The Compainions of Saint Nicholas

March 30, 2007

This morning I’ve been intrigued by this post on the WFMU blog, about companions of Saint Nicholas / Father Christmas / Santa Claus. Try a Google Image search for “Krampus” or “Schmutzli” for some pure Christmas evilness. Here’s the Wikipedia article on companions of Saint Nicholas, which features some great anecdotes, such as;

The companion of the French St. Nicholas, Père Fouettard, is said to be the butcher of three children. St. Nicholas discovered the murder and resurrected the three children. He also shamed Père Fouettard, who, in repentance, became a servant of St. Nicholas.


In some of the Ruprecht traditions the children would be summoned to the door to perform tricks, such as a dance or singing a song to impress upon Santa and Ruprecht that they were indeed good children. Those who performed badly would be beaten soundly by Servant Ruprecht, and those who performed well were given a gift or some treats. Those who performed badly enough or had committed other misdeeds throughout the year were put into Ruprecht’s sack and taken away, variously to Ruprecht’s home in the Black Forest, or to be tossed into a river.

…and here’s a Christmas tradition that sounds a lot more fun than Carols by Candlelight…

Today, Schladming, a town in Styria, over 1200 “Krampus” gather from all over Austria wearing goat-hair costumes and carved masks, carrying bundles of sticks used as switches, and swinging cowbells to warn of their approach. They are typically young men in their teens and early twenties and are generally intoxicated. They roam the streets of this typically quiet town and hit people with their switches.



March 28, 2007

From the entry on ‘humour’ in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy;

Amongst the topics that have surfaced in recent discussions, three catch the attention. We talk of a sense of humour, and this seems to assume that some are equipped to see what is funny about a situation whilst others cannot. Does it follow that the situation is itself funny antecedent to anybody finding it so? Are we then committed to realism about humour? Secondly, is humour a virtue? How does a sense of humour connect with other virtues, and is its absence a defect in an otherwise good person? Connected with both these issues is the general relevance of moral considerations to humour. Does the fact that a joke is racist or sexist mean that it is not really funny, or that it is merely a fault in us if we laugh at it?

Chevalier D’Eon

March 26, 2007

Here’s an entertaining passage from J. S. Goldstein’s War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa, which I read for my mini-essay today;

Commonalities across cultures do not prevent individuals from breaking the mold, either. For example, the fluidity of male gender roles around war is illustrated by Chevalier D’Eon in the eighteenth century. He had a successful military and diplomatic career, and then – as a public personality, prominent in the press – hinted and finally confessed that he was a woman in male disguise. She then lived her last three decades in women’s clothing – forbidden to cross-dress as a man, by order of the French king. Nonetheless, D’Eon’s autopsy found “unquestionably male” genitalia. His decision… “[made] because he deeply admired the moral character of women and wanted to live as one of them”


March 23, 2007

Last night I dreamt that someone had stolen all my belongings and replaced them with perfect replicas.

Emma Goldman’s Icecream Parlour

March 21, 2007

Fun Fact: Russian-American anarchist Emma Goldman lived in a ménage à trois relationship with other Russian émigré anarchist Alexander Berkman, and a young anarchist artist named Fedya. They all ran an ice-cream parlour together in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1891. I think this would make for a great sit-com; a nineteenth century ice-cream parlour run by a ménage à trois of Russian anarchists. The scene is set. I have decided to call this sit-com A Triple Scoop of Revolution!

From Emma Goldman’s autobiography Living My Life;

Our savings consisted of fifty dollars. Our landlord, who had suggested the idea, said he would lend us a hundred and fifty dollars. We secured a store, and within a couple of weeks Sasha’s (aka Berkman) skill with hammer and saw, Fedya’s with his paint and brush, and my own good German housekeeping training succeeded in turning the neglected ramshackle place into an attractive lunch-room. It was spring and not yet warm enough for an ice-cream rush, but the coffee I brewed, our sandwiches and dainty dishes, were beginning to be appreciated, and soon we were kept busy till early morning hours.

In the sit-com, the problem of the weather not being warm enough for ice-cream could be an on-going joke – their inability to sell ice-cream is always explained away by them as being due to the weather.

Nechayev and the Black Hand

March 18, 2007

Here’s a couple of excerpts I enjoyed from Andrew Sinclair’s An Anatomy of Terror: A History of Terrorism… On the shifty Nechayev, the “godfather of nihilism”;

Nechayev left Switzerland to bring about a revolution in Russia. He formed a society and a newspaper named The Retribution of the People. He organized groups of conspirators on the principles of the Illuminanti – each cell of five members had a chief who reported to a central committee, which was responsible to Nechayev alone. Defied for his authoritarianism by Ivanov, a member of the committee, Nechayev killed him in a park, where his body was weighted with bricks and thrown into a pond. Nechayev implicated other revolutionaries in a blood brotherhood of the crime.

…and on the Pan-Slavist secret society the Black Hand;

Its initiation ceremonies were ghoulish. The insignia was a clenched hand around a skull and crossbones beside a dagger, a bomb and a phial of poison. The oath was not Christian, but ‘by the sun which warms me, by the earth which feeds me, by God and by the blood of my ancestors, by my honour and my life.’ The cell pattern of the Illuminanti and the Obladina was reproduced: each recruit had to enlist five new members. These small groups were known as a ‘hand’ and were led by a ‘thumb’, the only one in contact with other groups. All were sworn in across a table covered with black cloth, which held a candle and a cross, a poniard and a revolver. Death was the instant answer to any treachery.


March 16, 2007

From John Keegan’s A History of Warfare:

In short, it is at the cultural level that Clausewitz’s answer to his question, What is war?, is defective. That is not altogether surprising. We all find it difficult to stand far enough outside our own culture to perceive how it makes us, as individuals, what we are. Modern Westerners, with their commitment to the creed of individuality, find the difficulty as acute as others elsewhere have. Clausewitz was a man of his times, a child of the Enlightenment, a contemporary of the German Romantics, an intellectual, a practical reformer, a man of action, a critic of his society and a passionate believer in the necessity for it to change. He was a keen observer of the present and a devotee of the future. Where he failed was in seeing how deeply rooted he was in his own past, the past of the professional officer class of a centralised European state. Had his mind been furnished with just one extra intellectual dimension – and it was already a very sophisticated mind indeed – he might have been able to perceive that war embraces much more than politics: that it is always an expression of culture, often a determinant of cultural forms, in some societies the culture itself.