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Shepherdic tradion of northern Russian regions (PART I)

This wonderful article is a contribution of Arsenij Sibiriakow from Russia.
He is also the man behind the Balto-Slavica Website - an informational platform about
paganism, antropology, slavic, baltic, northern traditions and cultures.

His article "Shepherdic tradion of northern Russian regions" will be uploaded soon.

Shepherdic tradion of northern Russian regions - PART I

In the life of the northern Russian peasant shepherd there was a very respectful personage, people believed him to be a sorcerer connected to the “Other World” and the woodspirits (Leshyj, Lesovoj).

In the late XIX century ethnographers recorded a story from Prokofy Nikiforov who lived in Gradoshi village: On St. Illiah’s day one shepherd gathered his cattle in the dell where Prokofy lives and saw that the shepherd was sitting on the stub and near him was a crowd of woodspirits, in the middle of this crowd stood a very tall and big creature – their chief. The big one asked the shepherd: “Choose everyone you want” - the shepherd responded: “Better you choose, for you know them well”. Lesovoj sayd “Take this one, he’ll serve you”…

The People in the rural villages believed that the shepherd concluded the contact with Leshyj, and the shepherd gave him for his help during the summer, milk from 3 cows of his herd. To call the master of the wood, shepherds read lament and throw in the wood a lock with a key.
Before his work the shepherd walked around his herd and read a lament, it was a kind of ritual (otpusk, obereg). In Arkhangelsk districs shepherds weren’t allowed to have sexual contact with his wife, girls weren’t allowed to dance with shepherds. He also couldn’t pick berries and mushrooms, speak swearings and accept gifts from other people.

The first spring cattle pasture always was in the day of St. George (23 April), who was a patron of the cattle. Northrussian peasants splashed the water not on the cattle but on the shepherd, the same tradions have Latvians and Estonians. A lot of magic actions we can find in Vologda and Arkhangelsk districts, where shepherd reads long lament and lead their cattle between 2 fires, after that they gather the lock and a key, some soil from someone’s grave and from an ant hill that should stand on the crossway of 3 roads.

People didn’t pay money to shepherds, they usually gave them meat, eggs, chicken, vegetables.

Shepherds in old times used many types of woodwind musical instruments, especially different horns and pipes. Northern Russian shepherds are allowed to play the horn only after the 23rd of April, and until this day they make signals for the cattle only with a whip. Shepherd’s musical instruments were a kind of taboo for other people, they even didn’t have permission to touch them.
People in one village were saying: “Our shepherd had a pipe. When he came home he put it in the corner of the kitchen and no one was permitted to touch it ”. Because under the birch bark that usually covered pipe shepherd put some wool from his animals or a sheet of paper with his lament.
Old people told different stories about punishment that the Master of the Forest could do with the shepherd: “…He caught him and turned off his head…”.

Ritual holydays that connected two different domestic animals were usually held on days of different saints. In the north they were usually celebrated by every family in their house, peasants ate dish with laments and prayers. On the 1 of January in Vologda district was a very popular holyday that was called “pig’s holyday”. Before eating pork the peasant’s family stood on their knees and walked 3 times around the table - the purpose of this ritual was to keep the pigs healthy. On the 18 of August people celebrated “horse day’. All these holyday are echoes of the ancient pagan sacrifice.

Nature Photography (Part II)

all pictures (C) by Dimo Dimov 2009

Bear Cult in Siberia & Uralistic Mythology

Short Expedition in the world of Uralistic
by Dimo Dimov

I. Bear cult in Western Siberia
II. The system of the northern Ob-Ugrian world concept
III. The Diving-Bird myth in Northern Eurasi
IV. Notions about Souls in the Komi Mythology
V. Ob-Ugrian and Samoyed mythological beliefs
VI. The System of Gods

I. Bear cult in Western Siberia

The ethnographic system of the Ob-Ugrians, a people of uralic origin located in Western Siberia, the northern area of the Ob river and the eastern realms of the Ural mountains, is very difficult for interpretation due to the complexity of the cult materials which were mainly Selkup. By contrast to the other Ob-Ugrian tribes like Nenets, Ostyak, Samoyed and Mansi, the Selkups are told, having had the most developed form of bear cult and so there are more ethnographic evidences.

First we have to make clear that bear cult is not totemism - the difference between the bear cult and totemism is that the bear is an object of worship for all the genera, whereas under totemism proper different genera have different totems like wolves or hawks.

Elements of the bear concept range pervade the enitre Ob-Ugrian culture, creating one of he world́s richest bear cults. The often-mentioned bear-feast, bear-oath, etc. are only partial manifestations of this. Why has the bear, of all animals become one of the main organizing principle of the culture, and thus of the individualśemotional life as well?

East of the Ob-Ugrians the notion of what is called the bear-shaman is widely known. In this, the bear is generally a representative of the lower, the “earth” principle. Wth the Ob-Ugrians, it is Karjalaineńs data on the east Ostyaks that have the closest bearing on the relationship between the bear and the shaman. It is remarked that, similarly to their eastern counterparts, the Selkups, they appeal to a bear-shaped spirit in order to save a sick mańs soul.

According to the Selkup traditions it was permitted to kill a bear only in special cases of attack, assault and self-defense. The essence of the bear worship is largely connected with the belief that was widely spread among the Selkups but recently, that after death a man is transformed into a bear. When a bear is killed they will cut off his paw and throw it up, while tossing the paw the man names on of his ancestors - if the paw comes down with the palm upward, it is a kinsmańs ancestor. Identification of a bear with the dead man is also observed in the mode of eating bear meat. In the rituals connected with bear worship the head and the paws of the bear were of great importance. Before cooking the bear meat they would lay the head on the beaŕs paws. The front paw was dried and kept and given ever from one generation to the next.

The elements of the bear concept range and the related custom-acts from the component systems of the most diverse historical layers, each possesing a different context.
The concepts of the component system can briefly be summarized under the name
“bear”, signed “upper sky”, “lower earth”, intermediate “forest-human”, “spiritual”.


- Beliefs are polar manifestations of the lower sign.
- The mouse is an “earth-near” and unclean animal,
- The mole can be seen as a herald of death.

Elements of bear-symbolism:

He was connected with the world of the living and that of the dead, which made his image be dual. He should recognize men as one of his own kind, that is why the Selkups wore a bear tooth or a dried bear pow.

The system relationships of bears and the typology if their mediation:

The majority of the myths relating to the origin of the bear can be traced back to an archetypal scheme where two, generally supernatural parents belonging to opposite spheres produce a third kind of being, who will then belong to the intermediate sphere.

