18. Traditions in Austria during 1400-1500CE
JAN. 5, 2021
Lichtenstein was on the agenda, but Pete just can’t stop talking about #Austria. Starring the Krampus and other Christmas horrors.
Pete and Ryan explore further the art and culture of medieval Austria, following our beloved minstrel Ryan as he spends a year in the Alps, taking part in their traditions.
We start in Spring, at Eastertime, where the Austrian household is sitting down for breakfast. Of course, there are eggs, but these are special eggs.
They are fighting eggs.
Two contestants grip their eggs and, pointy side first, they take it in turns to tap the other person’s egg with theirs until one of the shells breaks. The intact egg is the winner, who goes on around the table until there is only one egg left in one piece – the winner.
Then time passes, until we come to the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.
On this day, Austrians come together and mark the occasion by setting bonfires on the sides of the mountains, which both celebrate the earth and serve to keep away evil spirits.
The months march on, Summer fades into autumn and in September/October, it’s time to bring the cattle down from the high pasture to the lower fields, where they can be kept warmer. This phenomenon, known as vertical transhumance, has been around since the bronze age, and is still practiced to this day in a celebration known as Almabtrieb.
But a cow can’t go down the mountain in regular cow-wear can they? Of course not. Instead the cows are dressed in headdresses of alpine wild flowers, mirrors, bells and glitter. Then, in their finery, they are processed down the mountain, bells ringing to keep the demons at bay, and generally looking pretty darn fine (as far as a cow can).
Now forward again to the dark midwinter, and Christmas time. Most people know St Nick, who gives gifts to children who have been good, but have you met his frightening friend in Austria, Krampus. Krampus is a hairy, goat legged chap with horns and a long pointy tongue. He emerges on the night of the 5th of December carrying a bundle of birch twigs, a ruten, which he uses to swat at misbehaving children. Worse, on his back he carries a sack or basket into which he might throw a child and carry them off to Hell for a year as punishment for their naughty ways.
And if you survive Krampus, you still have to get past Perchta. She is a mythical figure whose feast day is Epiphany (6th January). She also rewards good children with a silver coin, which is nice. She also punishes the bad children, especially those who have been found to have been spinning thread on her special day by slitting open their bellies, scooping out their organs and replacing them with garbage, which is not nice at all. Better hope for the coin eh?
Finally, on New Year’s eve, Austrians might seek to understand what the future brings them through a little molybdemancy – predicting the future by melting lead into water and interpreting the shapes it makes.
This practice goes back as far as Roman times and is still carried out today in Austria, albeit with the less-dangerous materials of tin or candle wax.
A nugget of tin is melted into a little wooden-handled pan, then poured into cold water. Then the shape made by the hardened metal is examined. What does it look like? What does it mean? The answer may hold the key to your future.
And you can find out the future of History Happened Everywhere as Pete and Ryan try their hands at fortune-telling by lead-pouring (or Bleigießen as they call it in Austria).