The Lucky Devil

The Lucky Devil Cover
Can the Devil be a bringer of good luck? Yes, indeed, according to old European traditions. This devil -- known variously as Old Nick, Old Scratch, Old Split-Foot, and Der Teufel -- did not begin his career as the "Satan" (adversary) of Christianity and Judaism or the "Prince of Darkness" and "fallen angel" popularized by John Milton in his epic poem "Paradise Lost" (1667 - 1674).

The old Devil is a Teutonic woods-spirit, an ogre-like trickster who may desire to eat human flesh, but is often friendly to wood-cutters and footloose soldiers. In Germanic folk-tales like those collected by the Grimm brothers, he is usually described as living out in the woods with his aged grandmother who combs his hair to put him to sleep at night. Among Americans of Anglo-Saxon heritage, he is sometimes said to have a wife who quarrels with him.

In the area of Central and Eastern Europe comprising Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, the Devil was never fully absorbed into the Christian mythos as Satan but remained as he had always been, a slender, horned, bearded, fur-covered half-man of the woods. Under the regional names Krampus, Schwarze Peter (Black Peter), and Knecht Ruprecht (Ruprecht the Servant), he accompanies Saint Nicholas on his rounds of gift-giving, originally on December 6th, but eventually on Christmas Day, December 25th. In the early part of the 20th century it was the custom during December to send humourous Krampus postcards to friends. The example shown here, dated 1932, contains a bit of verse in German:

Gruss von Krampus!

Wenn im Herzen brennt das Feuer

freut sich das schwarze Ungeheuer

The English translation, supplied by Liselotte Erlanger, is:

Greetings from Krampus!

When the fire burns in the heart

the black monster rejoices

Wild animality, shown by the lustfully burning hearts lapped by the long tongue of dancing Krampus, was acknowledged as the Devil's domain. It was Krampus' job to punish children who had behaved badly during the year. Unlike the conventional Christian Devil, Krampus is usually depicted with only one cloven hoof, not two. Not having been a "fallen angel" he is never shown with wings. His tools are a short switch, with which to beat wrong-doers, and a length of chain. The latter emblem is ambiguous in depiction: Sometimes Krampus, as Saint Nicholas' servant, is chained; other times he chains those whom he intends to punish.

When Christianity overtook the native Teutonic religions, the Devil acquired some new attributes. In one of the Grimm's tales, "The Devil's Sooty Brother," he actually lives in Hell, where, for a term of work stoking the hellfires, he grants a veteran soldier a comfortable life in the here-and-now.

Source: Lucky Mojo

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