It’s been a month since I’ve been posting weekly or on the regular, so here’s recap part two! Some of you might recall how I fell down a lucky rabbit hole on Wikipedia a few weeks back and discovered Perchta. Please actually click on the wiki link that I just provided for the complete article, because it’s entirely fascinating and obviously much more articulate than anything I could possibly ever describe in this post! She’s also quite a looker:
From what I have gathered, Perchta (or Bertha in English) is another Yuletide character from Alpine folklore who is kind of like the female counterpart to our good friend Krampus. Her name means “the bright one” and she is a pagan goddess/wintertime witch who is sometimes said to be a ruler of beasts and the leader of the Wild Hunt. She appears during the Twelve Days of Christmas in two very distinct guises. Sometimes she is very beautiful and fair; clothed in white robes as she visits the dwellings of good children and rewards their yearly efforts with gifts of silver coins left behind in their shoes.
At other times, when children have not been good, and especially if they have committed the particularly loathsome crimes of not spinning their entire allotment of wool, or eating something on the night of her feast day other than the traditional meal of fish and gruel, then Perchta would appear as a haggard, hideous monster and slit their bellies open in the middle of the night!
She would then proceed to disembowel her prey and replace their organs with pebbles and straw, presumably then stitching them all back together nice and neat since she is also a goddess who oversees sewing, weaving, and spinning. She can really make Krampus look like a nice guy…and that is saying something!
Speaking of which: I guess Krampus has a girlfriend! Don’t they make an adorable couple?
I’m in love.
Seriously though–from all that I have read so far, Perchta and Krampus do kind of go hand in hand during Krampuslauf parades and similar events involving all manner of Christmastime merriment and debauchery. Festival goers might dress as “beautiful Perchten” (the plural form of Perchta) for good luck:
Some were perhaps not quite so beautiful.
Alternately, others would don animal skins and scary masks as flat out “ugly Perchten” to scare away the local ghosts and devils from the town. A lot of the ugly Perchten masks even resemble Krampus, but often with lighter fur and multiple intertwining horns.
I always love the group photos.
Perchten on parade!
Some of the masks even highlight her dual nature and serve as a two-in-one!
Another interesting aspect of Perchta is that the older stories describe her as having an odd, extra-large foot, or goose/swan feet.
In some of the older portrayals of Krampus he also has mismatched feet; one human foot and one cloven hoof.
I always assumed this was a demon thing. Since I was that weird kid who spent all of my free time in the library reading everything I could find on mythology, the paranormal, and the occult, I actually do know a thing or two about demons, or at least how they were oftentimes depicted in medieval artwork. The medieval Christian explanation went something like: Man was created in God’s image, so although demons are known for their powers of deception and their shapeshifting abilities, they can never truly take on the sacred form of a human being. Like, they can ALMOST do it, but they’ll always be at least one thing that’s a little off about them–like a cloven hoof or a tail or something.
As a fellow person with unusually large feet, I can only imagine how this would make shoe shopping an absolute nightmare. I feel you, dude.
This explanation also accounts for changelings and fairies and all kinds of other weird fantastical humanoid critters that were ever said to roam the Earth before Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe. A clever way to transform the pagan gods into something that you wouldn’t want hanging around your village, and probably further enforcing the need to go to church!
However, just like Krampus, the origins of Perchta predate Christianity. The only two explanations that I could find about the odd foot thing is that it’s an indication of Perchta’s shapeshifting abilities, since she is a goddess after all, and my favorite explanation…she needs a big ol’ goose foot to work the treadle on her spinning wheel! And that, my friend, is evolution if I ever heard it!
So with all of this amazing inspiration, I quickly decided that I need to draw my own Perchta character. I’ve already been considering writing a sequel to Kris & Krampus Kringle someday down the road. Other ideas for possible characters in the second book include some other cool characters from Nordic Christmas folklore, The Yule Cat, The Yule Lads, and their mother, the wicked giantess Grýla. With all of these characters essentially originating from the same universe, it makes me want to write crossovers and backstories on them even more. I also think that I will write the sequel to take place four years later, so that Krampus would be as old as Kris was in the first book (nine years old) and Kris would be about thirteen. This would set things up perfectly for an awkward first romance!
Based on the idea that my Perchta character would be the same age as Krampus in the second book, I started sketching what I imagined she would look like as a young girl. For pronunciation’s sake I decided that I should call her by the English spelling of her name, Bertha. I mostly based her design off of the beautiful Perchten form, but I decided that I still wanted to incorporate a few of her more monstrous features as well. This is the first sketch that I drew.
You see, this way she’s still very beautiful but she also looks like she can be a bit of a brat if provoked. I kept the long blonde hair and let the golden halo/stylized rays of light in some of those beautiful Perchten masks morph into a more naturalistic braid crown. I also added some small curled double horns. Her nose is also a little bit beastly, but still more delicate than how I draw Krampus’s nose. I was happy enough with the initial sketch to then refine it into a finished character design.
I made sure to include her lacy bonnet this time, as well as the goose feet and her love of the textile arts! I also gave her an ugly Perchten mask that I imagine her wearing most of the time…like maybe she’s really shy so she doesn’t usually let people see her real face. It ended up looking a little like a creepy tiki mask, but I swear that I based the design on the wooden masks in the old drawings posted above. I think that someday I would also love to make a puppet of her just like I plan to do with Kris, Krampus, and Mama Kringle.
So that’s about it for this post. Over the past few days I’ve been working on an illustration of Bertha knitting under a wild rose bush tunnel in the woods. It’s going to be another pretty little portfolio piece when it’s done, and I might also be turning it into a promotional postcard to send to agents and publishers along with my info and dummy book. I will be sure to include some work in progress pictures of that piece in my next blog entry!