Two kinds of dynamics:

- horizontal: change of spheres, from society to nature
- vertical: transition between worlds, from the sky to the interior of the earth

The horizontal function:

- Lord of the bear species
- Ancestor
- Lord of natural goods

The vertical function:

- Soul-rescuer
- Protector
- Neutralizer of illness and spells

Bears with horizontal dynamics are the purest form of totemic relationships.
The typology of this mother-dominated human-bears:

1. Mother: a lord́s daughter, father: mēnk (supernatural sylvan creature);
2. the boy who has departed into the forest, mother: mōs;
(a lonely mother forbids her son to venture too far to play – he disobeys and disappears into the forest to live as a bear).

The bear vertically connecting all three worlds is a blending of two mediators:
Of the mediator between the upper and intermediate worlds and the mediator between the intermediate and the lower worlds.

Bears with vertical dynamics:
A more advanced, later concept-world of mythological modelling.
The power of mediating between worlds.

- Lower bears with a maternal dominance
The most elaborate system of concepts is to be found in the Voguls with a culture southwestern in character, at the upper reaches of the Konda, Pelym and Lozva.

Here a song of the origin of the bear was begun with the myth of the creation of the world, whose culmination was the rise of the bear.

One of its structural features is the fact that it portrays all 3 worlds:
- upper
- lower
- subterranean

A similar division of the upper member results in two men, the Sky God and his mediator, the winged Kalm. After the world has been brought into its final shape, one of the women gives birth to 7 boys, who acquire the world order. As a last stage of this they come into conflict with the underworld – after an attempt gaining the upper-hand, the eldest hero boy turns into a bear and departs into the forest.

The world picture:

Sky God = ether Winged Kalm = air Kami woman = earth Princess of disease = water Eldest son (bear) = fire

Upper bears with a paternal domincance are the most widespread type at the surface of consciousness. The role of the bear species in the world of the forest – a lord of the animals.
The interconnections of the bear and the human signs:
Direct relationships and metamorphoses.

(The sacred town eldeŕs cult area: rivers Pelym and Lozva, Irtysh;
Towns: Vezhakory.)

The human manifestation forms:
- warrior
- reflection of his higher mythological function, he is personified at the Serkal Ostyak bear feast theatricals as a man with a pannier carrying wood shavings symbolizing sould-birds.

His secondary animal form is the mouse as lower earth-animal. The exchanging metamorphoses between mouse and bear are essential for the keeping of an horizontal harmony of the worlds, as well as a harmony between the forest world and the world of humans. Although very small, the mouse is able to keep the same attributes as a bear – it is given much respect as an important guardian spirit, but it is not a part of any spiritual concept.

II. The system of the northern Ob-Ugrian world concept

On the basis of the belief-world and folklore, roughly the following world-picture may be assumed in terms of the vertical and horizontal axes, reflecting similar principles.

The universe divides into worlds, the world divides into spheres
An intermediate positiion at any level preconditions the functions of connecting-dividing and mediation.

To the spheres certain characteristic animals may be assigned as representatives. The most important of them are also known as peculiar aspects of mythical or belief personalities, symbolized in animal form.

The system of animals mediating between the earth surface and the lower world

III. The Diving-Bird myth in Northern Eurasia

The Samoyedic creation myth about a water-bird who dives to the bottom of primordial ocean and brings some soil to make the earth is common in the mythologies of different peoples of the Northern hemisphere

With the creations myths of the Voguls, Nenets, Nganosans, Dolgikh, Selkups, Yukaghirs, Udmurts there is a huge lack of exact information.

First creation thesis:
The loon and the duck are ordered to dive to the bottom of the primordial ocean for a piece of soil, butt he myths vary in a very complex context. It is not sure, which bird is able to bring soil

- loon and duck together
- only the loon/duck
- the loon refuses to dive or was unsuccessfull punishment
- the loon brings soil

Second creation thesis:
The earth, moon and the sun were born from an egg laid by the duck.

IV. Notions about Souls in the Komi Mythology

According to beliefs of Komi-Zyryans a man has 2 souls:
- “lov” which is situated during his life inside him
- “ort” which is living seperately.

Lov is breath, live, spirit. After man ́s death lov lives in the house of the dead for 40 days (similarities to the 40th day of the funeral in orthodox christianity).

[Komi-Zyryans considered reincarnation.]

It is more complicated to analyse the real meaning of the word ort.
Its functions have a relation on different spheres of the universal system of the Northern Ugrians. Ort is the double of a man, a contrast to lov. It becomes visible only in moments of death (or warning of death).

According to folklore beliefs, ort showed its present by making noise, throwing pots and other stuff. Very often ort was seen to make the same work as his double: chopping the firewood. And sometimes he was seen as a blue light.

V. Ob-Ugrian and Samoyed mythological beliefs

Similarities and difference:

Both believe in several gods, and according to each persońs belief everyboday may choose the supreme deity from them. Each river, lake, hill, promontery and other sacred places have their deitis of stronger or weaker power.

The death cult is highly developed at both tribes. Their haunting spirits must be kept astray.

The striking differences in their beliefs are not so much in their nature as in their ratio.
So on the one hand the shamas are of extraordinary importance in the Samoyeds belief while the Ob-Ugrians care much less for the shamans – on the other hand the greatly developed bear cult found in the Ob-Ugrians ́rites play a much lesser part in the life of their linguistic relatives living farther in the north.

Neither the Ob-Ugrians nor the Samoyeds make idols of the highest god or other heavenly powers after him in rank; they sacrifice something to spirits of the wood, to the spirits of the lower world.


The Yurak word “haehe”, means “Geist, Götterbild” (also the Tavg-Samoyed).

About its origin:
The superhuman beings settled in different holy places where they enjoyed the respect of men. These beings settled down as haehes at certain places (According to a record taken in Obdorsk there existed always living people who could not be killed in the war during the time of creation and could come into life again). Because the gazing nomads were not able to return always to the same place to make sacrifices to the gods, they had their images: “sjaadai”.

The haehe can belong to a community or to an individual. A haehe respected by the individual may originate also from dead ancestors, from the memory of great shamans, but stones of strange shapes, found in the open air may become haehes if the shamans stated its blessing bringing characters.

The Forest-Yuraks have no household haehes, the Ostyaks sacrifice to their idols or to the clothings of those.

VI. The System of Gods

It has been made clear by earlier research that the pantheon of Uralic gods included a supreme deity who showed a peculiar combination of the ideas of sky and air; even the name of this god used to be expressed mainly with one of these words. Let us consider the terms for sky among the Uralic nations.


Estonian – jumal
Finnish – jumala
Cheremis – jumo
Mordvin jumi
Zyrian – jen
Votyak – in
Livonian – ilma
Finnish – ilmarinen


Mansi – numi-torem
Ostyak – num-torum
Samoyed – inmar
Nenets – num
Selkup – nom

These names of deities contrasted with each other clearly indicate that the separation of the Ugrians, Samoyeds and Finnic-Permian groups took place at a relatively early date.

