Episode 23 – Have a Holly Jolly Yuletide

Episode 23 Show Notes

Source: Norse Mythology

  • This week on MYTH, we’ll be leaving the barren wastes of the Arabian desert and sliding into the holiday season with a story that has a nice mix of comedy and weirdness.  You’ll discover that kissing under the mistletoe is darker than you knew, that sometimes the gods like to cross-dress, and that Loki’s kids were a real handful.   Then, in Gods and Monsters, you’ll learn that being a naughty kid can get you dropped in a Saw movie.  This is the Myths Your Teacher Hated podcast, where I tell the stories of cultures from around the world in all of their original, bloody, uncensored glory.  Modern tellings of these stories have become dry and dusty, but I’ll be trying to breathe new life into them.  This is Episode 23, “Have a Holly Jolly Yuletide”.  As always, this episode is not safe for work.
  • It’s the holiday season, so it seemed only appropriate that I spend some time digging up the horrifying origins of some of your favorite holiday traditions.  Unsurprisingly, a lot of the traditional activities and decorations associated with Christmas actually originated from much earlier pagan festivities, and were absorbed into Christmas when the regions were converted (willingly or otherwise) into the upstart new (well, new at the time anyway) offshoot of Judaism.  We’ll specifically be looking at the origins of the use of mistletoe in Christmas celebrations, which means we’ll be revisiting our friends from back in Episode 4, the Norse Gods.   
  • Odin, the tricksy bastard we met once before, was the king of the Norse Gods, and he often sat upon Hildskialf, the throne of the Aesir gods, with his companions Hugin (which means Thought) and Munin (which means Memory), who were a pair of super intelligent ravens, seated on his shoulders to whisper secrets in his ears.  From here, he could look out over all nine worlds of existence (not the nine planets, that’s just a coincidence, and yes, I still include Pluto dammnit).  The nine worlds were Niflheim, Muspelheim, Asgard, Midgard, Jotunheim, Vanaheim, Alfeim, Svartalfheim, and Helheim.  I won’t spend too much time on this, so briefly, I’ll explain what the worlds were.
  • Niflheim means “mist home” or “mist world” and is the darkest and coldest of the nine worlds, set in the far north.  It was the first to come into existence and is the source of the 11 rivers of Norse mythology.  Overall, it’s a terrible place to be.  In some stories, it gets overlapped with Helheim, which we’ll describe shortly.  The next world, Muspelheim means “fire home” and exists far to the south.  It is a place of fire and flames, with rivers of lava and air of burning sparks and falling soot.  It is the home of the fire giants and fire demons, and ruled by the giant Surtr, the sworn enemy of the Aesir.  Come Ragnarok, he will ride for the home of the gods to lay it to waste and burn it to the ground.
  • Next is Asgard, which means “god home”.  This world sits high in the sky, above the other worlds, and can only be reached by the Bifrost Bridge, made of rainbows and guarded by the god Heimdall.  It’s the home of the Norse gods, the Aesir, and goddesses, the Asynjur.  Naturally, it is ruled by Odin and his wife Frigga.  Asgard is also home to Valhalla, ruled by Odin, and one of the eternal resting places for warriors of great renown who died in battle, known as the Einherjer.  The other is Folkvangr, ruled by the goddess Freya, and is a home for women who have suffered a noble death.
  • Midgard, which means “middle earth” (and now you know where Tolkien got the name) is the world of mortals.  It sits below Asgard, but above other worlds, hence middle earth.  Here is the connection to the Bifrost Bridge, and the whole of the world is surrounded by a vast ocean that is utterly impassable.  In the deep depths lives the Midgard serpent, who we met briefly last time.
  • Next, you’ve got Jotunheim, or “giant’s home”.  If you listened to that earlier episode, you already know that the Asgardians and the giants are like the Bloods and the Crips.  They fucking hate each other and spend a lot of time killing one another.  Jotunheim is a wilderness, with rocky plains, deep forests, and rivers.  There is basically no farmable land there, so the giants live off the fish and animals living there.  This world was, weirdly enough, created from the body of the first giant, Ymir, who was killed by Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve.
  • Next up is Vanaheim, which means “Vanir home”.  Unsurprisingly, this is where the Vanir, a branch of the old gods, dwell.  They are masters of sorcery, magic, and prophesy.  The land is hidden, and no one but the Vanir know where it is or what it looks like.  The main Vanir in the Norse stories are Njord and his children Freya and Freyr, who came to live in Asgard after the war between the Aesir and the Vanir ended.
