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Myth of the Month Club: Krampus

Brom's Krampus
Brom’s Krampus

Krampus is the dark companion of St. Nicholas, the traditional European winter gift-bringer who rewards good children each year on December 6. The kindly old Saint leaves the task of punishing bad children to a hell-bound counterpart known by many names across the continent — Knecht Ruprecht, Certa, Perchten, Black Peter, Schmutzli, Pelznickel, Klaubauf, and Krampus. Usually seen as a classic devil with horns, cloven hooves and monstrous tongue, but can also be spotted as a sinister gentleman dressed in black, or a hairy man-beast. Krampus punishes the naughty children, swatting them with switches and rusty chains before dragging them, in baskets, to a fiery place below.


Just when you thought stuff couldn’t get any weirder: ‘t round out the week before Winter Break, prevent the need to scrape kids off the ceiling, and harmlessly, innocently, integrate some technology skills I created this prompt:

There are a lot of strange and wonderful ways to celebrate in December around the world. Now’s it’s time for you to come up with your own! This is a group project contest for the best, new, weirdest plausible holiday!”

And they were off! They were given a list of items they might include:

  • Food served
  • Special clothes or costumes
  • Mascot or Character
  • Tradition/ritual
  • Activities

And while none came up with a variation on Festivus, we did have a “Wishing Day” and a “Squidmas.” The students worked with Power Point on-line through their Office 365 software, and had a ball. They only had one block class to consider, create, and design their presentations.  They were all winners in my book! This proved to be a great way to introduce Power Point on line, collaborative creativity, and a low-risk activity that was accessible and funny. The ones who didn’t quite get it at first were those who thought this was a simple regurgitation of researched holidays: once they saw others with their original ideas it helped to model. The truth is, as much as a teacher can model something, middle school students look to their peers to see what else is happening in a creative crunch.


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Mighty Myth Month: Trees.

No, this isn’t about the 1976 Rush song.

It’s about trees.


In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the tree that represents all levels of above, middle, and below for mankind:

In Norse mythology, the World Tree called Yggdrasill runs like a pole through this world and the realms above and below it. Yggdrasill is a great ash tree that connects all living things and all phases of existence.

Trees represent life, growth, and perhaps greatest of all: potential. Trees symbolize strength, honor, as well as other less-attractive human qualities such as jealousy, greed, and death:

Trees—or the fruit they bore—also came to be associated with wisdom, knowledge, or hidden secrets. This meaning may have come from the symbolic connection between trees and worlds above and below human experience. The tree is a symbol of wisdom in stories about the life of Buddha, who was said to have gained spiritual enlightenment while sitting under a bodhi tree, a type of fig.

Two sacred trees—the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil—appear in the Near Eastern story of the Garden of Eden, told in the book of Genesis of the Bible. God ordered Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, not to eat the fruit of either tree. Disobeying, they ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and became aware of guilt, shame, and sin. God cast them out of the garden before they could eat the fruit of the Tree of Life, which would have made them immortal. Thereafter, they and their descendants had to live in a world that included sin and death.

A traditional Micronesian myth from the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific Ocean is similar to the biblical account of the fall from Eden. In the beginning of the world was a garden where two trees grew, guarded by an original being called Na Kaa. Men lived under one tree and gathered its fruit, while women lived apart from the men under the other tree. One day when Na Kaa was away on a trip, the men and women mingled together under one of the trees. Upon his return, Na Kaa told them that they had chosen the Tree of Death, not the Tree of Life, and from that time all people would be mortal.

See this post:

Odin's Ravens: Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory)
Odin's Ravens: Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory)

Oops. Kind of puts a whole new spin on “poison apple.”

Grumpy, apple-throwing talking tree from the Wizard of Oz
Grumpy, apple-throwing talking tree from the Wizard of Oz

Humans need trees, and yet our relationship with them has been somewhat strained, at best. Humans who try to help the environment are lambasted as “tree-huggers.” I wonder what would happen if they actually did talk, threw apples at us, or used their switches for a humanity-spanking. What if they could walk and wage war like the mighty trees in the Lord of the Rings? It’s all the trees’ fault. They just don’t grow fast enough for the speed of humans. We needs our houses NOW. We need our teak tea trolleys NOW. We need our toothpicks NOW. (Say the NOW in the voice of Veruca Salt.) Trees measure the planet by their own standards, not man’s, and those two cultures clash. Can trees have a culture? Well, personification aside, perhaps. They are such an important part of our survival and existence on this planet, that perhaps they deserve to be revered, perhaps even worshipped. We have not done a very good job of being their caretakers, but they have not faltered in their gifts to us.

 We climb trees. We live with trees. We use their breath for our breath, and they use ours. We should never use trees for harm, or for death. In the words of the late, great Shel Silverstein:

Once there was a tree….. and she loved a little boy. And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And they would play hide-and-go-seek. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade. And the boy loved the tree…….very much. And the tree was happy.

Time to plant a seed.

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Myth-of-the-Month Club: Billy Goat G-ROUGH

scared goatIn honor of my husband’s birthday, this post is dedicated to a cryptozoological creature of the southwest/central Americas: the Chupacabra. 