European masked rites

by Dimo Dimov

(Part I)

The pre-Christian rites of winter and spring are scattered throughout many regions in Europe, revealing a magnificient variety of colours, masks and
incantations which is very astonishing as sometimes there areńt any commonalities between the different traditions and cultural origin, even if meaning and the performance of the ritual are always the same, carved itself into the pagan beliefs and mythological views of heathen Europe, when humans were still a part of the natural mechanism. Some of those traditions faded away, but fortunately most of them continue to exist and are carried by people who uphold an important pillar of their heritage.

Broadly speaking there are three kinds of masked rites or mummer rituals. The first are the winter rites, the wild hunt - heading for a mild winter, beeing a mirror of the dark winter times, during the absence of light.

Those are the Perchten in the alpine regions of Southern Germany,
Austria, Switzerland and Northern Italy. Main characters are the
Frau Bercht (the main character), Krampus (the black devil),
Schönperchten (beautiful), Schiachperchten (ugly and demon-like),
Glöckler (bell-men), Moosweiberl (moss woman),
Zapfenmandl (cone man), Schnabelpercht (bird beak man),
the straw-dressed Buttnmandl from Berchtesgaden and many
other personified spirits of the forests and mountains.

(Buttnmandl in South-East Germany)

The special marks of the mummers are huge bells, wooden and
leather animal, demon and spirit masks, natural materials and
clothes like wool, wood, cones, moss and roots.
Spreading fright and blessings is the main theme of those
creatures, who are an important part of the rural landscape.

In Bulgaria, when the Survakari are on their ritual journey through the snow-covered villages, they visit each home, blessing the inhabitants with rods of birch and cornel, receiving from the people ritual food like wine, bread, ham, milk and cheese. Later in spring a second group of
mummers will celebrate the return of the sun and the departure of winter.

This group is called Kukeri, and they have almost the same costumes and masks as the Survakari, but their ritual is taking place in the middle of a village, accompanied by an unbelievable noise from their bells.

They are part of the second kind of mummers, welcoming spring and
bringing b
lessings for health, fertility and a lush harvest.
The Lithuanian Uzgavenes are celebrating the return of spring
with colourful masks and a lot of pancakes.

The Zvoncari (left picture) in Croatia, the Busos in Hungary, the Kurenti
in Slovenia, the Zarramacos, Sidros and Guirrios during the days
of Vijanera in Cantabria or the Mamutones in Sardinia - they
are all praising spring and saying farewell to winter with noise and
the zoomorphic masks and costumes.

Mamutones in Sardinia and Sidros in Northern Spain


Ancient Bulgarian Mythology by Dimo Dimov

We won´t look through an ethnographic window at ancient bulgarian/bulgar culture nor won´t we divagate ourself with historical issues, we will more breath a dusty air about the spiritual item of ancient tangrism.

Seeking deep in black dwells, gathering sources, different ones. It seems impossible to be able to lurk through the shadows of the past. Unlike germanic, slavic or asian traditions where you can find a lot of material, scripts and words the ancient bulgarian culture and traditions were nearly extinguished, mostly in the period of communism as the soviet system tried to sew the seeds of panslavism and so to “exchange” silently the yet week bulgar heritage with a slavic one, although noone should and could deny the symbiotic interlacing of bulgar and slavic culture.

Lets begin with a look into the very past and into the word itself.

T’ien (à Tan) is the chinese/uigur/kirgiz word for “sky”. Ra is, despite egyptian roots, also an indoiranian word for “god”. Nak was the common word for “human” of the different tribes from turk, aryan, altaic and uralic, but also from more ancient heritage like sumerian – of course this term differed etymologically due to ethnological facts – living in the wide regions and valleys between the Altai and Pamir mountains in middle asia known as Kirgizstan and Tadjikistan today.

So we can concluse that Tangra is actually the abroveTanNakRa and its other terminology differs from tribe to tribe: Dengir (sumerian), Danguz (baltic), Tengri, Dingir, Tingir, Dangar (turkic, altaic) and Tangra (bulgarian). We will look only onto the last, the bulgarians as their heritage and form of cult and paganism differs from that of the turkic and altaic tribes because we have to look at the bulgarian heritage as an irano-aryan tribe which is an etymological (the nomenclatura of the words “bolg”, “balhara”, “balhash” and “bulkar” as well as many other words, which are in use today) and spiritual evidence (many bulgar tribes also practicated the irano-aryan zoroastric cult by summoning both cults, tangric and zoroastric, as the main element of Tangra is the fire.)

We see a lot of cults based on sun worship. In that case, the sun (life – death – harvest) often rivals with the sky (drought – rain – harvest – grandeur).

Tangra is the power sky, a non-personificated and non-anthropoligic cosmic power. But the “trinity”sky-man-god could be interpreted as the divine connection between man and nature, between sky and sun, so man can be seen as a part of this dignity, even as a small one.

The celestial believe strongly includes the meaning of the balance of powers. There is no manifastated dualism. By becoming a part of the cosmic balance, man is no longer a subject of creation, he becomes divine himself.

The cult of Tangra was also essential for the dynasty of Khans (Kings), on several clay plates there could be defined the following religious sentence:

“Who is speaking the truth, is seen by god – who is speaking lies, is seen by god, too.”

Main characters of Tangra are: male sky deity, unvisible, untouchable –its symbols are the sun, eagle and horse (the Windhorse, which is nowadays the coat of arms of Mongolia).

The monotheistic cult of Tangra was widely practicated by ancient bulgarian tribes during their moving towards the western lands from the 4th until the 6th century and even after settling down on the Balkans in the 7th century up to the byzanthenean christianisation in the 9th century. In some of the Balkan and the Black Sea coast the cult was further developed with new creations combining the cults of the already settled souther slavs.

But despite the monotheistic system, we can distinct between five structures within the religious-mythological construction – the main elements that are a sacred pantheon themselves:

Tangra (Sky, Creator, God - the mighty sky) Yer Su (the holy earth-water)

These both main spirits are followed by:

  1. Umay (Mother Earth, Womb of Earth, fertility)
  2. Erlik (the level of the underworld)
  3. Ancestor cult and demonology as well as totemism-shamanism

The ancestor cult takes the main part in the common people´s life. As their duty is to take care of the living and to be the positive transcendent power while the living humans are themselves the power who are taking care of the balance between the worlds. Some of the deceased and forgotten ancestors are not able to reach the world of Erlik, they become holy spirits of Yer Su, inhabitating cliffs, rivers, shores, wells, lakes and meadows. Sacrifices were brought directly as gifts like food or crafts, buried superficiously in the earth (Umay) or layed on lake and river shores (Yer Su), as well as brought indirectly by sacrificing mainly dogs or hen by the shamans.