  • Six down, three to go.  Alfheim, or “elf home”, is the world of the light elves.  It’s next door neighbors to Asgard, which naturally makes them good guys.  They are considered to be a kind of guardian angel, ruled over by the Vanir Freyr, and most are minor nature gods with the power to inspire artists (kind of like the Greek muses).
  • Svartalfheim, which translates to “black elf home”, is pretty much what you’re already picturing.  The black elves, or what we would call dwarves, live underground, in cave systems, ruled by their king Hreidmar.  Like Tolkien says, they are master craftsmen, and made many of the magical objects in the Norse world, including Thor’s hammer, the magical ring Draupnir, and Odin’s spear Gungnir.
  • Finally, we come to Helheim, or the home of the dishonorable dead.  The name translates roughly to “home of Hel”, who was the death goddess who ruled over the place.  As is often the case, it was considered to be deep underground.  It was not a cheerful place, since only cowards and those who died of age and sickness, rather than a glorious, honorable death in battle, ended up here.  Not all of this will be relevant to the story, but some is, and all of it is interesting.  
  • So, Odin is sitting on his throne, which allows him to look over the nine worlds (his wife, who may also be his daughter because that’s how lots of gods roll, Frigga was the only other being allowed to sit in this honored seat).  Frigga was one of Odin’s favorite people, since she was the only other being he had ever met as clever and knowledgeable about the future as he was.  She had a better attitude about what she saw in the future than Odin, who was often depressed by the certain knowledge of the doom of Ragnarok heading towards all of his people.  It was part of why he loved her.
  • Frigga had her own palace, though, known as Fensalir, where she would often sit and spin the clouds to float over Midgard.  It was also, in some stories, a home for married couples who wanted to stay together after death, rather than going to the endless battles and parties of Valhalla, where Odin spent most of his time frown drinking to forget (and refusing to eat ever since he learned about Ragnarok) with the honorable dead and the Valkyries, the choosers of the slain.
  • Frigga and Odin had a son named Baldr, who was widely considered to be the most handsome of all the gods.  He was a god of truth and light, which is hardly surprising considering both his parents were bastions of knowledge.  He was generous, joyful, and courageous, and pretty much everybody loved him.  He was everybody’s best friend, and he was a genuinely good person.  Such a good person, in fact, that he glowed with a holy light from the pure nature of his character.  He knew much of herbs and runes, and became a favorite amongst the people of Midgard, where he would wander and teach what he knew.
  • He grew to adulthood and married Nanna Nepsdottir, a nature goddess who doesn’t feature in many stories, so not much is known about her.  They lived together in Breidablik, and as the home of the god of truth, it was said that no lie could pass through the walls of the palace.  This made it all the more troubling when Baldr began having terrible, ominous nightmares about his own death.  Everyone knew about his home’s power, so everyone believed him when he told them of his fears about the dreams.  If the god of truth said it was an omen, then it was a goddamned omen.  That’s all there was to it.  It’s worth noting here that the Norse gods, unlike most pantheons, were not actually immortal.  The goddess of eternal youth, Idun kept a grove of magical golden apples, which kept the gods young and strong, but nothing but their own skill kept them from falling in battle or by treachery.
  • The gods, who loved Baldr, asked Odin to look into this and figure out what the hell was going on, and how to stop it.  Odin, leapt on the back of Sleipnir, his magical eight-legged horse, and rode to Hel to consult with a dead seeress he had known in life, who was very knowledgeable in such matters.  Even Odin is not permitted to walk the halls of the dead with impunity, as Hel is very jealous of her kingdom, so he did what he always did when he wasn’t supposed to be somewhere: he went anyway, but in a sneaky disguise.
  • He made his way on sneaky tippy toes into the cold, misty halls of the underworld, but something was…different.  Weird even.  The entire place had been done up for a splendid party, complete with huge tables set out for a magnificent feast.  All that was missing was the people and the food. He found the seeress and questioned her spirit.  “Hey there, nameless-but-important prophetess.  What’s going on here?  This is, no offense, not supposed to be a happy place.  It’s supposed to punish cowards for dying of something stupid, like natural causes.  Who’s the feast for?”  “For a random stranger interrupting me, you’re kind of a bastard (especially since you’re stuck here with us cowards).  Hel is expecting a truly important guest, and she wants to make him feel welcome.  It’s not often a god dies, and Baldur is beloved even down here.  He’ll make a fine addition to the ignominious dead who weren’t crazy enough to run chest first at a sword and meet a quote unquote “glorious end”.  You’re especially going to love how he dies.”
