Nacht Ruprecht and the Tomtin

Nacht Ruprecht and the Tomtin

In Germanic folklore, there is a horror story about creatures that lived in the Black Forest many centuries ago.

Vicious “little people” called tomtin - who might also be called gnomes, hobgoblins, dwarves, trolls, or even elves were said to roam the area committing terrible atrocities and vicious crimes against humanity during the harsh winter months.

They were said to dress in the color of red, and were led by a being called Nacht or Knecht Ruprecht who was “equipped with eight deer legs,” and covered himself in “straw and antlers,” and a giant black figure called Schwartz Peter or Black Peter.

Ruprecht and Schwartz Peter were considered to be ancient pagan deities, and they guided the tomtin to murder travelers by knocking them on the ground and beating them “with chains or with barbed sticks or poles until they were dead.”

The tomtin then licked up the blood of their victims “like dogs.” Nacht Ruprecht and Schwartz Peter were waiting deep in the woods for the tomtin to bring back the hearts and livers of the victims, which they then devoured.

This brings to my mind the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in which the evil sorceress instructs the huntsman to bring back the heart of Snow White, after he was to have killed her in the woods.

Nacht Ruprecht is also said to have approached the little cottages near the woods to look in the windows and scare the people living within.

At times, Ruprecht was accompanied by a creature called George Oaf, who carried a large whip to torture people.

The Catholic Church attempted to replace the idea of the evil Nacht Ruprecht with the character of the saint, St. Nicholas. This idea didn’t work at first because the notion of the nefarious tomtin following a benevolent being seemed ludicrous.

St. Nicholas was initially called Belled Nicholas because he carried bells and chains. One night each winter, the tomtin went ahead of Nicholas to each home, waking up the children, pulling them out of their beds, and asking them “questions on the Christian catechism.”

If the children were unable to answer the questions correctly, they were beaten by the tomtin “with sharp sticks, whilst St. Nicholas pelted them with hard coal until they bled and the tomtin licked the blood from their wounds.”

The children who answered properly were given rewards such as “an apple or sweetmeat” rather than tortured.

Today, of course, St. Nicholas and the tomtins are known as the benevolent Santa and his Christmas elves…and it is Santa who wears the red suit!


Curran, Bob. Vampires: A Field Guide to the Creatures that Stalk the Night. NJ: Career Press, 2005.

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