Totemistic beliefs were widely practicated with a high affinity to northern american native animism as this has asian roots (totem = tuteng). Every entity in nature contains a spirit. The personal totem of every balance-keeping human (Nak) was the Windhorse (bulg. Vihrogon), which is located right in the breast . The windhorse is crucial for the spiritual feeling of every human. Another important totems are bear, wolve, goose (as sometimes Tangra himself appears as a white, flying goose) or eagle. However, the main Tangra symbol is the horse, it is the zoomorphic incarnation of the Khan (King).

Every ritual begins with honouring Tangra, the mother Earth and the ancestor spirits. The shaman is drinking milk and deploys it among the temple/house at all four cardinal points, a fire is illuminated in the center of the cult place, it symbolizes the eternal life and the healing power, the breath of fire, the breath of the sun (this might be compared to zoroastric cults and slavic traditions, especially when the tangric people clashed with slavic culture and slavic regions that led to further cultural and ethnical assimilation, but it stands alone as an important part the Tangra rites).

The runes

Due to several stone carvings in Ukraine (where the bulgarians moved through during the 5th century) and Northern Bulgaria, two main runes could be depicted – the actual sky rune could not be appointed until today. The rune on the left is the spirit symbol of Yer Su.

IYI in the middle – the main rune of Tangrism – is the symbol of the unnamed sun god (some bulgarian sources determinate the sun god, who is a very special form of life bringer and guardian and the son of the cosmic father-sky). In this case the sun is no more the concurrent of the sky, it becames a part of the cosmic pantheon. Other sources also assign the ancient svastika as the main tangric sun symbol. The third rune is a symbol, similar to Odal rune, but turned upside down. Its meaning is the holy heritage “Sarakt”, the state itself – most of the tangric tribes defined their organization, consolidation or merge, already as a ‘state’ in its modern administrative meaning.

Time and its streaming, as well as the fluction of the epochs and eras was an issue of high matter to the spiritual elite and shamans of Tangrism, not only in far asian regions, but still in Europe, on the balkans – this evidence was manifested by the discovery of several stone and wood carvings in the former bulgarian capitols Pliska and the ruins on the Crymean Peninsula and several Regions of the Volga river (during the bulgarian movement towards Europe). Although the deliverance is absolutely inadequate, scientists like Bojidar Dimitrov and Peter Dobrev could determine the exact creation date of the Tangra calendar at 5808 B.C. and due to this computation of time, the year of 2008 is actually 7816.

One circle of the Tangra period is 25920 years, beginning with the birth year of the first predecessors, the Alps, which can be compared easily with the Hyperboreans.

One day of the cosmic year is 72 years – the human pulse is 72 times per minute. The number of daily breaths is 25920.

The Alps are personificated sources of energy – each alp generation with a strong hierarchy rules over the three worlds (Ustyugu Uren, upper world – Urta Uren, middle world – Adak Uren, underworld).

The number 7 is essential for the tangric doctrines, which stand with eachother in a coherent context:
7 are the main symbols on the tangric rosette and so are the planets of the tangric cosmic system with the polar star as its center - a symbol of completed, fulfilled harmony and balance.

We also cannot disregard and ignore the big influence of the western chinese and altaic calendar when we look at its arrangement and zodiacs:

Dox – Pig, Somor – Rat, Shegor – Ox, Bars – Tiger, Dvansh – Rabbit

Ver – Dragon, Dissom – Snake, Tech – Horse, Pesinu – Monkey

Toch – Rooster, Eth – Dog

After re-arranging this calendar structure, bulgarian and russian scientists determined the age of Pisces to Dvansh, the age of the rabbit and the current age of Aquarius to Pesinu.

Can Tangra be compared to any other prechristian monotheistic cult? Not really, but the cult itself can be compared to single deistic phaenomena like Indra or Mithra, although their ocularly sun referrence deeply clashes with the sky referred Tangra cult. By contrast to Tengrism, which is widely practicated today in many turkic-asian regions, the Chuvash people in western Russia are the ones, who continue the cult of Tangra (Tangrism) even in the 21th century.

Sol Invictus

Sol Invictus

by Dimo Dimov

The religion of Sol Invictus is an rare historical evidence of introducing a new cult into a whole state and society – as noone else the roman society was most proper to do so with the Roman Empire as the most important and mightiest empire and domain of europan culture, arts and military at this time. Even more interesting is the brief rise and fall of this phenomenon, erased from the depths of history together with its spiritual leaders, the emperors Elegabal, Aurelian and Hadrian, who widely introduced the cult of the sun god among the roman people in 129 A.D.

The body of beliefs subscribed to by the followers of Sol Invictus Elegabal cannot be described in detail. The available sources provide no direct information and we are thereforre restricted to what we can infer from similarities with related religions, especially the analogous cult of Mithras, and a few data yielded by other research. There had been a considerable evolution in the dogma of the Syrian sun god, and it had been enriched by elements taken from other, related religions in the 2-3th century A.D. In North Syria this is Astarte (asigned to Aphrodite-Urania) and in Arabia: Baal (as sun god).

For the divine marriage between Vesta and Sol Invictus, the emperor chose the symbol of the goddess Athena, the palladium, as a expression of the new situation. This symbolic unity was an attempt to build up a strong fundament of the cult in the roman society, as Vesta was the patron godess of Rome.

The cult of Sol Invictus was the most important cult in the Roman Empire through three centuries, due to the fact that it was established by the emperor Varius Avitus (Marcus Aurelius Antonius) who gave himself the nomenclature Elagabalus, as a high priest.

This religion was introduced in 218 AD and adopted from the Syrian religion, during the roman territorical achievments in the eastern lands. It replaced the old cults of the sun god existing in several regions of the Roman Empire. There had been a considerable evolution in the dogma of the Syrian sun god, and it had been enriched by elements taken from other, related religions. The cult of Sol Invictus Elagabal has to be distincted clearly from Mithraism, brought to Rome by soldiers and slaves from Persia in the 2nd century. Despite of the existing similarities, the similar nomenclature (Sol Invictus Elagabalus and Deus Sol Invictus Mithra) and the belief of a sun god in both cults, they are different.

  • Mithraism was brought to Rome by soldiers and slaves from the asiatic provinces in the 2nd century
  • The rituals are an alter form of Persian/Indo-aryan rituals, held in subterrenian caves
  • Mithras was a religion of private matter with no state obliges
  • The religious communities consisted of 50-60 people in secret chapels, mostly among soldiers and military officials
  • It was never an official cult and never included “die publici populi romani”

The basic features of SI comprise pure monotheism, promise of bliss in another life, spiritual experience and tumultuous celebrations. The sacrifices were performed by the pater familias or by a political personality with a priest. The god was adored with great fervour and many devoted themselves into his service. However, the cult of Sol Invictus did not survived through the centuries as was the case for the many very well preserved mithraea of Mithraism.