  • This, to put it mildly, upset Odin.  He raged that this would not be allowed to happen, and the seeress realized that she was talking to Baldur’s father in disguise.  “Oh, shit, I didn’t realize it was you.  I mean, it doesn’t really change anything, but I might have been a tad less glib about it.  On the other hand, you were kind of a bastard to me just now, so it’s fitting that your son gets stuck here too, and it’s not like you can do anything to me.  I’m already dead, so I belong to Hel.”  Odin would have cursed the gods, but that was him, so he made do with storming out of Hel to stop this atrocity from happening.
  • He went back to Asgard to consult with his wife.  Frigga, aghast at what Odin told her, searched the future and saw that it was true, so she summoned all of the Aesir to try and figure out what to do.  The problem was that they knew Baldur would die soon, but not exactly when or how.  The gods began to name off random ways to die, honestly trying to be helpful, but it’s a damned long list.  “This is getting us nowhere,” cried Frigga.  “There are too many possibilities to stop them all!”  “What else are we supposed to do, dear?  Go around and politely ask everything in existence to not hurt our son, pretty please with sugar on top?”  Frigga readied a snappy comeback, but it died on her lips.  “Actually, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”
  • She ran to the forests, sat at the foot of the trees and wept, begging them to protect her son.  The trees were not without pity, and they did love Baldur, so they agreed.  She went then to the rivers, and begged that they protect her son.  They too loved Baldur, so they agreed.  Over the course of many days, Frigga traveled over all nine worlds and extracted a promise to not hurt her son from everything in existence, from diseases, to weapons, to the gods, to the giants themselves.  Everyone loved Baldur, even the hated giants, and so everyone agreed.  
  • Odin was well and truly impressed.  You should never underestimate a desperate woman.  The gods couldn’t believe it.  “He’s officially the safest son of a bitch ever created!”  It wasn’t long before some asshole decided to test Baldur’s protection, and threw a rock at him.  Not hard enough to kill him, mind you, just sting him a little.  The rock was thrown true, but at the last second, it veered off to the side, missing Baldur.  This quickly turned into a game, with the gods each trying to outdo the others in finding the most creative form of death to hurl at Baldur, only to watch it avoid him in complete defiance of physics.  
  • Enter Loki, the trickster god.  Loki was the self-appointed god of mischief, and made it his job to knock anyone who got too big for their britches down a peg.  He saw the game turning into a form of almost worship, even though it was pretty weird for gods to worship other gods.  “This is bullshit,” he thought.  “Somebody needs to stir things up a little, and I’m just the asshole to do it.”  
  • Loki is an odd character, even by the standards of mythology.  Nominally considered as one of the gods, he was not one of the Aesir.  His father was the giant Farbauti, which means “cruel striker” and his mother was Laufey or Nal (depending on the version of the story), and her identity is not specified in the surviving stories.  He is the father of Hel, goddess of the underworld, of Jormungand, the world serpent fated to slay Thor at Ragnarok (and who we met briefly in Episode 4), and Fenrir, the great wolf who bites off the hand of Tyr (we’ll get to that story) and is fated to kill Odin at Ragnarok.  You can see why the other gods were wary of him, since Odin knew this destiny.  In a very weird twist, he is also the mother of Odin’s horse Sleipnir, and yes, I did say mother.  We’ll cover that too, I promise.  It’s a weird one.
  • Loki is basically that red pill asshole who is a dick to everyone, but thinks everyone else is the real dick, which justifies him in doing literally anything he wants to them.  He’s usually shown as a scheming coward who puts his own pleasure and self-preservation above that of his friends and fellow gods, even of creation itself.  Sometimes he’s playfully mischievous, and sometimes he’s out and out malicious, but he’s always irreverent and nihilistic.  