It’s not that I question their existence, (though I do), or that I am skeptical (which I am), but the deeper question to me is, “Why do people in these current times, attribute acts of violence, etc. to made- up critters? Why isn’t there more of an investigation?” Because, seriously, think about it–if there really is a creature that sucks livestock’s and domesticated animals’ blood, leaving behind a wake of death and destruction, and is possibly FROM OUTER SPACE…shouldn’t we be more concerned? Shouldn’t we be doing nightly patrols, with infrared goggles and heat-seeking scanners? C’mon, people! The goats can’t protect themselves, they need our help!

Now, it’s also notable that these sorts of stories tend to pop up more in the news whenever there isn’t much else going on. When “real” news occurs, with all of its horror, pain, tragedy, and grit, the folklore stories are put on the shelf. When there’s been years of drug-related violence in Central/South America, creeping into the U.S. borders, and not to mention the on-going conficts in the Middle East, Chupacabra’s press clippings begin to shrink.

Or do they?

Well, some might make that correlation:

Why do you think that happens?

Huh. Guess I kind of answered my own question. It’s easier and more ‘fun’ to make up stories than to face reality; it’s much more interesting to think big, nasty chupacabres are out there chasing the livestock than to think it might be another man-made horror. Bueno, Chupa. You kept my mind off of the other nastiness, at least for awhile.

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Snake charmer.

Talk about your bad hair day.


 Once again, some goofy mortal chick is just hanging out, being beautiful, and some god takes an interest in her, and she pays the price:

Medusa, one of the three Gorgons, daughter of Phorcys and Ceto. She was the only one of the Gorgons who was subject to mortality. She is celebrated for her personal charms and the beauty of her locks. Neptune became enamoured of her, and obtained her favours in the temple of Minerva. This violation of the sanctity of the temple provoked Minerva, and she changed the beautiful locks of Medusa, which had inspired Neptune’s love of serpents. According to Apollodorus, Medusa and her sisters came into the world with snakes on their heads, instead of hair, with yellow wings and brazen hands. Their bodies were also covered with impenetrable scales, and their very looks had the power of killing or turning to stones. Perseus rendered his name immortal by his conquest of Medusa. He cut off her head, and the blood that dropped from the wound produced the innumerable serpents that infest Africa. The conqueror placed Medusa’s head on the shield of Minerva, which he had used in his expedition. The head still retained the same petrifying power as before, as it was fatally known in the court of Cepheus. . . . Some suppose that the Gorgons were a nation of women, whom Perseus conquered.

From Lempriére’s Classical Dictionary of Proper names mentioned in Ancient Authors Writ Large. Ed. J. Lempriére and F.A. Wright. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.'re breaking my heart...'re breaking my heart...

What strikes me are the explanations (in mythology) of “when good things happen to bad people.” Bad things happen because the gods and goddesses are meddling in mortal matters. The deities are not aloof, watching “off shore through heavy lenses” kinds of omnipotent beings. They are involved, they get in the mix, they cause trouble with their jealousies, infidelities, and revenge. Mortals are quite capable of causing enough problems, thank you very much. Do you think it’s fair that just because Poseidon/Neptune wanted to take a cutie out on a date that she should pay the price for forever with bad hair and stone-etching blood?

Well, I guess on a positive note, she and Poseidon did produce Pegasus, but that’s a horse of another color.

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Myth-of-the-Month Club: Lady Gaga Baba Yaga

babayagaBaba Yaga. Even the name sounds retching. She is the Crone: all bone-crushing, baby-killing nastiness. That object that she’s flying around in is a mortar and pestle, which is a little bowl, made of hard, dense ceramic material or rock/granite, and a stubby club-like instrument made to grind spices and concoct potions/herbs in. Cooks still use them, I guess because grinding spices in this old-fashioned way may increase the flavor of the spice.  

Okay, this isn’t a cooking lesson, but I do think it’s interesting to note that in many stories of witches and bad grandmas, kitchen utensils are the weapons or modes of transportation of choice. Women reprsent many powerful aspects of basic human needs: they give birth, they cook food, and they guide and protect humankind. But to every yin there’s a yang, and for every story of life-giving, there’s life-taking, for every home-cooked meal, there’s a poison apple, and for every act of guidance and love, there’s a “throw you into the fire just as soon as my gingerbread cookies are done.”  Talk about mixed messages!

You know the old saying, “If Momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.”

And what is going on with the chicken-legs walking house? If you were going to bewitch a mobile home for yourself, wouldn’t you choose something other than chicken legs? Although fried chicken is delicious, and there’s a shortage of pumas in Russia. It’s those little details that make a story represent its culture, its time, and its society. Think about that: if Baba Yaga’s hut moved on tiger legs, it would be an anachronism, something out of its time and place. Sort of like seeing someone use a cell phone in a 1870s Western.

(Yes, children, there was a time when there were no cell phones: that’s the real horror story, isn’t it?)

I have only limited service out here...
I have only limited service out here...

One of my favorite fairy tale sites is:

The entire tale of Baba Yaga is here:

To learn more about the illustrator, Ivan Bilibin, click here:

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