Krampus: Tales of the UnGnome


I remember when I was first asked to come to Portland to work on a colleagues radio show as a producer, I was excited because I realized that I was heading into Bigfoot or Sasquatch territory. I never really believed in Bigfoot until I had conversations with Lloyd Pye, the author of “Everything You Know Is Wrong.”

His book dealing with the crypto-unknowns gave me a reason to explore claims of crypto-critters and, of course, sightings of Bigfoot can also be connected to various sightings of proto-pygmies and in some cases fairy folk that are a very important part of the mythologies that exist in northern most parts of the world.

Lloyd Pye passed away from cancer this week and his contribution to the realms of the paranormal and the unexplained will be missed but his story should not be ignored and the paranormal does not sleep.

In fact, it is a strange coincidence that on my way home from doing the show, I saw something that didn’t belong in an area of Portland, Oregon that is hardly occupied by anything human – especially at 12:30 in the morning in the frigid cold that has been plaguing us this winter.

As I was riding along with my producers Brian Trotter and Wes Skotko, I noticed to the left of the freeway overpass near a narrow exchange between I-5 and I-84 what appeared to be a small “person” with pale skin wearing what looked like a black beanie hat or fez and black gloves attempting to climb over the concrete embankment.

Brian Trotter, the driver of the vehicle, said that he saw what appeared to be a person with a backpack or “luggage” attempting to climb over the embankment. What is most interesting is that if the person was successful in climbing over the side of the overpass, they would have fallen 20 feet on to a road or railroad tracks that run parallel with the road below.

The person was 3-4 feet tall – actually the height of the freeway concrete embankment and was slowly crawling up and over. We immediately tried to find an exit off I -84 which a difficult corridor without many exits. We managed to exit off the freeway and drove to the Burnside Bridge. We then were able to go south to the Morrison Bridge and wind our way back to the spot on the freeway where you exit to I-84—whatever was there before had vanished.

We all nervously laughed and said we just saw a gnome. Of course, we were trying to ascertain what it could have been using logic and reason, but we just couldn’t figure out how a small person wearing a back pack hat and gloves could maneuver over the bridge and not fall to their death.

It would have been dangerous to back up on a freeway to snap a picture, so when I arrived home I did a search for anything that would look like what we saw and – wouldn’t you know it – a picture found on was available. I photoshopped it a bit. It’s also worth noting that the Gnome Society even recently reported that: “Local officials are investigating a number of “Gnome Sightings” in the Graubünden canton of Switzerland after a local farmer photographed something that some people are claiming “proves that Gnomes are real.”

i84-gnomeThe pictures that were featured on the website looked close enough for me so I posted them on my Facebook page. I knew it all sounded crazy, but little did I know that saying you ‘saw something that looked like gnome’ would trigger so many replies and posts by trolls.

There were a few people that joked about smoking weed or being drunk, but the fact is while the thing we saw could have been explained away as a child or a homeless little person seemingly abandoned on a busy freeway, but the reality is: the place was unsafe, it was cold and below the overpass was a 20 foot drop onto a busy railroad and traffic area.

The thing, whatever it was, did not belong there… it is easy to give into a paranormal explanation – and many were realizing the implication. But I know what I saw, and it did not belong, and if it was a gnome or even a hallucination, the rest of the world has seen and even told stories of little people showing up in the most inappropriate places.

In places like Iceland, the word “Álfar” sends a chill down the spines of most of the population because it is a general – and sometimes even derogatory – term for the small, hairy, pygmy-like people that live in the forests.

While stories of hairy pygmy wild men doing pagan rituals is a staple in Icelandic legends, there is a dichotomy of sorts wherein a small percentage are total believers in the possibility that these beings are supernatural while the majority either have no opinion or refuse to rule out their existence.

The topic of gnomes, elves or even leprechauns do not always top the list of Fortean topics I choose to talk about. But around Christmas time, the story of Santa Claus and his band of elves are a product of fantasy that many people don’t realize are based on Laplander legends of wood demons and the very frightening image of the horned demon Krampus.

Krampus is a character from old Christmas stories that did not make it to the United States from European traditions. The idea of a horned, wood monster carrying a bag full of children appearing in the window at F.A.O Schwartz would likely terrorize shoppers, but the stories of winter demons were always spoken of during the earlier celebrations surrounding Saturnalia and the Yule.

The stories range from hairy little people appearing under stairs or beds during the winter months to tales of demons that walk the Earth, leaving behind foot prints in the snow.

One particular story that stands out as the cold winter creeps is that of the Demon of Devon.

While the demon is not necessarily linked to Christmas, it is most certainly linked to known winter gremlins like the Fachen, a one-legged jumping entity that would poison orchards and induces heart attacks if he is ever seen by human eyes.

In the winter of 1855, after a light snowfall, it was reported that hoof-like marks appeared in the snow. The footprints measured 1.5 to 2.5 inches wide and eight inches apart. The footprints were seen throughout the countryside for a total of 100 miles and even though they would veer off at various points the greater part of the hoof prints wer moving forward in straight line.

Some of these hoof tracks were seen going up walls, on rooftops, haystacks and leading up to and even into various drain pipes that some say were only four inches in diameter. Villagers in the south side of Devon, England reported sightings of a horned devil-like figure walking around looking into windows. Many townspeople armed themselves and attempted to track down the beast responsible, without success.