  • Anywho, Loki got seriously jealous that Baldur got to be immune to all harm and he didn’t, so he decided to find a way.  He disguised himself as a lovely young woman and went to Fensalir where Frigga was taking a break from the festivities surrounding Baldur escaping a supposedly inescapable fate.  “Excuse me, Frigga, but I saw the gods hurling axes and warhammers at Baldur, and it made me afraid.  Are you quite sure that nothing can harm him?”  “Quite sure, young lady.  Everything has promised me to protect my son from harm, from the sticks and stones, to all the weapons of war, to even the diseases that bring down men in their prime.  Nothing can harm him.”  “Everyone?” asked Loki, feigning surprise.  “Surely that’s not possible.  Are you sure you didn’t miss anyone?  Or anything?”
  • Frigga nodded.  “I traveled throughout the nine worlds.  I spoke to everyone and everything, even the giants.  There was one little plant, growing on the eastern side of Valhalla that I didn’t bother to ask, but it’s such a tiny thing, weak and small.  It couldn’t hurt anyone, and it isn’t poisonous, so I’m not worried.  Other than that, though, yeah.  Everything promised.”  I know it seems silly to overlook anything with as dedicated as she was, but this is fate we’re talking about.  Frigga could see something of the future and the fates of gods and men, but she couldn’t tell them and she couldn’t change anything.  Some part of her must have realized that this was dangerous, but her gifts probably didn’t give her much choice but to leave one available possibility that the fate she and Odin had seen could come to pass.  It must be hard to see the future, but be unable to change it. Just ask Cassandra (and if you don’t know who that is, you’ll be finding out very soon).
  • Loki made a little more small talk, not wanting to be suspicious.  Then he left, and went straight for the tiny plant.  He came to the east side of Valhalla and there he saw it: a small cluster of mistletoe growing upon a tree next to the ancient hall.  It was indeed very small, but he cut a small branch from it anyway, as long as his little finger, and took it away with him.  He went home to work in secret for a few hours, and then he went to the sacred playing fields, where the gods were again playing their new favorite game of pin the weapon on the god.  He looked around through the laughing throng and saw one face that was not happy.  Hodur, the blind god of winter and darkness as well as brother to Baldur, was standing alone, forgotten.  
  • Loki sidled up to him.  “Hey there, ol’ buddy ol’ pal.  Why aincha playin’ with your brother like the rest of ‘em?  Do you not like games?”  Hodur looked in his general direction.  “I’d love to join in, Loki, but as you may have noticed, I’m completely blind, which makes a throwing game kind of hard.  I’d be more likely to hit a spectator by mistake, and I’d feel terrible if I hurt someone by accident.  Besides, I don’t have anything to throw.  I never bothered to get any weapons, since I can’t really use them.”  Loki gasped dramatically, one hand to his chest.  “Oh my good friend, this cannot stand!  It’s totally unfair that no one is helping you play this game, just because you have a disability.  Shame on those ableist assholes.  You know what?  I have a little dart that I was going to throw at Baldur, but I think you should do it (see, Loki had promised too, but he’s a slippery bastard).  It’s well balanced, but very small, so you’re not likely to do more than poke someone a little if you miss.  I’ll even help you aim.  Whaddya say?”
  • “You mean it?  You’d do that for me?”  His blind, milky eyes welled up with tears. “You’re a true friend, Loki, no matter what they say about you.”  “Why, what do they say about…never mind.  Not important now.”  He took Hodur’s arm and led him over the the game circle.  He guided him to a spot directly in front of his brother, and everyone stopped to watch this.  A blind man throwing a dart at his brother who was immune to weapons?  Yes please!
  • Loki stood beside Hodur and helped him aim so that the dart was aimed right at Baldur’s chest.  “Perfect.  And….throw!”  Hodur threw, and the dart sailed true.  Having made no promise, it flew directly at Baldur and pierced his skin.  It hit right between his ribs, and snuck through, piercing his very heart.  Baldur gasped in pain and surprise, then slumped onto the ground, blood welling from the small hole in his chest.  The gods all stared in shock, and Loki took advantage of the moment to get the fuck out of Dodge.  
  • Finally, one of the gods broke the spell and rushed forward to his fallen friend, but Baldur was already dead.  Above, the sky turned deathly grey, and the entire world stopped for a moment, still as a stone.  No one could believe that even Loki, as treacherous as he was, would do something this heinous.  But he had.  As one, the assembled gods began to cry out in pain and sadness for their dead friend, and in anger and bloodlust for Loki’s head.
  • In her home, Frigga heard the massed wailing, and knew with a prophetess’ certainty that her son was dead.  Even so, she rushed out to the field, hoping against hope that she was wrong.  When she saw her son’s body, lying in a pale heap, stained by the small crimson trickle from the dart in his chest, she screamed her agony and despair to the heavens.  Fate had taken her son in spite of all her effort.