It appears, that the sun god was not so much an abstract supernatural god as a supreme being incarnated in the daily presence of the solar sphere.

Tha altar had to be placed in a well-defined direction, it was determined by the place at which the sun rose on an equally specific day. Sol Invictus was the unconquerable deity who seemed to be forced each evening to submit to the powers of darknes with which he did battle at dark, but who each morning appeared as the inimitable victor.

The sun god didn’t communicate directly with his followers. The eagle, the Syrian sun bird, acted as servant and messenger. It plays an important role in the cult: a marble altar found in Rome in the region Transtiberina carries an image of Sol Invictus born by an eagle.

The eagle however, carried the souls to the next world.

The ritual

Emperor Elagabalus, the crowned high priest of Sol Invictus sacrificed to the sun god every morning. During these daily rites, for which he stood in front a particular direction, the amplissimus sacerdos wore typically Syrian robes ornamented with precious stones. His face was decorated with red and his eyes were made up.

Accompanied by a group of women who danced and struck music from strange instruments, he proceeded from the imperial palace to the Elagabalium, around which the other altars had been placed in readiness. He made the round of the altars, performing sacred dances as he went, it may be that he himself examined the entrails of the young children, that had been sacrified, for he was preminently the sacra cognoscens of the mysteries of Sol Invictus and could therefore provice decisive elucidation and final pronouncement. He could function with complete assurance as augur, since he had had himself into their mysteries whenever he had the symbols of other deities transferred to the Elagabalium.

After his initiation into the secrets of the cult of the Magna Mater, he underwent the baptism by blood of the taurobolium, which he exploited as a means of obtaining the symbol of the goddess as well as the other symbols of the Phrygian religion.

The sacrificies made by the emperoro consisted of hecatombs of sheep and bulls, libations of rare perfumes and excellent old wines, mixed with the blood of the sacrificial animals. The presence of the roman senators was required and those had to wear Syrian robes (in the middle of Rome!) – military commanders and officials dressed in syrian fashion.

It has been mentioned that the young high priest had to exhibit himself on all occasions with certain specifically female external features and to play a female part as often as possible.

His silken eastern dress was worn in a feminine way (make up).

All these effects were intensified on the great festival of Sol Invictus in the middle of the summer, between June and September. Therefore the symbol of the sun god was carried in an elaborate procession from the Elagabalium to the temple in the lower city. The participants were on foot – only the symbol of SI, the conical stone was drawn from the first temple to the other on a huge chariot.

Sol Invictus and the Legions

No other non-roman cult with the exception of mithraism, was widely accepted by the troops as this cult. Epigraphic texts, monuments, reliefs and adornments are evidence of the worship by the SPQR troops (and even more specific – by highly official military members and those of a high rank, which is another evidence for the different levels of spirituality from common to transcendent people). Legionaries who came in contact with Emesa (land of origin) remained there for the rest of their lives.

The immortal and invincible Sol was a protector of the roman legions.

Zoroastrianism (Part I)

by Dimo Dimov

This shall be the first Part of a short introduction into the basics of the Indoiranian spiritual essence, known as Zoroastrianism. One might probably say, this animistic cult, attributed with a strong ritual sense, is to be the first ever monotheistic religion. Its transcendent shape has overtaken several developments throughout its period, about 3000 B.C.
The roots of Zoroastrianism has to be recognized in the neolithic and pre-aryan period in the realms of nowadaýs Iran, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Many of its features were transformed from the local cults and were given a new, more developed meaning.

The reasoning by which man, conscious himself of being alive, attributes conscious life to all other things, whether static or like him capable motion – regarding each natural phenomenon as “thou”, living entity. The supposed cognitive force in this entity was called by proto-indo-aryans its “manyu” (think) – the developed vedic sense is then “force”, and the Avestan sense is translated as spirit. So a clod of earth was felt to be filled with the Mainyu of earth.
Mainyus of water, life, joy, prosperity, strife.

Important terms of Zoroastrianism are:

Ahura (lord) – aryan divine title, personified attributed of deity, envoked by Zoroaster
Ahura Mazdah – god of the Aryans, holy spirit – greates of the Ahuras, perceived as God
Avesta – composite body of holy texts
Gathas – dominated by a coherent theology; systematic works, taught by Zoroaster

In this first chapter SVARGA presents you the first of the Gathas:

Gatha Ahunavaiti

1. With outspread hands in petition for that help, O Mazdah, first of all things I will pray for the works of the holy spirit, O thou the Right, whereby I may please the will of Good Thought and the Ox-soul.
2. I who would serve you, O Mazdah Ahura and Good Thought – do ye give through the Right the blessings of both worlds, the bodily and that of Thought, which set the faithful
in felicity.
3. I who would praise you, as never before, Right and Good Thought, and Mazdah Ahura, and those for whom Piety makes and imperishable Dominion grow: come ye to my help at my call.
4. I who have set my heart on watching over the soul, in union with Good Thought, and as knowing the rewards of Mazdah Ahura for our works, will, while I have power and strength, teach men to seek after Right.
5. O, thou the Right, shall I see thee and Good Thought, as one that knows – the throne
of the mightiest Ahura and the Obedience of Mazdah? Through this word of promise in our tongue will we turn the robber horde unto the Greatest.
6. Come thou with Good Thought, give through Right, O Mazdah, as thy gift to Zarathustra by thy sure words, long-enduring mighty help and to us, O Ahura, whereby we may overcome foes.
7. Grant, O thou the Right, the reward, the blessings of Good Thought; O Piety, give our desire to Vishtaspa and o me; O thou, Mazdah (wise one) and Sovran, grant that your Prophet may perform the word of hearing.
8. The best I ask of thee, O Best, Ahura, of one will with the Best Right, desiring them for the hero Frashaoshtra and myself and for them to whom thou wilt give them, gifts of Good Thought for aye.
9. With these bounties, O Ahura, may we never provoke your wrath, O Mazdah and Right and Best Thought, we who have been eager in bringing you songs of praise. Ye are they that are mightiest to advance desires and the Dominion of Blessings.
10. The Wise whom thou knowest as wothy for their right and their good thought, for them do thou fulfill their longing by attainment. For I know words of prayer are effectual with you which tend to a good matter.
11. I whou would thereby preserve Right and Good Thought for everymore, do thou teach me, O Mazdah Ahura, from thy spirit by thy mouth it will be with the First Life.

