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The Belly-Slitter's Knife: More Alpine Holiday Fun!
January 4, 2010 10:52 PM   Subscribe

In alpine Europe, Perchta the Belly-Slitter (a.k.a Berta/Berchta/Frau Percht) roams during the Twelve Days of Christmas, and if you piss her off, she'll cut out your entrails and stuff you full of straw and garbage. And you thought Krampus was all you had to dodge to get through the holidays!

Her name shares the same root as the word "bright". Also "birch", a tree she's associated with. She also related to the myths of the Weisse Frauen ("White Ladies"), elven spirits in female form who would appear to mortals (and inspire both The Professor's Galadriel and Eowyn (after she married Faramir and moved with him and his rangers to Ithilien </GEEK>)

Some myths have Perchta (or her male aspect Berchtold) as the leader of the Wild Hunt. The Belly-Slitter is associated with animals, spinning, and fiber-crafts, and she not only blesses the shepherds and their flocks, girls/women spinning yarn during the holidays risk Perchta's knife. This is because they were lazy and didn't get their work done on time. Some versions have her boiling her victims like a skein of yarn.

Also, people who don't feast enough during the holidays were considered to be not invoking enough good mojo for the community during the darkest, most liminal time of the year, and thus were also at risk. A full stomach is said to be proof against the Belly-Slitter's wrath. (Intestines on the floor she can handle, but I guess a big, wet mass of undigested holiday meal in a beer soup is gross.)

Some myths depict Perchta as ugly, with a long nose, while in Slovenia, she is a tall, beautiful valkyrie-like figure. Perchta is attended by the spirits of children who died unbaptized known as perchten. They, like their mistress can be either Schönperchten ("beautiful") and bestow luck and blessings, or Schiachperchten ("ugly") and drive out demons and ghosts when they come. (I could be wrong on this, but it's my understanding that the masks that have horns are traditionally Krampus (Dec. 5th), and that those without are perchten (Jan. 5th). But these days, everyone brings out all their masks during the holidays, leading to some confusion.)

So, don't be lazy, get your work done on time, party hearty... and you might just survive the holidays.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey (24 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I first read that as "Perchta the Babysitter" but it was the "roams during Christmas" rather than the "cut out your entrails" that made me rethink that reading.
posted by DU at 3:00 AM on January 5, 2010


Oh, now you tell us. It's the twelfth day already!
posted by timeo danaos at 3:44 AM on January 5, 2010


It's the twelfth day already!

Damn. I'd better do the dishes and tidy up a little.
posted by pracowity at 4:01 AM on January 5, 2010


if you piss her off, she'll cut out your entrails and stuff you full of straw and garbage

What? No stifling parental guilt? No sibling resentment? No impacted rage from long-forgotten slights? No mortifying realizations about the entire past, present and future of your life's direction?

Please. Perchta wouldn't last a minute during the holidays with my family. Anyone can mess with your entrails.
posted by PlusDistance at 4:04 AM on January 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


This post needs a black metal soundtrack.
posted by NoMich at 4:16 AM on January 5, 2010


So now Andrew W.K. has hired Christmas demons to CUT ME OPEN if I don't party hard in accordance with his holiday wishes???
posted by haveanicesummer at 4:44 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's just like GilesPirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey to give us homework over the holidays.
posted by GeckoDundee at 4:59 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like a spirit who punishes you for not partying hard enough. Do you suppose she give a pass to people who are suffering from povery or famine? It seems like the intent to party should count for something. Otherwise, she is a rather regressive spirit...
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:02 AM on January 5, 2010


Wow, that Krampus dude is pretty horrible. Parents who worry about the psych damage of promoting the modern Santa Claus should read up on this guy.
posted by Zinger at 6:27 AM on January 5, 2010


[snip] (and inspire both The Professor's Galadriel and Eowyn (after she married Faramir and moved with him and his rangers to Ithilien )

n00b time ... The Professor? Who? What?
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 6:54 AM on January 5, 2010


Between writing The Two Towers and The Return of the King he got them off the island with something he made out of some coconuts and the radio.