  • Word soon reached Odin, and he too mourned.  For his son, yes, but more so for the world.  Out of all the gods, he alone knew what this moment truly meant.  Light and truth had died and left the world, and Ragnarok, the end of all that was, approached.  
  • For three days, every creature, every plant, every element on eight of the nine worlds tried to heal Baldur and bring back the god of light.  For those three days, Frigga sat by her son’s body and wept and wailed.  In one version of the story, Frigga gathers up the plant that killed her son from the tree and brings it to his body.  She weeps and begs over it for all three days, and her tears mixed with Baldur’s blood, staining the snow white berries blood red.  She placed the berries on the wound in his chest, and the hole closed and Baldur sat up, returned to life.  Frigga was so overjoyed that she kissed the berries and swore that, forever after, anyone who stood beneath this plant would be offered a kiss and her personal protection, which is how this came to be part of our Christmas tradition.  In many places, mistletoe was seen as a plant with healing properties because of this story.
  • Of course, the traditional version of the story is much darker.  Frigga wept over her son’s body, and the world tried to heal him, but to no avail.  In mourning, Odin ordered a massive pyre built for the god of light.  He insisted that it be enormous, in honor of the love everyone had for Baldur.  So large, in fact, that the Aesir had to ask the hated giants for help.  Even more surprisingly, they agreed, for they too loved Baldur.  Everyone gathered around the pyre and offered their most valuable and beloved possessions to be burnt along with the god’s body.  Odin placed his magical golden ring Draupnir, which would generate eight new golden rings exactly the same size and weight every nine days, upon his son’s breast as his offering.
  • As the torch was brought out to set it alight, Baldur’s wife collapsed, heartbroken, and died at the foot of the pyre.  In honor of the love that had killed her, Odin had her body placed on the pyre as well, next to his son.  
  • Before the pyre could be lit, Frigga collapsed to her knees and begged the assembled gods and giants for help.  “Please, you all loved my son.  I know you did, so please, for the love you bear Baldur, won’t someone journey to Helheim and petition Hel to release my son?  Surely someone amongst all of you is brave enough to try!”  Everyone shared some awkward glances and some embarrassed foot shuffling before Hermod, an obscure and mostly forgotten son of Odin, stepped forward.  “Shame on you cowardly pricks!  Am I, a god that pretty much only exists in this one story, the only one willing?”  No one said anything, so Hermod scoffed.  “Fine.  I’ll do it.  Odin, can I borrow Sleipnir for this long and incredibly dangerous trip into the underworld that I might not return from, especially since I’m essentially the Norse version of a Star Trek redshirt?”
  • Odin longed for his son’s return, and not just because it might put Ragnarok off for longer, so he agreed.  Hermod hopped on the magical horse’s back and rode off.  You’d think that they would wait for him to come back before doing anything else, but this is mythology.  Fuck your logic!  They went ahead and planned a lavish funeral for their fallen comrade.  They brought out Baldur’s ship, Hringhorni, and made it into a huge pyre, completely forgetting that they had already built a different pyre not that long ago (probably because these two events originally came from different versions of the story).  
  • They outfitted it into a funeral ship fit for a king, and laid Baldur and his wife on board.  The gods and giants gathered around it and tried to launch it out to sea, but it stuck fast in the sand.  The assembled deities shoved and heaved, but it wouldn’t budge.  After an embarrassing number of attempts, Odin sent a messenger for the giantess Hyrrokkin, which means “withered by fire”, who was widely known as the brawniest being in the entire cosmos.  Because even she loved Baldur, she rode to Asgard on a wild wolf, using poisonous serpents as reins, because the Norse invented metal before it was cool.  She hopped off her wolf, who probably gave everyone a badass icy stare, sauntered over to the ship, and shoved.  She pushed so hard that the very earth quaked and shook with its force, but Hringhorni came free and sailed out.
  • The flames were kindled, and Thor blessed the fire with his magical hammer, Mjolnir.  Odin again placed his magical ring on the ship, and Baldur’s horse was led onto the ship to be burned alive so that he could ride in the afterlife.  Representatives from all of the nine worlds, gods, giants, elves, dwarves, valkyries, and all the rest came to watch Baldur go to eternity.  They stood and watched as a burning arrow set the ship alight, and the burning vessel sailed over the horizon.
