KRAMPUSLAUF PHILADELPHIA VOICES: ROB SCHREIWER (talking to tucker collins)

why does krampuslauf philadelphia have “parade of spirits” as part of it’s official event title? (a detail important enough to me that i shut down our original page, and created a new page with the new title just for this purpose? you could have made that easier, facebook.)

the reason is rob schreiwer, who offered, in our blizzard year of 2013, to give in invocation as we began the procession, and used these words. his invocation was so moving that it has become an integral part of our ritual in philadelphia.

rob is a leader in the PA dutch heathen community (Urglaawe).

he is a teacher, a mentor, and brings a wonderful sense of community and connection to krampuslauf — as well as making his own community’s events available to us.

it was always my sense that tucker and rob have never gotten as much time to chat as they would like and they still probably haven’t! but this is a good start. our longest interview to date!

listen to the conversation as it is embedded below, or on soundcloud.

(transcription below)

TC: Hi, I’m Tucker Collins, this is Krampuslauf Philadelphia: Voices, and I’m here speaking with Rob Schreiwer today. He’s leader of the Urglaawe group of Pennsylvania Dutch Heathens.

RS: And the Heathen Contingent for Krampuslauf Philadelphia.

TC: Yes. Thank you for being here.

RS: You’re welcome.

TC: I guess I just wanna start by asking, how you heard about Krampuslauf, and what the draw was – what year was that?

RS: I actually heard about Krampuslauf for the first time… the first year was 2012 or 2011?

TC: I think it was 2011.

RS: I actually heard about it between 2011 and 2012, when others in the heathen community mentioned it to me. And as soon as I heard about it I was all excited because it was something I would have loved to have thought up myself! And so I turned out with the Heathen community then in 2012, and loved it to death, loved Amber, loved all you guys, and became more involved.

TC: And you – was that your first year, did you come as the Belsnickel?

RS: I came as Belsnickel the first year, yeah.

TC: Okay. Now – the Krampus is something which, coming from the Alps, I guess technically is a Christian tradition, but is there anything that’s like that for you guys?

RS: We have Belsnickel, obviously, but now the thing is – I can’t say that, I would not say that they’re a Christian tradition, I would not say that they’re strictly Heathen or Pagan traditions, I would say it’s kind of a fusing of the two. Perhaps, either Christian overlay, or perhaps just like fusing in Pagan things into a Christian idea. For our perspective we pretty much brought a Heathen mindset to everything but then again, that’s our religious structure. However, the good thing about this sort of thing is there’s room for all sorts of interpretations. And that’s the way that it should be. I think the world would be a lot happier place if people would let other people follow their ideas and explore their creativity and their own spirituality without trying to put them into a pigeonhole. Belsnickel’s a very complicated figure, as is Santa Claus. I personally do think that both figures have elements of the Germanic god, we name him Wudan but the Norse call him Odin, inside of it, fused of course with St. Nikolus and other characters from historical lore, and from centuries of experience and interaction with different regions of the world. But we tend to see him more – we see Belsnickel as the Wudan in his role of “seeker” – he is seeking out wisdom, seeking out people who rise to his challenges, which usually involve either answering riddles or an act of physical prowess if they fail at the riddle… a lot of this is based in Pennsylvania Dutch lore. And then for those who have actually succeeded in that, in meeting his requirements, they get rewarded when he comes in his Santa Clause phase. Again, I’m gonna stress again that Santa Clause is not just Odin or Wudan; it’s a fusing of different traditions, I believe, personally. But from our perspective, this is how we see it.

our first-ever view of rob in 2012! he was a stranger to us then, but not for long! (because of this costume he is still in my phone as "belsnickel".)
our first-ever view of rob in 2012! he was a stranger to us then, but not for long! (because of this costume he is still in my phone as “belsnickel”.)

TC: You mentioned Odin; we’ve got Belsnickel, we’ve got Krampusse, we’ve got St. Niklaus, all kinds of other things that people have brought to Krampuslauf; we also have the Habergeiß, Frau Perchta, and I come as the Cailleach, which is this ancient Celtic diety; all of these things, coming from all different areas, and they all have their own mythologies and stories – how does that make you feel as a religious leader, that we have all of these things coming together?