Didn't you see that episode?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:03 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Professor? Who? What?

Some of us who read FAR too much J.R.R. Tolkien refer to him by that honorific.

And yeah, publisher Stanley Unwin edited out the coconuts scene from RotK.

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:11 AM on January 5, 2010


if you piss her off, she'll cut out your entrails and stuff you full of straw and garbage.

So Perchta is a gutta, is what you're saying?
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:13 AM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Huh. I just spent Christmas on a dairy farm in Lower Austria and didn't hear anything about this. I'll have to read up on it. Unfortunately I missed seeing Krampus beat up kids because he and St. Nicholas make their presences known earlier in the month on December 5th. (On Christmas eve, Austrian kids receive presents from the "Christ Child" (Christkindl), not Santa.)
posted by miss lynnster at 7:28 AM on January 5, 2010


On Christmas eve, Austrian kids receive presents from the "Christ Child" (Christkindl), not Santa.

Did you get the Belsnickel too? Although he seems to be more western German than south Austrian.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:39 AM on January 5, 2010


The most popular story about the origin of Le Père Fouettard was first told in the year 1150. An Inn Keeper (or in other versions a butcher) captures three boys who appear to be wealthy and on their way to enroll in a religious boarding school. Along with his wife, he kills the children in order to rob them. One gruesome version tells that they drug the children, slit their throats, cut them into pieces, and stew them in a barrel. St. Nicholas discovers the crime and resurrects the children. After this, Le Père Fouettard repents and becomes St. Nick's partner.

I guess it was hard to convince kids to behave before television and high fructose corn syrup?
posted by oinopaponton at 7:44 AM on January 5, 2010


Non-American Santa is always so pope-y.
posted by haveanicesummer at 9:07 AM on January 5, 2010


“She carries a sack / made out of a skin / she dumps the toys out / she stuffs the kids in / Mother Berhta’s coming to town!” (from Radio Paganistan by Steven Posch, sung to the tune of “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.”)
posted by omnidrew at 9:36 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have an inexplicable craving for haggis now....

Great post!
posted by zarq at 9:53 AM on January 5, 2010


Do you suppose she give a pass to people who are suffering from povery or famine? It seems like the intent to party should count for something. Otherwise, she is a rather regressive spirit...

My understanding of it is that as a spirit from an agricultural tradition, showing up at the end of the year means:

-The harvest is in and the fattened animals are slaughtered. It's the one time of year when there actually is abundance. It's gonna be cold onions and small beer and not much else for your one daily meal in a couple of months, but now there's a lot of perishable food around and a big roaring fire...

-WAY back in the day, feasting and fertility rites *cough* orgy *cough* were considered a social duty in order to restore fertility to the land lest winter stay and keep the world from being reborn.

So it's not like she's showing up in late March and expecting a big shin-dig when the cupboard is bare.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:34 AM on January 5, 2010


Oh, and re: famine... She seems to have a short temper, and would probably blame people for not doing enough last year, and so she's gonna cut someone.

I have come across no mentions of her being considered a particularly just spirit.

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:39 AM on January 5, 2010


girls/women spinning yarn during the holidays risk Perchta's knife. This is because they were lazy and didn't get their work done on time. Some versions have her boiling her victims like a skein of yarn.

As a knitter who only barely finished knitting up the Christmas presents in time for Christmas dinner, I FIND THIS TERRIFYING. And unfair.
posted by ErikaB at 10:54 AM on January 5, 2010


Perchta is attended by the spirits of children who died unbaptized known as perchten

Sounds like the mother from Ico. Creepy.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:38 AM on January 6, 2010


Wow. I had never heard of Krampus. And then, on the heels of this post, I discovered these on Krampus postcards. Frightening graphics!
posted by jeanmari at 5:55 PM on January 7, 2010


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