  • While all of this was happening, Hermod (I haven’t forgotten him, even if time mostly has) was riding for Hel.  For nine days and nights, he rode through ever deeper and darker valleys to rescue Baldur’s soul from Helheim.  He eventually came to the bridge over the river Gjoll, which means “roaring”, which was guarded by the giantess Modgudr.  “State your name and the reason for your visit please.”  “Hermod.  Epic quest as part of my hero’s journey.”  She nodded.  “Noble quests are always good.  We haven’t had one in awhile.  You know, your footsteps sound really weird.  They thunder as loudly as those of an entire army of the damned, which is especially odd since you still have the blush of life in your cheeks.  “Well, I am riding an eight-legged magical horse, and I bear the weight of the coming end of days on my shoulders if I fail.”  “I guess that explains it.  Good enough for me.  Enjoy your stay in Helheim!”
  • Hermod and Sleipnir crossed the bridge, and then leapt over the wall into Hel’s realm without bothering with a gate, because gates are for pussies.  Safely on the other side, Hermod dismounted and went to the center of the kingdom, looking for Hel’s throne.  He found her, and saw Baldur’s spirit seated in a place of honor next to her, pale and wan, looking definitely the worse for wear.  Not as bad as Hel though, but that was her normal state of being.  She is a horribly disfigured hag, half alive and half dead.  Her upper body is a living, if fantastically ugly woman, but her lower half is a rotting, disgusting corpse.
  • He tried to talk to Hel, but she ignored him.  Undeterred, he set up camp before the throne and waited her out.  He stayed there all night, staring at her, and when he was still there the next morning, she agreed to hear his case.  “Lady of the dead, I beg you to release my brother Baldur.  The world is a darker place without him.  All of creation weeps for his death.  Please, if you have any pity in your icy heart, send him back.”
  • Hel sat staring at him, silently, until he was sure she wasn’t going to respond.  Then she spoke in a deep voice that echoed like the a crack of doom.  “You say the entirety of creation is in mourning for Baldur?  He’s that beloved?”  She sighed deeply.  “I’ve never known what it feels like to be loved like that.  I’ll make you a deal, Hermod son of Odin.  Go back to the world of the living.  If you can get everything in creation to weep for him, all together, I will release Baldur back to you.  If any refuse, even one creature, then he stays here.  Those are the only terms you’ll ever get.  Now go.”
  • Hermod rode back to Asgard, heart light.  This could actually work!  Everyone loved Baldur.  Who would refuse to shed tears to bring him back into the world?  He rode right into Odin’s hall and shared the glad news.  Odin immediately sent messengers out to all corners of creation, asking them to cry for the lost Baldur.  And the nine worlds wept.  The giants, the animals, even the very stones wept for Baldur.  Then, the messenger rode to see the giantess Thok, whose name means “thanks”.  
  • She listened silently to the the news about Baldur, about how Hel had asked all of creation to weep for the dead god if he was to return to the world of the living.  Thok looked at the messenger, and laughed coldly.  “Cry for the dead godling, huh?  Why the fuck should I?  What did he ever do for me?  Fuck him.  Let Hel keep him.”  And so she did.  Surprising no one, it turned out that Thok was actually just a disguise that Loki used, and this was another piece of his terrible, terrible mischief.
  • Baldur remained in Helheim, and there he will be until Ragnarok.  Only once the cosmos are destroyed and rebuilt will he rise from the dead, and return to bless the land and its inhabitants with his warmth and light.  
  • Baldur is the perfect Christmas story.  Hear me out.  His death, the death of the warmth and light of spring as the world slides into winter, is symbolic of the turn of the seasons.  The mistletoe is simultaneously the symbol of his demise and his resurrection, and it persists even to today’s traditions.  There’s a reason that the symbology of the Norse gods got wrapped up into the Christmas traditions when the region was Christianized.  It dovetails nicely with the Christ story.
  • And while we wait with Baldur for the end of the universe, it’s time for Gods and Monsters.  This is a segment where I get into a little more detail about the personalities and history of one of the gods or monsters from this week’s pantheon that was not discussed in the main story.  This week’s monster is Krampus the Yule Lord.
