that ought not to be seen, sights that are abominable, and secrets that are unutterable. So shall he read elder truths, sad truths, grand truths, fearful truths. So shall he rise again before he dies, and so shall our commission be accomplished which from God we had,—to plague his heart until we had unfolded the capacities of his spirit.”
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Giveaway! A Signed Print Copy of The Lady in Yellow!

Win a Free Signed Copy of the Print Edition of The Lady in Yellow!

Just put your email adress in the box below. Winner will be announced on March 16th!

 

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Getting my first book inot print took a long time, mainly because of formatting issues and the painstaking task of catching and eradicating all those pesky typoes. After two more rounds of edits, and my own comb-through, the copy of this much beleaguered, yet steadily selling, book should be 100% clean!

Glad that’s over.

The Lady is a real doorstopper at around 600 pages. I had no idea it was so long! The cover, front and back looks great thanks to Joy Silesen at Indie Author Services.

For readers of The Lady in Yellow, the spin-off, backstory about Sovay is turning into a larger project than i anticipated. I ran into a bit of snag with the first draft as well, but it is in the pipleine. I will keep you all posted and, of course, will have it FREE for fans of The Lady in Yellow.

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A note on the Wicked color Yellow:

“The color of The Yellow Book was an appropriate reflection of the ‘Yellow Nineties,” a decade in which Victorianism was giving way among the fashionable to Regency attitudes and French influences; For yellow was not only the decor of the notorious and dandified pre-Victorian Regency, but also of the allegedly wicked and decadent French novel” (Weintraub, 99).

The Lady in Yellow is a werewolf story inspired by the mural from Chateua Villaneuve in France  that depicts a lady with long golden hair and dressed in a Medeival gown, clutched in the jaws of an enormous wolf. The look on her face is not one of fear, but of coy sediuction. Legend has it that this lady of the chateau had been a flagrant libertine. In French lore, as we find in the fairy tales like Red Riding Hood, and even in the Lais of Marie de France, the wolf symbolizes a perpetually prowling, sexually seductive male. That this lady in the mural seems to enjoy the wolf’s poessession of her, suggests that this mural is about sexual excess. The murals on the walls around this image show devils and demons and what looks like a magician at his smoky altar. The entire series gives of the stench of sulfur, the yellow fumes of devil worship.

All of these themes have crept into The Lady in Yellow, giving this Gothic Romance, and there is a romance at the center, its creepy occult-laden underground stream.

The color yellow is not significant just because the murals were painted mostly in yellow pigments, but because, in certain contaxts, yellow has some untoward associations.

We have the yellow of sulfur, a mineral connected to the Devil, to fire and brimstone, and the sufulous fumes of Hell.

Yellow Journalism: News stories of a titiilating and scandalous nature.

Yellow is the color of gold, symbolizing wealth and corruption

In Victorian times: London’s infernal yellow fog….

The 1890s were tagged The Yellow Nineties by a London bookseller who filled his front window with French novels (scandalous!) that all had yellow covers. This isnpired the artist, Aubrey Beardsley and Ocasr Wilde to produce a magaizine called The Yellow Book.

From: http://www.1890s.ca/

“Holbrook Jackson, describing the impact of The Yellow Book, explained: “It was newness in excelsis: novelty naked and unashamed. People were puzzled and shocked and delighted, and yellow became the colour of the hour, the symbol of the time-spirit. It was associated with all that was bizarre and queer in art and life, with all that was outrageously modern.”

So, you see, its not all sunshine an tea roses, the color yellow. it’s actually not very nice. Diabolical. Wicked. Like the lady in my book, The Lady in Yellow.

 

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Here we have the suggestion of Chinese influence which meant, in Vistorian England, the influence of opium. Many poets such as Baeudelaire and Coleridge were reputed to have written their works under its mind-altering spell.

If you can think of any more associations with the color yellow, feel free to comment!

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Old Christmas was Darker Than you Think

Krampusz, Saturn, Father Christmas, Saint Lucy or the Christ Child:

An Eldritch Evolution of Christmas

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Above: Santa Claus as a mask over the face of Krampusz!

Not to put a damper on your Christmas festivities, but this little diversion might be interesting to those who wonder about the  ancient rites associated, not with  a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, but with the primal need of our ancestors to assist the sun’s rebirth from the darkness of winter and the coming of the light. As a writer of Gothic fiction, I find the lure of the darkness strong, along with the desire to throw back the curtain that hides a primordial mystery. In researching the history of Old Christmas, I found some unexpected things.

