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A woman with a sword, a goat and a cat: Whom did different peoples feared on winter nights
A woman with a sword, a goat and a cat: Whom did different peoples feared on winter nights
Ulu toyon could appear in the form of a raven

Now winter is a time of holidays and gifts. But in ancient harsh times, one was supposed to rejoice only in the morning - the next morning after some special night, when the terrible gods and spirits came to collect their food in human lives. Faith in them has left its mark on many nations.


There is a popular legend that the ancient Slavs and Romanians called the terrible spirit of winter Karachun, but in fact this hypothesis is based only on the names of Christmas among some peoples and on curses like "so that the Karachun take you". So far, no traces of Karachun as a character have been found in Slavic folklore. The spirit of winter, capable (and willing) of freezing people of animals to death, in fairy tales is called Frost, Morozko, Treskunets, Studenets.

He hits trees and rivers with a magic staff so that they freeze and crackle, freezes with his breath people caught at the wrong time in the forest and not enough polite girls and women. By the way, the fairy tales in which he tests the people he meets and freezes those who are disrespectful to him, can be both a reflection of the hope that the one observing the rituals will bypass trouble, and an echo of the memory of the pagan custom of leaving a beautiful girl to die from frost as a sacrifice, a farmer from a stern god.

Morozko was not a kind grandfather at all


In the German and not only lands, at Christmas, not only kind Saint Nicholas came to children with gifts, but also Krampus - with rods for disobedient children. The children were also told that he carried away the most disobedient ones with him forever in his sack. In the twentieth century, it was forbidden to frighten children with Krampus, and the character was thoroughly forgotten until the very release of a series of horror stories about him in the United States.

Krampus looks like a human with the individual features of a goat. There is a version that before St. Nicholas he was the spirit of winter, and stories about naughty children in a sack are a memory of the time when babies were sacrificed to the spirit of winter on the most terrible winter night. Naturally, at the same time, they got rid of the most uncomfortable children - the morals were very harsh, and the parents did not know the rules to love everyone equally.

Krampus first came instead of Santa Claus, then - to Santa. Now Santa comes alone

Youlupukki and Muori

The Finns tell their children about their kind grandfather Joulupukki, who brings gifts for Christmas, and his caring wife Muori. Surprisingly, just like the good grandfather, they call a Christmas straw scarecrow in the shape of a goat. Guess it was the same Krampus-like character a long time ago? And he did not give out gifts, but collected them. Probably. The Finns did not have a written language at that time.

As for Muori, she is considered an analogue of the Scanlinavian winter goddesses: when she approaches, water rises and fire fades. This is a literal description of a terrible cold. No ancient Finn would have been happy to meet her.

By the way, the first part of Joulupukki's name comes from the Swedish name for Yule, the main winter night, when the spirits and gods reaped the harvest, going out on the Wild Hunt.

Ull and Skadi

Ull, the skier god and archer god, according to Scandinavian beliefs, was Thor's stepson and probably the husband of the goddess Skadi. On the whole, he is a positive and once highly respected god (many places in the Scandinavian Peninsula are named after him), but once a year he seems to lead the Wild Hunt, killing random travelers and those who were expelled from home. It was, of course, a winter night. By the way, he was also the god of passion and luck. There is definitely something in this.

The goddess Skadi is an ice giantess. Like Ull, she is an archer, but fate did not bring them together at once. At first she married Njord, but she was not on a guest marriage, and at some point he got tired of it.Then Skadi slept with Odin. And only then she got along with Ull. She froze the ground for the winter and, probably, travelers too. Many places are also named after her - it seems that the goddess was widely and strongly revered.

Skadi was also an archer and on one winter night she hunted not only animals

Yule cat

Where else, but in Iceland in Yule, they were not afraid of the gods, but of a huge cat. He was breaking into parts those who did not have time to fulfill a number of conditions for Yule, for example, to get and put on new woolen clothes instead of old ones.

Ulu toyon

The mighty Yakut god is responsible for a lot of things - often as terrible as devouring human souls, creating bears obsessed with cannibalism, and the like. It is not surprising that among the horrors that are expected of him are long and terrible snow storms that can completely cover a person's dwelling, not to mention the fact that a hunter caught by such a storm simply will not survive.

Surprisingly or not, the same Ulu Toyon gave people fire, with the help of which they can escape in their homes from its terrible storms.

Yuki Onna

In the mountains of Japan, according to old beliefs, the Snow Woman lives - an evil spirit, similar to a tall woman made of ice. Yuki Onna appears during snowfall or snow storms. It can also come through the snow when the moon is full. In general, there is no reason to be afraid of her, just, despite all the beauty, Yuki Onna is considered scary by default, and not for some actions. Why is she so icy? Those who are dumbfounded from fear, meeting her gaze, are found frozen the next morning - which, taking into account the weather when meeting, is very logical.

By the way, Yuki Onna is not always cold. Sometimes she turns into an ordinary girl and marries mortal men. But sooner or later, the husband realizes that Yuki Onna is not a person, and then she leaves him.

Yuki Onna freezes her gaze


Among the Algonquins, there is a belief that a person can go mad and turn into a wendigo cannibal who does not know satiety. But many years ago, wendigos were the spirits of winter, cold and winter hunger. They ran through the forest, translucent and toothy, and devoured every person they met. They, like Yuki Onna, are very tall, but terribly thin.


Germans, Austrians and Czechs sometimes depict the arrival of Perkhta, the winter witch, at Christmas. She has one big goose foot and she walks in white robes. On Epiphany evening, according to legends, Perkhta went about home, where there are children, and looked for lazy people. She opened the stomach with them and stuffed them with cold stones. Later, a belief was probably added that she rewarded hardworking girls with silver coins left as a gift. Obviously, the opening motive could also be a memory of the sacrifices.

In Holland, it was believed that Perkhta led the wild hunt on Yule or Christmas. She is armed with a sword, opens the stomachs of travelers with it and eats the contents, just as hunters feast on the contents of the stomach of a deer.

Pagan beliefs were reflected not only in winter spirits. Christian analogues of Old Church Slavonic holidays, or why the church could not defeat Maslenitsa and Ivan Kupala.

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