As the Daily Mail reported back on March 13, 2009, in the article “Ancient Mystery Returns As ‘Satan’s Hoofprints’ Are Spotted In Devon Back Garden“:

Scientists from the Centre for Fortean Zoology inspected the prints which measure 5ins (13cm) long with a stride of between 11 and 17ins (28 and 43cm)… Some villagers blamed the church, who had recently changed the standard prayer book, for letting the devil into their communities. Others blamed animals, pranksters, and even a weather balloon – but the phenomenon, described as the ‘great Devon mystery’, was never explained.

The prints did resemble those of a goat and skeptics brought up the possibility that rabbits or even an escaped kangaroo from the local zoo may have caused them. Still, there is no explanation for the curious hoof prints in the snow.

Throughout 19th-century England, tales of demon-like characters were told – including the tale of ‘Spring-heeled Jack‘, a small demonic gnome that was able to leap into the air and terrorize people. Some say that Spring –heeled Jack was a horned, oily skinned blue demon with a pointed head. Some say he spewed forth a blue flame form his mouth and that he had sandy hooked claws that felt cold like a corpse.

Again, this is similar to the wood gnome or forest demon, Krampus – which is actually a German word for “hooks” or “claws.” Krampus was a horned and hairy creature with claws that were covered in dirt.

Krampus was originally known as the demon with the sandy “claws” – or sandy “hooks.” The name evolved into the English Santa Claus. Sandy Claws or Krampus had huge sticks he would use to beat unruly children; some were put into sacks and tossed into the river. Others were left at the home and there were times when Krampus would punish the parents of children, blaming them for their bad behavior.

We can dismiss these types of characters as all fantasies, but they are most certainly are based on real fears and realities that were – at the time – unexplainable. The dim light can play tricks on people or we can still entertain the idea that there are beings that are inter-dimensional. They are somehow conjured or manifested when a group of people are expecting a darker outcome of things that frighten us or leave us caught up in the elusive mysteries of the season.

People will say that there is no Santa Claus and that primitive people would spin tall tales based on saints like Saint Nicholas or even horned demons and little demonic goblins that can be found in the ancient cultures and histories that are seldom talked about.

In some ancient cultures, there was a popular myth that – during a solar eclipse or during the winter solstice – evil spirits could enter into our world through a mirror. The prevailing myth is that, throughout Europe, the demonic entities that followed or accompanied Santa were called the ‘mirror opposite‘.

However, the twinning aspect somehow melded the two personalities of both Santa and Krampus – creating a character called Ruebezahl, another hairy and evil “Álfar” who instead of moving back and forth through the open hearth of a fireplace or entered and exited the world through a mirror.

Krampus is the mirroring entity of an ancient Phoenician god known as Molech. The traditions of Christmas – believe it or not – can be found in the Old Testament, thousands of years before Christ.

If you open the bible to Isaiah 57:5, you read about the ancients placing idols of worship under a tree:

You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree;
you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags.

In the tenth chapter of Jeremiah, we can also see that the decoration of trees was a custom that happened before Christmas:

For the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.

The customs were to set fires and make sacrifices near the oak and evergreen trees and also in the sanctuaries in front on idols. They did so in the valley of Ben-hinnom.

Interestingly enough, a pro-life organization out of New Zealand notes that:

In ancient times the Phoenicians, in Carthage and elsewhere, had a reputation for sacrificing children. One adventurer/explorer in the 1920s found 6,000 funerary urns in the sancturary of Tanit, where the little children of Carthage were sacrificed for the sake of the city’s security.

It was believed that the children were killed in order to provide safety from evil entities and to insure that the Sun would return. This would bring peace and good will to all men according to the ancients.

In the sanctuaries was a large, stone idol. It had the head of a horned bull. The horned god had arms where the child would be placed. Ropes and pulleys would raise the arms to heaven. The child would then fall out of the arms into a pile of burning oak. This was the gift under the trees. The gift to Molech would be an exchange for the birth of the Sun, or “Sol Invictus,’ the unconquered sun.

What types of superstitions and stories could be created by traumatic encounters with horned devils and goblin-type little men that were able to sneak in under the beds of children and kidnap them while they slept?

I once had a conversation with Stephen hawking about Santa Claus and while it was a discussion about quantum physics and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle it was also a way to convey that new developments in Quantum entanglements can demonstrate that we exist not in a universe but in an infinite multiverse.

Cosmic and quantum thinking can conjure demons and other so-called fantasy creatures out of thin air, but we can also wonder if there were times when these darker archetypes manifested in reality because of cultural hysteria.

In Sweden, there are stories of the vindictive and “poltergeist-like” Tomtarna that can be helpful, but mischievous. They are seen as frail but hairy and bearded beings. There are also the stories in Mexico and South America about ‘El Duende‘.

duende is a gnome or goblin that lives under the stairs. According to myth, the duende appears because of an evocation given by someone nearby. It is physical entity that allegedly manifests because of emotional stress. The duende is a demonic earth spirit much like the earth spirits of the dark nights like Krampus.

Those who see a duende are soon to have a death in the family.

It is also believed the duende can hide in your shoes and enter your body through the soles of your feet. It is interesting that the gnomes of European Christmas lore would have some fascination with shoes and stockings. For years the gnomes were believed to be sniffing around chimneys where children would dry their stockings.

The holidays have always been strange times and stories of ghosts and demons were always spoken of – along with traditional readings from the book of Luke, repeating the story of the birth of Christ.

The demon-haunted world was respected in the 18th and 19th centuries and Christmas was not celebrated in the way we do now. It was frowned upon by the church to openly celebrate Christmas. Many church leaders shunned the celebrations because of the pagan origins and the demonic legends that surrounded it.

Christmas has literally cleaned up after 200 years and the darker stories are not shared that much in the United States anymore – but they remain in Denmark, Iceland and in European traditions.