KRAMPUSLAUF PHILADELPHIA VOICES: ARUN ONCE WAS ZYGOAT (TALKING TO HIMSELF)
it was the holiday season of 2010 when i first saw the word, or image, that represented krampus. it was either on a vintage postcard at a friend’s apartment, or on a homebrew beer label designed by james mundie. those two things might have even happened on the same day.
but i started searching around for this krampus thing and saw that this “arun” guy in oregon was trying to have an… event. i lurked; his event started out at an A-space and seemed like perhaps a dress-up dance party that would then turn into a flogging session, but then they had trouble procuring the space, or something, and i watched this arun fellow drumming up support and i was just not sure it was going as well as he wanted it to. again, i hadn’t even friended him or tried to communicate, so it was hard to tell.
but i had started to knit for him. i was knitting claudia and béla a krampus doll, as i had fallen in love with the idea of this krampus character; i decided to knit one for arun, too, and mail it to him.
that krampus doll went on portland’s inaugural lauf in 2010, and arun has been my absolute go-to guy for all bitching, worrying, and great ideas since then. he held my hand through philly’s first lauf and the subsequent ones. in the spring of 2014, he came to the east coast, and held a maskmaking workshop with krampuslauf philly family at germantown’s iMPeRFeCT Gallery. and in 2014, he was there, with us, at krampuslauf philadelphia, standing on a table and singing portland’s signature krampus carol, after our invocation. it was truly the happy ever after of the internet.
after a year and a half on the east coast, arun has gone back to portland, where he will continue leading krampus lauf PDX. this “interview” — done without the need of much prompting — was recorded shortly after he returned home. it is amazing how he went from years of being just an online person, to someone whose shoes, papers, and other belongings sometimes just surface in our house. he is now back to being so far away. he is like an uncle to my children, and he is definitely the person who made krampuslauf philadelphia possible. not only that, he is THE person who has kept the spirit of creative interchange and goodwill between “sister laufs” like no one else we have interacted with. and as he muses here, he reflects many of the issues and possible solutions we are discussing for krampuslauf philadelphia, when it comes to “mindful community scaling” and seeing new events grow out of a core event.
(transcript below) (note how good the sound quality is — that’s the difference between using voice memo and having to use the phone software!)
Hello, this is Arun Joseph Ragan in Portland Oregon, and I am currently wandering through Lone Fir
cemetery, and pondering some of the similarities and differences between the Portland and Philadelphia Krampuslauf. I mention my location just because one of my reasons for being here, apart from it being my cloistered contemplation walk, is that the trees here drop some very fun plant material that I love to use in masks; they are these furry little tendrily things that are very delicate but they’re really great for the furrier facial features of some of the masks — whiskers and antennae and such — very expressive — and they tend not to last more than one march — however that’s fine. I really treat these things as prayer flags, with them being transient, they are seasonal after all, so the idea of them being destroyed along with the rest of nature every year is fitting. And also, there are little spines and burrs that fall from the trees that make up other features, fangs and claws and such. And a lot of the ideas for masks can just come from what comes across my path as I’m wondering around and thinking and gathering things.
Of course the main thing here that I gather is the birch switches that I use to make the floggers for Krampus. There’s a tree here that I visit every year, and during autumn and winter the birch switches fall and those I gather, and make into a lot of different things, but especially the floggers of course as is traditional.
So I’ve been walking… and trying to think of the theme of the connection between the two events. I think the first and main thing that comes to mind, from my point of view, I guess as a visitor to Philadelphia, was that the experience was completely transformed by the fact that I was able to participate in the culture. There was an opportunity, because of Amber’s friendship with the lovely folks at Imperfect Gallery, that I was able to share a maskmaking workshop there, and also hang some of my creations there, and that’s kind of the key for really feeling at home somewhere, or really feeling that I’m living as opposed to merely surviving somewhere, is that I’m able to participate creatively, and that’s really the key in this holiday of Krampusnacht, to transform my experience of the winter season, the Christmas season, was that it was something I was alienated from beforehand, and was either ignoring it, or was just being another one of the people who doesn’t feel so much connection or actually has a negative connection to the holiday, and so could be negative about it or just trying to like, get through it, but suddenly when I actually found something that aroused my interest and creativity and inspiration, and I was able to then MAKE something happen, it completely changed it, and just made it my favorite time of year. Similarly, coming to Philadelphia and being able to experience the culture there from the point of view of friends and family that have come together through the Krampuslauf made an enormous difference. And that I saw when I actually attended the Krampusnacht event itself, I did find that, the extent to which people were engaged in making their own costumes and creating the event rather than just attending the event and wanting others to make it for them — I definitely found that kinship between the two (the Portland and Philadelphia events — ed), that it definitely was an event that was participant-generated — although there’s definitely people that work all year to coordinate aspects of it, there’s also the sense that people were themselves creating their experience. And that’s always a good thing, I always feel vitalized by an event that everyone’s participating in.
