Pagan Peak is the English name for the German television show Der Pass. It’s about two detectives who try to stop a serial killer who lives in the woods and has a penchant for wearing Krampus masks.
Here are some of the words used in the promotional trailers:
Some rituals are better left in the past.
Soon, they discover more crime scenes reminiscent of pagan rituals.
A journey into the darkest corners of the human mind.
Warning: Many Spoilers Ahead
The show opens with a mysteriously staged dead body that lies on the border of Austria and Germany. Two detectives, one from each country, try to figure out the mysterious symbolism behind the body’s posture and a tuft of horse hair found in the dead person’s hands.
The killer leaves a message with a reporter that he wants to punish the wicked. Later, a victim who barely survived being killed by someone believed to be the same killer said her tormenter wore a Krampus mask. Thus, the ‘Krampus Killer’ becomes the primary suspect.
You may have read about the mythological figure the Krampus, the horned companion of St. Nicholas who punishes bad children.
You may also have heard that the Krampus has no clear pagan origins.
“The Krampus is believed to be the remnant of pre-Christian Alpine traditions of heathenry and paganism… However, there’s very little hard evidence left that we can trace to prove this notion.” —Mat Auryn
“Krampus picked up pagan attributes because demons were generally depicted that way.” —Jason Mankey
Perhaps the people who chose the English title translation Pagan Peak didn’t do their homework on the Krampus… But wait, it gets worse.
A lead takes the detectives to a commune, where someone named Cernunnos lives. It’s also where the detectives find a shrine with a statue of an aroused Cernunnos. This is not an accurate portrayal of him.
“Pan is not Cernunnos… One god has antlers and has never been depicted with a raging hard-on.
The other has goat horns and is nearly always depicted as aroused and ready to go in ancient art.” —Jason Mankey
Even worse, the shrine is surrounded by images of Krampuses. It’s hard to tell if the multiple “horned god” syncretism is purposefully cringe-worthy to portray the community as out-of-touch with actual paganism or whether someone on the Der Pass staff just didn’t research the gods beyond the surface.
Ultimately, though, the Cernunnos lead goes nowhere. That’s right–the only vaguely pagan artifact in the show so far is a dead end.
As the show goes on, there are several twists and turns that are typical of a murder investigation. I enjoy a good detective show, and this certainly is one.
After a few episodes, however, it becomes increasingly clear that Pagan Peak doesn’t have anything to do with paganism. The staging of dead bodies doesn’t appear to be remotely pagan despite the Pagan Peak advertisements that the killings are “reminiscent of pagan rituals.” Neither of the detectives nor the specialist identify them as such.
The English title, Pagan Peak, leads the audience to believe the Krampus Killer is pagan. In reality, the Krampus Killer is a sociopath man of the woods who sometimes wears a Krampus mask when he kills. The beliefs espoused by the Krampus Killer do not include anything spiritual or religious.
In other words, the Krampus Killer isn’t pagan at all.
I’m aware there’s another meaning of pagan, which means “of the country.” But this historical meaning isn’t found in many dictionaries. The common and current use of the word pagan is to denote someone whose religion is not Abrahamic in origin.
The show also mentions a “red time of the year,” a scary time when everything is supposed to end and the world begins anew for those who know how to live with nature. Big surprise–this isn’t related to paganism either.
I really wanted Pagan Peak to not be a horror story where pagan or witchy things are vilified as being evil. It’s such a tired trope.
At a time when more people are openly identifying as pagan, it’s irresponsible of anyone with a platform to use the word pagan to describe a sociopath. It’s especially inflammatory considering paganism is of an oft-maligned religion or spiritual path.
I wish the media would stop picking on pagans and sensationalizing anything remotely spooky for viewership. I’ve long been a proponent of the need for more representative pagans and witches in the media. This show is no different.
Pagans are not killers. Associating a sociopath or a murderer with someone’s religion or spirituality is cruel and debasing.
The producers could have redeemed the show by having an actual pagan expert on staff and/or by having a pagan character to weigh in on the lack of pagan-ness when it came to Krampus, the killings, the altar, and the messages from the Krampus Killer.
It’s beyond me why a television producer would choose to use the word “pagan” to market a show about a sociopath to English-speaking people. It’s clearly a buzzword, but it’s so poorly chosen–it’s in such bad taste. They should have called it The Krampus Killer or The Pass.
As an actual pagan, I can’t bring myself to call the show Pagan Peak, so I’ve started calling it by its German name, Der Pass, or some variation thereof.
The show has been approved for another season, so you’ll likely hear more about it. You’ve been forewarned. Hopefully, they do a better job in Season 2.