RS: I think it’s wonderful. No spiritual system, prior to the rise of organized dogmatic monotheistic systems has ever been monolithic. There’s always been variations by tribe, by region, by climate, and all those things are wonderful, because they’re all expressions of something unique that has taken place over the centuries. Just like all life is valuable, all culture is valuable. There’s something inherently, for me, just amazing about things that are able to live on over thousands of years just getting passed down with each generation adding something new or taking something out that is no longer relevant; and you see that when you’re at Krampuslauf. And it’s also interesting to see the similar themes that run through them sometimes. Especially within European culture, you’re seeing a lot of this “dark half of the year” kind of reflection, which is certainly present in Pennsylvania Dutch culture, and that is an important aspect, and then having the goddess Perchta or Berchta as we call her, in there, is also a reflection of that, and for us, Krampuslauf, much like many other – like Halloween, or as we call it Allelieweziel – and other celebrations are depictions of the Wild Hunt. That is certainly an old tradition that is certainly present in the Celtic and Germanic cultures. I think it’s a great thing. And I encourage more of it, I encourage more diversity of people, celebrating their roots and expressions of wherever they come from, or whatever calls to them.

TC: You brought up something having to do with climates and regions, and how you get variation even within what would still be considered one religion. The thing that that brings to mind for me is the idea of Greek mythology; where you were, and who you were, had a lot to do with which gods and goddesses you were praying to. We know those stories now, even today, because there’s value in the Hero’s Journey.

RS: And the same applies, again – talking also about regions, and even within Pennsylvania, there’s different ways of observing the same Belsnickling, which was originally – the time in December was the time of tricks or treats for the Pennsylvania Germans. Like I’d shown you a little bit ago, a little picture, from a Virginia newspaper, showing people Belsnickling back in 1910, and that just shows how widespread it was, for starters, wherever the Pennsylvania Germans settled —

TC: Even over a hundred years ago.

RS: Yes, and some of this stuff still continues in West Virginia and central Pennsylvania even now. Every now and again even I learn something that’s kind of new: back in January I had done a radio interview on a Lebanon (PA) radio station, and somebody had called in and she was talking about the guy we know as … Ewicher Yeager, or the Eternal Hunter, and in her particular area they kind of fused Ewicher Yeager with Krampus. She was talking about how in their area, how in their part of the Blue Mountain, the Eternal Hunter – whom, today, by the way, is his feast day in Urglaawe – that he would do similar things to Krampus. He would take the naughty children, and pack them up and throw them in a sack, or – but in our area, we never had that particular lore. I think there’s a little conflation, but it shows that some sort of Krampus mentality and understanding did live on in at least part of Pennsylvania Dutch culture. While Belsnickel dominates that whole darker being kind of aspect, at least something did live on. And I think that that’s fascinating too, ‘cause it just shows that even within an area relatively small, like Eastern Pennsylvania, you can have multiple traditions going on, at the same time, sometimes conflating with one another.

TC: You still get this sort of evolution and cross-mixing of the stories, even right in what is still essentially a locality.

RS: Yes. And I think identity – I mean, she identifies herself as Deitsch as much as I do, which is sort of funny when I heard that, and it makes sense to me, because knowing what I know of Ewicher Yeager, from our lore, I can see how they might make that conflation. We don’t have that, and I actually see the two as very disparate. Because I see, we tend to see Krampus as more of an animal spirit, while Ewicher Yeager is a deity.

TC: Can you expound on that? Like what those sorts of similarities are.

 

belsnickels in the richmond, virginia area, circa 1910. photo courtesy of rob schreiwer.
belsnickels in virginia, circa 1910. photo courtesy of rob schreiwer.

RS: Many people depict the Eternal Hunter as having horns. Being a horned god, and also is likely related to another deity that we have very scant oral lore on, but we know just enough about it to be able to make a connection between the two named Holler. And Holler would be the male counterpart of the goddess Holla, but he is associated with death. He’s the god of death, and we’re in November when everything is beginning to die off, so that’s one reason that he is honored, plus, there’s a story that rises out of the Blue Mountain, up there, and if you’re going East-West towards Pittsburgh you go through a series of tunnels, out beyond Harrisburg, you’re going through the same mountain at another part. Back during the Colonial Era in the 1700s, people had engaged in irresponsible farming, and the irresponsible farming in this case was they cleared too much land, they didn’t leave enough trees, and there was a – they had a drought, the soil eroded and blew away, and then when it rained everything flooded out… the Eternal Hunter was this god of death, that was essentially punishing them for not taking care of the land until they put out offerings of what they had left, which were cloth and hay – and that’s what we’re going to be doing on Saturday, that’s why I can’t be at the (Krampuslauf Philadelphia) building workshop, but then, he drove game over the mountain. So, he’s associated with the driving of animals and animal spirits. The primary relationship between him and Krampus is: people were terrified of him. Even when I was a kid – there’s a phenomenon that very rarely happens in the Blue Mountains where you suddenly feel that there’s a pack of wild dogs all around you. It’s an audible phenomenon… there’s a couple of explanations for it, one is that it could be the warm air bouncing off the side of the cold mountain, that’s actually making like a little pinging sound, but, the far more likely one is that it’s a flock of geese honking and – if you come to the Lehigh Tunnel, it’s wide open, and that sound is echoing. Either way it’s still kinda weird when it happens.

