Monster Monday: Kallikantzaros

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Kallikantzaros.

Greek illustration of Kallikantzaroi trying to cut down the World Tree
Greek illustration of Kallikantzaroi trying to cut down the World Tree

The kallikantzaros is a malevolent goblin-like creature in the folklore of the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. It is usually depicted as a small, black, humanoid creature with a tail, sometimes hairy, sometimes with horns and goat’s hooves instead of feet, or with the ears of a donkey.

Most of the year the creatures stay underground where they constantly saw at the World Tree, trying to cut it down. By the end of the year, they have almost succeeded, but on Christmas they are allowed to go above ground, where they stay for twelve days until Epiphany, when they must go back. Once there, they discover that the World Tree has healed itself, and they have to start all over again.

In many places in the Balkans, the twelve days after Christmas are considered unlucky, and precautions must be taken to protect against a kallikantzaros. one method is to leave a colander outside the door. The kallikantzaros will try to count the holes until the sun rises and it has to flee. Another method is to leave a fire burning in the fireplace so it can’t come down the chimney.

In Serbian folklore, people were advised not to go out late at night during the twelve days after Christmas, because a kallikantzaros could jump on a persons back and demand to be taken wherever it wants to go. Likewise, in Turkey, a kallikantzaros might lead travelers astray at night by imitating the voices of loved ones and causing them to freeze to death.

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