Wednesday, October 22, 2014



Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990), Notebooks, 1922-86 (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2014), pp. 430-431:
There was a species of mischievous sprite which succeeded on the death of Pan as the representation of disorder in the world, of minor evil. They could be placated with food (a saucer of milk or a cake), but only temporarily. But they were capable of no final destructiveness.

There is a story of them in Corfu (where they are called Kallikantzaroi): during the ten days before Good Friday they are all engaged in the underworld upon the task of sawing through the giant plane-tree whose trunk upholds the world. Every year they almost succeed, but the cry 'Christ is Risen' saves us all by restoring the tree & driving the malicious spirits up into the world again for another year.
Arthur Bernard Cook (1868-1952), Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion, Vol. II, Part I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925), p. 56, n. 2:
Attention may here be drawn to the various accounts of the Kallikantzaroi given by the modern Greeks. These are summarised as follows by J.C. Lawson Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion Cambridge 1910 p. 194: 'The Callicantzari appear only during the δωδεκαήμερον or "period of twelve days" between Christmas and Epiphany1. (1Leo Allatius (De quor. Graec. opinat. cap. ix.) makes the period a week only, ending on New Year's Day.) The rest of the year they live in the lower world, and occupy themselves in trying to gnaw through or cut down the great tree (or in other accounts the one or more columns) on which the world rests. Each Christmas they have nearly completed their task, when the time comes for their appearance in the upper world, and during their twelve days' absence, the supports of the world are made whole again.' Details will be found in N.G. Polites Παραδόσεις Athens 1904 i.331 no. 590 from Bourboura in Kynouria (The Lykokatzaraioi come from below the earth. All the time they are hewing away with their axes at the tree which supports the earth (τὸ δέντρο ποῦ βαστάει τὴ γῆς). They chop and chop till a tiny piece no bigger than a thread remains uncut, and they say 'Come, let us be off; it will fall of itself.' They return after the Baptism and find the tree entire, absolutely whole. And again they chop, and again they come, and so continually do they busy themselves), i.347 no. 612 from Naupaktos (...the Pagan Ones begin hewing with their teeth and with axes the three columns which support the world (τοῖς τρεῖς κολόνναις, ποῦ βασττᾶν τὸν κόσμο), to hurl them down, that the world may collapse. Etc.), i.352 no. 621 from Lasta in the deme Mylaon, Gortynia (The earth is supported below by one column, which has four other pillars (μιὰ κολόννα, ποῦ ἔχει τέσσερους ἄλλους στύλους [infra § 3 (a) iii (κ)]). There the Kolikantzaroi are in bondage for ever and labour at cutting the column to make the earth fall. Etc.), i.354 no. 622 from Demetsana in Gortynia (The Kallikantzaroi are naked, apart from beards and moustaches, and in size resemble a child of ten, some being a little taller, others a little shorter. They dwell in the Underworld, where there are three wooden columns supporting the whole earth (ἐκεῖ εἶναι τρεῖς ξύλιναις κολόνναις καὶ κρατοῦν ὅλην τὴν γῆ). The Kalikantzaraioi want to cut the columns and overthrow the world, and they are perpetually getting to work with their axes and chopping the three columns. Etc.), i.335 no. 623 from Gralista in the deme Ithome, Karditsa (The Karkantsaloi have their dwelling in Hades, and gnaw with their teeth the pillars which support the sky, that it may fall and crush the earth (κὶ ῥουκανοῦν μὶ τὰ δόντια τους τὰ στύλια ἀπ' βαστοῦν τοὺν οὐρανὸ νὰ μὴν πέσῃ κὶ πλεκώσῃ τὴ γῆ). They gnaw and gnaw and do their utmost to cut the pillars. Etc.). See further N.G. Polites Μελέτη ἐπὶ τοῦ βίου τῶν Νεωτέρων Ἑλλήνων Athens 1871 i.26 and 69, J-N. Svoronos in the Journ. Intern. d'Arch. Num. 1912 xiv.252 and 280. It will be observed that, whereas most of these versions make the tree (no. 590) or columns (nos. 612, 621, 622) support the earth, one at least (no. 623) makes the pillars support the sky.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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