Lithuanan customs and traditions

Shrove Tuesday – Uzgavenes
(or "The Winter Farewell Festival - Pancake Day")
by Dimo Dimov

The tradition of the masked rites can be seen as a part of nearly every local and regional culture in Europe. Of course, the most popular among them are the Alpine masked rites in Austria, Southern Germany and Southern Tyrol, known as Perchten. In a previous text of SVARGA we described the masked rites of Bulgaria, the Kukeri and Survakari.
In a far more northern region, in Lithuania, a land still keeping the buds of its long traditional heritage, also exists such a rite - the Uzgavenes, although much has been lost and the precious heathen customs are in a state of arising from the ashes.

It was very difficult to find reliable texts and sources about this topic, however I was able to collect some very informative scripts from the Baltic culture. The last day before the start of Lent is called Shrove Tuesday. The following day, Ash Wednesday (Pelenu diena), starts the long, solemn and lean period of Lent (Gavenia).

In the past, abstinence was very strict: no meat at all could be eaten for seven weeks and milk could only be used occassionally; adults ate only three times ad day and only once a full meal.
Parties, dances and song were forbidden by tradition. As a result, people tried to be merry and noisy on Uzgavenes and to eat much rich food.

The main dish for Uzgavenes is pancakes usually made of flour, apples and berries. In Samogitia it was customary to feast on pease-pudding (siupinys). A piǵs tail is cooked in this and the stuck in the middle of the bowl.The person who gets it in his or her dish, will be luck all that year.

It is not inadvisable to drink water – this will cause severe thirst all year long.

[…the bees would be industrious that summer, would fly far and gather much honey…]

Swings were hung from barn rafters for the young and also for adults. Men wanted to swing high so their steeds would be swift and fleet; the women swung so the flax harvest would be good, the flax tall and the fibers long […kad linu derlius butu geras,…].

To ensure a bountiful harvest the following summer, water was splashed on all comers: revelers wearing masks, neighbours going for a ride, uzgaven carousers and guests crowding into the yard. Preparations for this water ritual were made in advance, pails were filled, at times even fortified with snowballs.

It was customary to take “bees” for a ride. A barrel or tub of water was placed in a sleigh, several merry girls (the “bees”) came on village road shouting “Water, water!” (“Vandens, Vandens!”). Bystanders tried to pour water on them but were unable to approach the sleigh because girls ladled water from the tub and splashed it on them while the driver poked everyine with his whip. Sometimes teenage boys got into the barrel or tub and shouted, “Water, water!”. Everyone tried to pour water into the tub while those on the sleigh had to keep everyone from approaching it.

The costumed and masked revelers are an integral part of the Uzgavenes festivities. Uzgaven carnivals (Mardi Gras) are famous in other countries.
Yet the lithuanian Uzgavenes costumed revelers and the masked people of other nations have their origin in the battle between spring and the demons of winter, a pre-christian concept.

The Uzgavenes mark the beginning of spring – not the spring whose first signs are sprigs of green, birdsongs and blossoms, but the spring that conquers the forces of winter, lengthens days and augurs the growth of a new harvest. With diverse rituals, prognostication, masks and the battles waged between these masks, the people tried ti help spring defeat winter, speed its arrival and to gain favor to the forces of nature for a good harvest.

Masks for Uzgavenes were homemade. They were very imaginative, although created from ordinary materials like tree bark, fur, flax, wheel rims, lumber, tow.

Face masks were made from tree bark. They were started in the summer. A suitable piece of bark was removed, holes cut for the mouth, nose and eyes and the dried well. Thread, moss or fur were glued on for the beard and hair and twine added to secure the mask for the head.
The persońs nose was blackened with coal or whitened with flour. An old hat was shoved on the head, oversized tattered clothes, an inverted fur coat and a rope around the waist completed the Uzgavenes costumes.

Masks, especiall devil masks, were carved directly from soft wood. A long, hooked or pointed nose, horns and protruding chin were sculpted. Holes were fashioned for the eyes and mouth. Sometimes a piece of hard leather belt was attached to the lower lip – the was the tongue sticking out. Hair was made from flax, fur and hemp.

A mask can also be cut from an old shearling coat by shaving the wool from the forehead and cheeks and leaving only eyebrows, a beard and sideburns.

Tall hefty men often dressed in womeńs clothes. They made a doll, a “child” from rags and went about offering to tell fortunes and read palms.

Favorite costumes used were beggards, gypsies and jews. Others were mythological beings like devils, witches and Death. Animals like horses, goats, monkeys; birds like cranes.

Uzgaven Horse costumes:
Sometimes a horsés head was sewn from cloth, a mane added, buttons for eyes and the neck was arched. This head was mounted on a stick which a man straddled and “rode”.
The man wrapped himself in a cloak or blanket so that only his feet and the “horsés” head were visible. The uzgaven “horses” kicked, jumped and run wild and produced much laughter, but they also needed to be lead and controlled by several attendants.

[The same with “goats” and cranes (Kranich)]

Death (Giltine) wears a white floor-length shirt, whitens her face, draws black circles around her eyes and has long sharp teeth. She carries a scythe and aims to cut down and carry someone off to after-life.
Death is the Deviĺs sworn enemy, but they are also allies: whatever Death cuts down, the Devil (Velniu) carries of to hell (Pragara).

[Death fights the Devil over another reveler – usually a Drunk)

The revelers go from house to house, along the way they are feted with Mardi Gras food and drink and doused with water. Their procession is very noisy, with bells, music, laughter and dances. Finally everyone assembles at a house where the hunt concludes with refreshments – only until midnight.

- Kotre
- More
- Ciucela

A wheel is attached to a sleigh and turns when the sleigh is pulled. A womens figure is made from twigs or straw and placed in the wheel; Brooms, flails or sticks are tied to her dangling arms. As the sleigh is pulled, the wheel turns and the women/Kotre turns with it.
[And again here is an aequivalent to Frau Perchta from the Alpine traditions!]

And all the attendants sing among:
“Giving Ciucela a ride for the sake of a good flax crop.”
(Atrodo, kaip tikra ciucela)

The hunt ends where a huge fire has been built. Kotre is added to the fire and burned (or hung or drowned) !

= The destruction of the winter demonic creatures.

The last Uzgaven characters are very funny:
- Mr Bacon (Lasininis)
- Mr Hemp (Kanapinis)

They burst fighting thorugh the the door just before the party is about to end!

Mr Bacon is stout and fat, covered with sausages = Symbol of the happy, fat Post-winter period.

Mr Hemp is lean, sickly looking with a rope pulled around his waist. He wears herring heads and a crust of bread. He represents the Lenten fast. (Fastenzeit)

Every time Mr Bacon loses! He is chased out the door and the devil gleefully follows behind. Then Mr Hemp takes a whip, scattering the revelers and knocking the food from the table – it is the end of the Uzgaven festival.