  • You’ve been a naughty child.  Christmas is still three weeks away, and you’re walking home, dreaming of the gifts Santa is probably gonna bring you anyway, because he’s a schmuck.  Behind you comes the sound of footprints, but the sound is…wrong.  It’s not feet.  It’s hooves.  You whirl around to see a mangled, insane face with bloodshot eyes.  Giant goat horns curl back from it’s black-furred head, and his long, forked tongue hangs down his chest.  Before you can move, the huge half goat half demon whips you with a long, thin cane, driving you to your knees.  
  • You feel his claws grab you by the back of the neck, and lift you with ease, feet dangling.  By the streetlights, you see him open the wicker basket on his back, and then he shoves you in.  The sound of town fades, and you hear the silence of the forest.  The basket opens, and you’re dragged back into the night.  By the faint light of the moon, you can see that you’re in a clearing around a small, inky black pool.  The hand gripping your neck shoves you face first towards the pool, and you realize it isn’t water, it’s ink.  The iron grip holds you under as you struggle, desperate to breathe but trying to hold your breath with all of your fading strength.  It’s soon too much, and you breathe in a thick, viscous lungful of ink.  As you drown, you feel fire ignite in your ribs as the demon fishes you out of the ink with a wicked, barbed pitchfork.  You die, staring into his evil, laughing eyes.
  • Meet Krampus, St. Nicholas’ worser half.  Krampus is the bad cop to Santa’s good cop in the Germanic tradition, although the demon actually predates Christmas and was only later incorporated into the festivities (much like the mistletoe).  By tradition and legend, Krampus shows up on the night of December 5th, known as Krampusnacht (Krampus Night), the day before Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day), which is the day that German children would traditionally check outside the door to see if gifts or coal had been left in the shoes left out the night before.  Santa leaves gifts for the good children, and Krampus leaves coal for the naughty children.  For the truly wicked assholes, though, he has a variety of tortures that would make a horror movie blush, including ripping out pigtails, driving children over the side of a cliff, ripping off ears, chaining children in heavy iron shackles to be left for the wolves, and throwing naughty tots on the demonic version of the Polar Express, bound straight for the lake of fire.  
  • Some versions of the story say that Krampus is the son of Loki’s daughter Hel, goddess of the dead (who we just met), although other stories say he most likely is a version of the Yule Goat, an ancient magical goat that might be related to the goats that pulled Thor’s chariot, who showed up before the Yule to ensure all preparations were made correctly, and if not, it would demand sacrifices or punishment.  Either way, Krampus is very, very old.  In the original pagan tradition, young men would dress up as the terrible beast with fur costumes and carved masks to parade through the village streets, ringing bells, yelling, and generally raising Hell.  This was usually done on the night of the solstice (around December 21st), the longest night of the year.  When Christianity arrived, he became the servant of Santa, doing his dirty deeds, and his night changed.
  • To this day, some towns in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic still have a Krampus festival where grown men are encouraged to dress up as the demon and parade through the streets, getting good and drunk on schnapps offered by the villagers to keep the beast at bay.  They rampage through town, scaring naughty kids and generally having a grand old time.  There have been numerous attempts by the Church, fundamentalist Christians, and even the Nazis to stamp out Krampus, but all have been in vain.  You just can’t keep a good demon down.
  • That’s it for this episode of Myth Your Teacher Hated.  Keep up with new episodes on our Facebook page, on iTunes, on Stitcher or on TuneIn, or you can follow us on Twitter as @HardcoreMyth and on Instagram as Myths Your Teacher Hated Pod.  You can also find news and episodes on our website at myths your teacher hated dot com.  If you like what you’ve heard, I’d appreciate a review on iTunes.  These reviews really help increase the show’s standing and let more people know it exists.  If you have any questions, any gods or monsters you’d want to learn about, or any ideas for future stories that you’d like to hear, feel free to drop me a line.  I’m trying to pull as much material from as many different cultures as possible, but there are all sorts of stories I’ve never heard, so suggestions are appreciated.  The theme music is by Tiny Cheese Puff, whom you can find on fiverr.com.
  • Next time, we’ll be lightening the mood a little with a silly fairy tale about a little tailor with an impressive amount of chutzpah and easily one of the craziest origin stories.  It’s all about making a positive change in your life, so it seemed appropriate for the heading into the new year.  You’ll learn that killing flies can make you famous, that not all fairy tale princesses are sweet, and that clothes maketh the man.  Then, in Gods and Monsters,  it’s the evil spirit that might sit on your chest, or might join a massive supernatural hunt through the sky.  That’s all for now.  Thanks for listening, and have a happy whatever holiday you celebrate.