Academic journal article Western Folklore

Differentiating Worldview: Kalikantzaroi (Goblin)-Stories, Cyclical Time and Orthodox Christian Doctrine

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Differentiating Worldview: Kalikantzaroi (Goblin)-Stories, Cyclical Time and Orthodox Christian Doctrine

Article excerpt


This article endeavors to place within the above framework the study of stories about kalikantzaroi (goblins), which are said to come up to earth from the Underworld during the Twelve Days of Christmas (Dodecameron-24 December to 5 January). Specifically, starting point of the article is the position that the period of the Twelve Days is dangerous for all members of the community, because it delimits the transitional phase (it begins immediately after the winter solstice on 21 December) between the previous state (short day and long night-darkness), which has passed, and the new state (day longer than the night-light). Further, the article argues that this phase embodies multiple conceptions regarding time and faith. Therefore, the goblinstories will be used in order to detect these conceptions, by focusing in particular on how the content of these stories changes in the process of embodying within them the Christian concept of time. Concurrently, the article aims to shed light on the distinction of these stories as true and false. The starting point in this approach is the view that the differentiation in the content of these stories, particularly their playful character, can contribute to the investigation of the processes of rationalization, a process that was tardy in the past and was accelerated in the twentieth century.


My involvement in studying the supernatural generated my interest in the kalikantzaros (pi. kalikantzaroi). This name is used, albeit with slight variation, by Rose (Kallikantzari) and by Lawson (1910: 190) Callikantzaros (pi. Callikantzaroi)'. Obviously, the kalikantzaroi are supernatural beings. Rose classifies them as "little people", together with other supernatural beings of central and northern Europe: Ainsel, Brownie, Cheval Bayard, Kobold (t), etc. More specifically, they are described as "little hairy beings with long tails", which are "particularly attracted to open fires at night in the winter" (Rose 1996:175). This particular representation of the kalikantzaroi is erroneous and does not emerge from the folk narratives but mainly from the researchers (1910: 192-255) who transferred into English what was written by Greek folklorists. Rose links the kalikantzaros with the English Ainsel, "the name of a playful little spirit or a fairy child in the folklore of Northumberland" (England), and the French Cheval Bayard, "a type of a water spirit that may appear as a human or as a horse" which inhabits "the banks of rivers, pools and marshland" (Rose 1996: 166).

The use of the term goblin for the kalikantzaroi, which is opted for in the present article, also causes classificatory confusion. The term Goblin (Gobblin, Gobbelin, Gobeline, Gobling, Goblyri) frequently subsumes all the types of "little people" (Sikes 1991). According to Rose (1996:128-29), the Goblin is in European folklore "a grotesque, diminutive and generally malicious earth spirit or sprite", which likes children and brings them gifts. Goblins inhabit the homes of humans and make noise by overturning the furniture, a trait characteristic also of the kalikantzaroi in Greece, which, however, appear only during the Twelve Days between Christmas and Epiphany. Even though kalikantzaroi stories were popular with little children, kalikantzaroi cannot be classified as little people.



Study of the kalikantzaroi is of particular interest insofar as these beings are active over the Twelve Days of Christmas (25 December-5 January), called the Dodekaimero in Greece. Kalikantzaroi appear exclusively in this specific period and are absent during the rest of the year. In contrast, all other supernatural beings make recurrent appearances throughout the year, when circumstances favor these.

Our understanding of kalikantzaroi-stories is predicated on understanding the relationship between folk culture in Greece, in particular folk religion, and ancient Greek religion, which was replaced by the Orthodox Christian faith. …

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