Kukeri und Survakari (german)

by Dimo Dimov

(Bilder im nächsten Artikel)

Bulgarische traditionelle Feste und Brauchtümer werden seit einer geraumer Zeit, nach Ihrem historischen Entwicklungszenit, immer mehr vernachlässigt und sind als ein hermetisches System beinahe dem Untergang geweiht. Die entscheidenden Faktoren ihres Verlustes als ein ethnographisches System sind die sog. Sozialistische Revolution, die Industrialisierung des bulgarischen Staates sowie die Kollektivierung der Landwirtschaft in der Periode 1944 – 1989. Der Auflösungsprozess wütete zuerst und ganz besonders bei diesen Festen und Bräuchen, die von der christlichen Weltanschauung der traditionellen Bevölkerung akzeptiert und übernommen wurden oder direkten Einfluss auf die produktive Landwirtschaft hatten in Form von magischer und ritueller Arbeit, die Ernte und Arbeitskräfte zu erhalten und zu bewahren. Doch Beobachtungen zeigen, dass eben diejenigen Sitten und Bräuche, Traditionen und Feste am meisten resistent sind gegen den Auflösungsprozess, sich also sehr widerstandfähig erwiesen haben, die nicht in direktem Zusammenhang mit dem Christentum stehen, die über eine völlig verschiedene Charakteristik und einem dem Christentum artfremden Kanon verfügen.
Unter diesem ethnographischen Typus sind ganz klar die Kukeri und Survakari einzuordnen, die bereits seit Jahrhunderten zu den beliebtesten Volksfesten gehören.
Seit dem Ende des bulgarischen Kommunismus erlebt die ethnographische Welt eine kleine Renaissance. Die Beziehung der Bevölkerung zu ihrem kulturellen Vermächtnis und ganz besonders zu den Kukeri und Survakari entspringt dem durch den Auflösungsprozess bedingtem, neuem geschaffenen Bewusstsein, das sich entschieden gegen die Vereinheitlichung, gegen die spirituelle Entwurzelung sowie gegen die Entzauberung der Welt stellt.
Die ersten Zeugnisse auf bulgarischem Gebiet für diese bestimmten Tänze und Spiele, die den Kukeri (Kukerski Igri – Perchtenspiele) entsprechen würden, und bei solchen die Interpreten Masken und Tierfelle tragen, stammen aus dem Frühmittelalter / VI – VII Jh./ in der Region Silistra an der Donau, festgehalten von dem thrakisch-christlichen Märtyrers Dasius, dessen Aufzeichnungen von Fr. Cumont in 1897 herausgegeben wurden /Analecta Bollandiana, XVI, Seiten 5 – 16/. Diese Spiele konnten sich bis in die heutige Zeit erhalten, trotz massiver Versuche und Vorwürfe seitens der byzantinischen und später der orthodoxen Kirche diese Tradition als Satanismus, Aberglaube und phallisch – orgiastische Rituale abzustempeln und zu verbieten. Der nächste Tiefpunkt bulgarischer Tradition wird erreicht, als das Osmanische Reich von 1396 – 1876 ganz Bulgarien annektiert und besetzt. Die freiheitliche Bewegung, die patriotisch-romantische Revolution im XIX. Jahrhundert leiten eine ethnographische Renaissance ein, die in vielen Publikationen dargestellt wird wie z.B. die seit 1889 alljährliche erscheinende „Sammlung der Volksweisheiten“ oder die Eröffnung des ersten ethnographischen Museums in 1906.
Die Kukeri und Survakari stehen also für eine archaisch-paganistische Weltanschauung, die das ewige Rad und Lebenskreis der Natur vereint – Geburt, Blüte, Tod und Geburt. Bräuche und Spiele, die der Stimulation und Anrufung von Fruchtbarkeit, Gesundheit und Lebensfreude in allen Bereichen des landwirtschaftlichen, persönlichen und gesellschaftlichen Lebens dienen.

Die Inhalte der Spiele der Kukeri und Survakari werden besonders im XIX. Jahrhundert erforscht. Trotz einheitlicher heidnischer Weltanschauung und Ethnophilosophie herrscht eine reiche Vielfalt in den verschiedenen Regionen Bulgariens vor (Berglandschaft – Ebenen, Plateaus). Wie bereits erwähnt wird der Ritus der Spiele in Kukeri (Kukerski Igri) und Survakari (Survakarski Igri) aufgeteilt. Diese Teilung ist abhängig von:
dem ethnographischen Kalender
der regionalen Eigenheit
Zeitperiode: 18. Februar bis zur ersten Märzwoche (Beginn des österlichen Fastens)
Regionen: Süd- und Ostthrakien, Südbalkan und Rhodopen, Nordostbulgarien
Zeitperiode vom 25. Dezember bis 6. Januar, die sog. „Schmutzigen Tage“ - man nimmt an, dass zu dieser Zeit unheilige und unreine Kräfte am Werk sind, so dass viele Brunnen erst mit Weihrauch und Misteln „geheilt“ werden müssen (ins Deutsche übertragen könnte man auch „Raunächte“ sagen).
Am 31. Dezember findet die Surva statt (dazu später).
Regionen: Mittelbulgarien, Mazedonien, Südwestbulgarien
Die Übergangsgebiete beider Typen sind die Regionen Panagyurishte und Pazardzhik wo je nach Kalender BEIDE Rituale durchgeführt werden.
Die Kukerispiele und Bräuche, die während der sog. Sirnitsa, der letzten Februarwoche, durchgeführt werden sind reicher an Requisiten und ritueller Dramatik, so dass wir sie als erstes beschreiben wollen.
Es sind mehrere Bezeichnungen bekannt, wie im Einzelnen die Kukerspiele benannt werden. Dazu unterscheidet man:
den Tag, an dem die Spiele stattfinden:
Kukerovden, Kukovden, Kuklinden, Startshovden (Tag der Alten), Djumalovden, Pesi Ponedelnik (Hundemontag)

die Teilnehmer der jeweiligen Spiele und Rituale:
Kukeri, Kukove, Startsi (die Alten), Startshinari, Stantshinari, Djamali, Kamilari, Arapi, Dervishi, Maskari, Drakusi, Pesyatsi und Baburtsi

die Benennungen der teilnehmenden Tiercharaktere:
Kamila (Kamel), Djamal, Djumal, Rogatsh (Gehörnter – vielleicht äquivalent zu dem Wolpertinger?)