In my Dark Fantasy novel, Roses of the Moon, Christmas is celebrated in the old way of Central Europe, in this case 16-17th century Royal Hungary. Though my heroine, Lady Mara, is raised Catholic, her mother, Countess Orzsebet, still carries on the ancient pagan rite of Winter Solstice as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. Though Roses of the Moon is a book of high fantasy, I still had to do a lot of research to capture the atmosphere of Hungary in a time parallel to Elizabethan England, and to learn about Hungarian folklore, seasonal celebrations, and fairy tales in order to back up the magic in the story.

I discovered Krampusz. For those of us brought up on Nativity scenes and eight tiny reindeer, this is a scary figure indeed. Not only does he have all the attributes of the Devil with his horns and his long tongue, but he steals children. In Roses of the Moon, Countess Orzsebet, a Bathoryesque evil queen who bathes in the blood of young girls, he was an apt sidekick and a wonderful disguise for the true driver of the tale, the Demon Prince, Lucifer.

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The attributes of Saturn are all over this figure. Astrologically, Saturn rules the sign of Capricorn, the goat, and is the traditional ruler of Aquarius, the Water Bearer. Krampusz is certainly goat-like with his horns and hoofs, he is black like the darkest night of Winter Solstice, as harsh as the cold, cutting wind and pretty hungry. Image after image of Krampusz shows him carrying off terrified children. The color of Saturn is black, and his appetite for children is legendary.

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The image above combines Capricorn, the goat, with Aquarius, the Water Bearer, or perhaps, Bearer of the Punch Bowl. This Santa Clause, or Father Christmas, has a lean and hungry look. What will he fatten up on, if he is Saturn?

This is pretty creepy stuff, and its truth has long been buried. Krampusz has come out into the light for all of us to see and wonder at, especially in countries like America where these archetypal figures had been left behind and replaced by the safe but relatively empty glitz of mass merchandising.

There are lots of pictures of Krampusz online. They expose a dark side to Old Christmas that most civilized people would like to believe has been left in the Dark Ages.

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Blatant child stealing in the image above. Does mere naughtiness deserve such cruelty? Or is something more going on?

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Father Christmas and Krampusz in Salzburg, Germany. Could these be Santa’s elves? And why does Father Christmas look like a Bishop or a Pope, and why is he leading them out of Hell?

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The Father Christmas, or Santa Clause, we all know and love. But what really is in that bag of his? And what is in his belly? The church is like a toy beside this powerful figure who comes out of the darkness bearing the promise of new, and everlasting life. The power of nature seems to dwarf the house of God.

Though their purposes may seem the same, I don’t think of Father Christmas as a Christ figure.  But the figure of Saint Lucy, or Santa Lucia, bearer of the light in the darkness, has also been called the Christ Child.

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Above: The Christ Child by Hans Trapp

This image is worth an entire blog post. It suggests a meaning for Christmas in Old Europe that has nothing in common with the holiday we celebrate today—-unless your name is  Jon Benet Ramsey!

Clearly this Christ Child is female. She is Saint Lucy, Santa Lucia, whose festival is most famously celebrated in Sweden. She comes from the north, her head crowned with flames , bearing gifts for the good little children who seem uncertain whether to accept these baubles, while a brother and sister cower in the corner. The mother clearly wants to protect her naughty children from the creature who has just leapt in through the window: Krampusz, looking goatier and more sinister than ever. His body  is charged with sexuality, his willow switch is raised; he leers at the children. And what that is on his head, only the artist must know for sure. His entire aspect is predatory.

One must wonder what kind of Christmas celebration this is.

Lucy means Light and is often shorthand for Lucifer, the Angel of Light synonymous with the Devil. Krampusz is clearly the Devil. The word Christ means Anointed One, and can be applied to other beings besides Jesus. Folklore has it that Lucifer sits on the left hand of God, brother to Jesus Christ, and that he, too, claims to be a Christ.

Was Old Christmas a wicked old holiday? Or does the brightness of the light and the happiness of the Divine Birth simply cast a deeper shadow all around? Winter for our ancestors must have been a fearsome time when warmth and illumination came only by fire, wolves prowled the lanes looking for food, iron cold stole the breath from small children, and food stores ran low.

May the power of the Holy Birth bring peace and salvation to the world. May the devils of our fears cease to rule us.  Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

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