TC: It’s unsettling.

RS: It’s unsettling, and I remember being a kid, I was four years old, and we heard the noise, my great aunt said – “Ewicher Yeager is coming, get into the house!” and it wasn’t because they were afraid of him per se, but just that he is so big, and so large, that he could easily run over you and have no idea that he even did it.

edwardthebooble(HE’S EDWARD THE BOOBLE FROM THE MOOMIN BOOKS! – Ed.)

So that’s the differences, but the main similarity is this element of just raw, like, hunter – he’s focused on his tasks. And the horns bring forward this animalistic kind of idea, like Krampus. Where we tend to differ really is Krampus you really always tend to see like a really truly wild animal spirit. Which brings us closer to another creature that I’m hoping you’ll see at Krampuslauf this year if I can get somebody to play it – which is Eizehanze. Which is an Iron John. Iron John is supposed to represent a tribe of humans who have lost their socialization.

TC: (patented Tucker laugh)

RS: Okay? And they live in the mountains, they’re supposed to live in the mountains, and – there are folk tales of this over in Germany too but they survive on here, and that these are essentially, like – they’re humans, who are very close to animalistic in their functions. Animals of the same pack don’t tend to treat each other as horribly as humans treat each other. Which is, by the way, one of the lessons of this character: how humans can be so advanced on the one hand, yet so beneath animals on another hand, which is, by the way, another lesson of Krampus, from our perspective: is that, you know, for as evolved as we are, we have to recognize that we’re part of the world, not separate from it, and we are therefore integrated with it and we have our own set of foibles that are unique, and the dark half of the year focuses on dealing with those.

TC: That my experience has been more of a transformation. That I become that character, for that time. And it is something that, to me, feels like sort of stepping beyond myself. Do you think that there is a benefit, or risks associated with this idea of stepping out of our normal human roles, and, if you want to say “pretending”, or trying to take on these roles of what would be considered a powerful being?

RS: In a sense what you’re talking about is kind of related to shamanistic practices. In a way – that you’re stepping out, or you’re bringing something in, but to answer your question – it’s not that easy to ask, because of course there are benefits and of course there are risks. A lot of it has to do with the person who’s doing it. I’m not particularly worried about you. Because I know you well enough to know why you’re taking on that sort of thing, and it’s not for – you know, your own power trip or to harm anybody else or to cause problems, it’s more for trying to bring forth an experience for yourself and the people around you, and to try to make it more real, try to make it – try to like be able to experience something that we all too often ignore in our world around us, which is the fact while we’re part of the physical world the other world is everywhere around us. And so in your particular case, I’m not so worried about it. I myself… I’m a little more reluctant for instance when I’m playing a deity, to try to take on the roles of that deity, because for me, I have to be very careful with that. Because I have to make sure I’m respecting the deity. So with Belsnickel I’m a little more – try to focus on the folk aspect of it. But now with Gedreier Eckhart, who I’m gonna be this year, who is Loyal Eckhart, the Loyal Servant of Holle, there I don’t mind taking that on, and becoming, you know… and the funny thing is that, the year that I (first) did that, which was the second year (2013) – the first year was Belsnickel, the second year was Gedreier Eckhart, the third year was Belsnickel again – but when I did Gedreier Eckhart, that was the year that Amber said to me, “Why don’t you lead the parade. I want you to lead the parade.” Which is kind of funny because that’s what Gedreier Eckhart does with the Wild Hunt. He leads the Wild Hunt announcing the coming of Holle or Berchta, so it’s just kind of funny because Amber and I seem to be falling into this strange set of roles that actually reflect the historic understanding of the Wild Hunt from certain Germanic tribes. And so in some senses, even if you’re not purposely going out of your way to try to take on certain aspects of whatever it is that you’re costuming as, it seems to happen anyway. Whether they’re acting it or whether they’re truly feeling it, it almost doesn’t matter. Either way, it kind of builds up the energy and brings the energy up which is one of the reasons that Krampuslauf in Philadelphia is particularly special. First off, Krampuslauf itself, the concept of it comes obviously from Europe, but we have traditions here within Pennsylvania which have always been here, like Belsnickel. So we’re tapping into things that are in this region and rose in this region organically when our people migrated here, and I would really love to see folks of Lenape descent, or something, bring some of the traditions from their – because I’m sure that they had some sorts of traditions that related to the dark sides or shadow sides or dealing with that. I would love to see that participation also, because that also is native to this region. So that’s why I’m saying it’s great to see all these different diversities and people expressing whatever calls them, whether it’s their own ancestry or something they’ve experienced in their life from where they live, or whatever, and just bringing it all out and let’s all just explore this side of ourselves, in a safe environment, obviously, and recognize that we are humans, we are all complex, you know, we can try to pretend that we’re all goody two-shoes, we can try to pretend that we don’t make mistakes or sin or have bad thoughts, but it’s far more realistic to say, “You know what? This is the shadow side of me. But I can learn to be in control of it.”

