Also known as:
Kalikàtzari; Kallikant zaroi
Greek Christmas is an extended holiday. The Twelve Nights of Christmas, from Christmas Eve to the Feast of Epiphany, are called the Dodecameron and it is a time for feasting and celebrating. It is also the time of the goat spirits called Kallikantzari.
Their name is believed to derive from Kalos Kentauros or “Beautiful Centaur” and like centaurs of old, the Kallikantzari are wild and rambunctious. They’re hairy horned man-goat spirits with cloven hooves, sharp fangs and claw-like talons. The Kallikantzari spend almost the entire year captive underground trying to chew through the World Tree but at Christmas, they are released into our realm to run wild.
The Kallikantzari ascend to Earth only during this twelve-day period. They are nocturnal creatures, used to the dark and so hide during the day in dank, dark places like caves. (In urbanized areas, they may sneak into basements or warehouses.) At night, they run amok. The Kallikantzari are vandals; hoodlums. They loot, steal and rampage. They break into mills. They break into stores (especially liquor stores). They break into homes and eat people’s Christmas dinner. Sometimes they eat people, too. They take pleasure in tormenting people: they think it’s fun. Kallikantzari tie up people or torture them. Sometimes they force women to dance with them; kidnap or assault them.
Despite this reprehensible behavior, offerings are made to the Kallikantzari, whether to honor or propitiate them is subject to interpretation. Put food outside for them and they may leave you alone.
The Kallikantzari are afraid of fire. Carry lit flaming torches and you may be able to fend them off. If you would like to avoid them, stay inside during these twelve nights; keep doors and windows sealed and maintain a massive fire in the hearth. Should you run into them outside at night, the Kallikantzari have a code word. They will ask you: hemp or lead?
• Answer hemp and go free
• Answer lead and anticipate attack
Who are these rampaging Kallikant zari?
• In some regions, they’re considered pure spirits
• They may be vestiges of the satyrs and silens who attend Dionysus
• In some regions, the Kallikantzari are believed to be transformed humans: Babies born with a caul or on Christmas Day or during the Twelve Nights may be destined to transform into Kallikantzari, similar to the transformation of men into werewolves
• In some regions, Kallikantzari are humans.
They may be unable to help themselves. These men may be transformed into Kallikantzari in the same manner that werewolf transformation is activated by the full moon. Allegedly, Christmas Eve evokes the transformation butpre-Christian versions of the Kallikantzari were likely affected by the winter solstice.
Alternatively, the Kallikantzari are masked men who consciously know what they’re doing (at least before they get too caught up in liquor and frenzy). The Kallikantzari may be vestiges of old Diony sian winter masked possession rituals.
The leader of the Kallikantzari is called the Great Kallikantzaro, also known as the Lame Demon. (He limps.) He’s considered a bit smarter than the average Kallikantzari, no doubt why he received his position. The Great Kallikantzaro attempts to organize the Kallikantzari although rarely completely successfully, as the rambunctious, chaotic spirits resist. He rides a rooster.
The Kallikantzari are goat-men. They have goat’s horns, ears and legs. Sometimes they wear iron or wooden boots or shoes. Whether men or spirits, they are generally considered bellicose and stupid and, if you stay calm, can often be outwitted. (Their leader is a bit sharper.)
They roam Earth during the twelve days of Christmas and then they must leave. Offerings may be made anytime during the Twelve Nights but especially on the last night to bid them farewell for the year.
Their very favorite food is roast pork. They love wine. They will not refuse other liquor, either. Some may be tempted to get them drunk so that they’ll fall asleep and be pacified but drinking just makes them more rambunctious and their capacity for alcohol is tremendous. The Kallikantzari fear fire and can’t cook their own food. Their usual fare is raw flesh but they adore cooked food, when they can get it.
Offerings are traditionally placed outside on the chimney ledge. Some hang a rib or other pork bone inside the chimney. Standard offerings include mainly pork products: sausages, bones, ribs accompanied by waffles although they lust after and will make great attempts to capture an entire roast pig. (Coincidentally perhaps the sacrifice made to Dionysus during the Anthesteria festival was a sow.)
Dionysus; Exotika; Silen
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.
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