It’s (Krampuslauf Philadelphia) a little bit bigger and more developed (than Portland’s Lauf) in the sense of actually having Liberty Lands; it’s a wonderful resource to have a space that is openly welcoming and hosting the event. It does allow for more things to happen; the wonderful fire performances and such that were going on that were made possible by that. We generally (in Portland) just kind of have do-it-yourself, do-it-as-spontaneous-seeming-as-possible, I guess you could say, even though we’re working on masks and things throughout the year, particularly closer to the event; just meeting some people in the park and marching from there down the sidewalks and back seems to have been a formula that works so far and we haven’t grown to the point that it’s been problematic so we’ve just been keeping it like that but who knows this year? Lots of new ideas are already happening and so it’s entirely possible that it’s going to start taking on new forms, although most likely it’s just going to hive off into other little modular events, with different line-ups of people and different focuses for each of the different events, rather than becoming one big event that requires more hosting and such. I imagine it’s just going to kind of splinter into the groups that are more focused on the more seasonal ritual and folk aspect of it, and others might be more attracted to the big party and bar crawl aspect, which we haven’t really done too much of, but some people really want to, and then if we were to go into something that’s performative or whatever, generally I imagine that the people who want to do that do that, rather than it all happening in the context of a big unified event. But it is nice when there is a little bit of everything.
I think the people who get attracted to these events and then network and find other ways to explore it and experience it in other times of year are important. It was nice actually when I visited Philadelphia the first time during the mask-making workshop to actually meet the people who I would then actually be able to march with half a year later when I came back for the Lauf and it’s always wonderful to see who gets called by these ideas and how it permeates their lives in other ways too. So that was a treat.
When I think about the sudden, ever-mounting increase in exposure that the idea of having a Krampuslauf or some type of a Krampus celebration, the momentum that’s been catching on behind that idea in the States — there was a time when I kind of cringed a little bit because things tend to kind of get big and ugly quickly, and signal turns to noise quite easily, and that’s kind of been delightfully dispelled, any misgivings I might have had about that, because of the fact that each area is going to support its own microculture, it’s going to support its own version of things, and the feeling that we are going for in Portland kind of grows out of the local folk ecology and so it’s gonna get as big and have the flavor that the area will support – similar with what I noticed in Philadelphia — it definitely had its own flavor, and really felt like the people that were showing up for it are doing it in their own way, it’s not just becoming this big anonymous thing that catches on and explodes and then disappears. So a lot of my worries about that, of what that was eventually going to look like, whether that was going to take away this thing that we loved or not, that’s kind of been dispelled, fortunately. It’s simply going to take the form that it’s going to take, and people will participate in their own way.
I decided instead of making like policies or rules or signs or things like that, that don’t tend to work anyway and kind of are counter to the spirit of the event, the more of those that show up, the more it kind of stifles the feeling, but at the same time I kind of want the idea of an unlicensed parade of people in costumes marching down the sidewalk to involve as few incidents and injuries of the unplanned sort as possible. So to kind of tilt things in the direction of people kind of knowing — enough people knowing what’s going on that it kind of just makes it so it appears to be organically self-directing and self-governing and self-aware once it becomes a crowd, trying to get people kind of trained through experience in being part of these other processions such as the Autumn Equinox procession and getting a little core group of motivated people who have more experience then so that even if we do get a sudden flood of newcomers to the Krampuslauf event that there will be enough people that know to be the Rear Guard and how to communicate back and forth in the Procession so it doesn’t get all separated or people don’t end up getting strewn all over the place or there isn’t any problem in crossing sidewalks and streets and such as that, and people kind of know how to interact with the public without causing too many problems.
I’m just going to pursue it organically, see what events want to happen, see when inspiration really strikes in such a way that it gathers people. ‘Cause if it doesn’t want to happen it’s not gonna happen. I’ve definitely found this before. You can have a great idea and then if no one shows up to it, maybe it’s an idea that needs to happen at a different time and in a different way.