 

rob as gedreier eckhart, giving what is now the official parade of spirits invocation. drawing by artist len peralta (www.lenperalta.com)
rob as gedreier eckhart, giving what is now the official parade of spirits invocation. drawing by artist len peralta (www.lenperalta.com)

TC: The Cailleach, coming from Scotland, and being the deity which is not exactly common now – to me as someone who’s trying to relate back to the Scottish ancestry that I’ve got, I don’t feel like I’m disrespecting the Cailleach by envoking it. But that’s the way that I can honor it. In a world that to me feels like it’s on the verge of forgetting so many valuable things, by envoking it I’m keeping it alive a little longer.

RS: And that right there’s an excellent point. Because I spend so much of my life doing so many things with Germanic deities, including some of these far lesser-known deities that we may only have one or two references to anywhere, I think that that’s an important thing. And when I say, by the way, that – when it comes to deities – that’s more my own skittishness, mostly because if I believe that Belsnickel is Wudan, Wudan and I don’t have… you know, I’m far closer to Holle… and as time goes on I’m actually developing a much better relationship with Wudan. Particularly because I need to through Braucherai, and other things that I take part in, which is the healing practice of the Pennsylvania Dutch. So I think that there’s also a very good likelihood that we’re doing many of the same things; our terminologies, our understandings, are different. Does that make sense? Like for instance, I may be actually doing what you’re doing, but from my mind I’m not. But I may actually be doing it anyway. ‘Cause I gotta tell you, last year, I gotta tell you, there was nothing stopping me from hitting that boompah (see first photo for Rob’s boompah – a standing percussion instrument – Ed.) as I’m goin’ along, and I’m usually not quite that … loud. But I really brought it. And, like, two years ago, three years ago, I actually BROKE my boompah from getting into the Belsnickel role. Again, making the noise is a part of the whole thing. I just love that parade. I really do. I think it’s a wonderful expression, and it’s sorta funny when you had the Running of the Santas and you’re driving into the city to get ready for Krampuslauf and you get Santa Clauses all over the place, and then all of the sudden you have all these… wholly different kinds of creatures.

TC: We are not the Running of the Santas.

RS: No, we are definitely not the Running of the Santas. I mean I actually personally think the Running of the Santas is funny. It’s purposes are very different from ours. Ours is a combination of fun, spirituality, and true development of community. Look how many of us have become fast friends as a result of this.

TC: Just from this!

RS: Just from Krampuslauf. I mean, you know, the fact that we formed a Heathen Contingent where we have so many people who are excited about it, some of whom live far away and might not even be able to make it but they still are part of it. And then the “Heathen Traditions” banner that we sewed last year which actually we started sewing at the making workshop of Krampuslauf (2014).

TC: I remember that, I remember seeing you guys there. But at no point, when either you guys have been at the workshops, or we’ve been at Pagan Pride or anything else, I’ve never felt like – “You’re the Heathens, and we’re the people… who aren’t Heathens.” Or anything like that. There’s no – it doesn’t feel like there’s a separation. And there shouldn’t be.

RS: There shouldn’t be. You know, there are reasons to separate from some people. For instance, the thing I was talking about earlier, where people are committing acts of violence – I don’t want to be associated with them. But why wouldn’t I want to be associated with people regardless of what their spiritual belief is who have community welfare and friendship and camaraderie as the driving force behind them? It’s actually a beautiful thing. And it’s something that is all too uncommon in our society. But yet there’s people everywhere who are searching for this. It’s just nice when you actually come across it, and when you come across it in an authentic and organic way, which comes back to Amber and Janet and a few other people, who really go out of their ways to create something where people can thrive and share of themselves without having to worry about not fitting in.

TC: Thank you very much Rob. It’s been great talking to you.

RS: You’re welcome. See you all at Krampuslauf!