So gibt es auch hier äquivalente Teilnehmer zu alpinen Traditionen wie z.B. Bärentreiber, Rosstäuscher oder Waldmandl. Nach all diesen Bezeichnungen haben jedoch die Kukeri den bedeutendsten Namen und Bekanntheitsgrad, aufgrund ihrer weiten Verbreitung in Thrakien (Süd-/Zentralbulgarien) und auch wegen der Tatsache, dass dieser Typ maskierter Spiele als erster in den Chroniken auftaucht.
Die Rituale werden zu Beginn des österlichen Fastens organisiert, manchmal dreimal wöchentlich und enden am Sirna Nedelya (Schwarzsonntag des ethnographischen Kalenders) oder am Hundemontag. Die Kukeri sind ausschließlich eine Männertradition. Die Teilnehmer sind immer nur ledige oder frisch verheiratete Männer, die besondere Eigenschaften besser aufweisen, wie Kraft, Ausdauer und psychische Belastung, aufgrund des unglaublichen Lärms und der dramatischen, drastischen Momente während den sehr dynamischen Spielen. Oft werden die bulgarischen Perchtenläufe nur von bestimmten Familien oder Clans einzelner Dörfer durchgeführt.
Das Kukeriritual, das Kukerispiel, der Kukerilauf sind zwar einheitlich, natürlich mit großer Vielfalt nach den regionalen Besonderheiten geschmückt, unterscheiden sich aber grundsätzlich durch zwei besondere Rituale:
rituelles Pflügen und Säen der Felder (Ost-, Südostthrakien, Zentralbulgarien und Nordostbulgarien)
Ein oder mehrere Hauptkukeri (Startsi, Djemalyotsi – die Alten) führen den Zug an der aus den folgenden Charakteren besteht:
Kukerska Baba, Großmütterchen, die von einem Starets – einem Alten – einem Dyado – Großväterchen – einer Bulka und einem Zet – Braut und Gatte – und einigen Pärchen frisch Verheirateter begleitet wird. Desweiteren folgen ein Zar (König) und sein Gefolge, Quacksalber und manchmal auch Haratshari (Steuereintreiber) oder Esel, das die Geschenke und Gaben einsammelt und trägt.
bei der zweiten Variante fehlt das Ritual des Pflügens uns Säens, doch stattdessen ist hier das Kamel- und Bärentreiben von Bedeutung, sowie die rituelle Reinigung, das „Bad“ der Kukeri (Zentralbalkan, Thrakien)
In einigen Regionen wiederum werden beide Rituale durchgeführt.
Die Masken der Kukeri
Zu den archaischsten Gewändern gehören Ziegen-, Schaffs- und Rehfelle, bei denen die Masken Ziegenböcke, Widder und Ochsen darstellen oder auch menschliche Züge und düstere Fratzen mit tierischen Elementen vermischen wie Hörner, Ohren, Zähne, Federn (wie alpine Schiachperchten).
Mancherorts werden noch zusätzlich Frauengewänder und lange Frauenumhängen mit Fransen angezogen. Jeder Kuker trägt einen Säbel, Topuz (Knüppel), Pomet (ein langer Stock mit einem Tuch umwickelt, um Herde und Öfen zu reinigen), Klyunk oder Gega (Hirtenstäbe). In älteren Überlieferungen wird beschrieben, wie der Hauptkuker mit einem riesigen, roten Phallus bewaffnet ist. Das wichtigste Requisit sind jedoch die unzähligen Glocken in allen möglichen Variationen (von winzigen Kupferglocken bis zu den riesigen Silberglocken – von sanftem Geläut bis zu ohrenbetäubendem Gebimmel). Der Perchtenlauf selbst besteht aus Gehüpfe, Gehoppse, schnellem Lauf, Tänze mit strenger ritueller Choreographie bis hin zu langsamen Schleichen, bis wieder das Dorf in Höllenlärm oder wunderschönen Melodien versinkt.
Die Rollenverteilung im Perchtenlauf – jedem Kuker wird ein Charakter zugewiesen, daher auch die verschiedenen Benennungen – erfolgt folgendermaßen:
Die Rollen der frisch Verheirateten und Verliebten – Bulka und Zet – übernehmen jüngere Männer, die keine Masken tragen, sondern Hochzeitsgewänder tragen (Schönperchten), die der regionalen Trachtenfolklore entsprechen. Die Bulka, die Braut ist stark rot-weiß überschminkt und trägt ein Kind aus Lumpen, Holz oder Kürbis. Das Großmütterchen, oder Zigeunerin, ist ein Mann in zerlumpten Frauenkleidern. Sie trägt das Kind öfter als die Braut, manchmal aber auch nur eine Katze. In der anderen Hand hält sie eine Spindel und webt, wenn der Zug haltmacht. Um diese jedoch mit der Frau Perchta zu vergleichen sind die geographischen und historischen Unterschiede zu groß. So könnte man dennoch thrakischen Fruchtbarkeitskult vermuten (äquivalent zur griechischen Demeter).
Der Tsar, durch einen Bauern dargestellt mit lautem Geschelle, Gebimmel und Gerassel, das er an seinem Gewand trägt, außerdem mit Umhang und einem riesigen weißen Bart. Er raucht eine Pfeife aus Mais oder hält einen dicken Stab mit einem harten Ende, um Dieben und Strolchen Schmerz zuzufügen. Das maskierte Tsarengefolge stellt Zigeuner, Arapen und türkische Banditen dar, alle mit aschegeschwärzten Gesichtern und mit schwarzen Tüchern und Lumpen bekleidet, mit Späten, Ketten, Pfeil und Bogen bewaffnet und bewerfen mit Asche das umher stehende Publikum.
Weitere, seltenere Charaktere sind der Pope, der die Verheirateten begleitet, ein Doktor, der bei Bedarf „heilen“ kann, ein Barbier, von dem sich die Männer im Dorf freiwillig oder gezwungen rasieren lassen. Desweiteren noch einige Possenreißer, Kinderschrecke, Vogelscheuchen, die mit Mehl bedeckten Gesichtern, Körbe auf dem Kopf tragen, sich mit getrockneter Paprika (äußerlich nicht sehr weit vom Zapfenmandl entfernt), Vogelfedern oder „Kettenhemden“ aus Bohnen oder Kürbiskernen schmücken und das Ende des Zuges bilden. Sie schreien, spielen verrückt und stehlen etwas von den Dorfbewohnern (geben es anschließend aber zurück), jagen und erschrecken die Kinder und belustigen das Volk.
Die erste Besonderheit ist der „Lauf ums Dorf“ – eben der Perchtenlauf, bei welchem die Kukeri jedem Dorfbewohner Glück und Gesundheit wünschen, deren Geschenke annehmen und anschließend das rituelle Pflügen und Säen durchführen (meistens am Marktplatz).
Die Vorbereitung der Kukeri, das Ankleiden und Maskieren erfolgt einen Tag vor dem Lauf an einem geheimen Ort außerhalb des Dorfes. Bei Sonnenaufgang marschieren sie los, geführt von dem Hauptkuker oder dem Großmütterchen, und besuchen jedes einzelne Haus, bevor sie mit dem eigentlichen Perchtenlauf beginnen.
Es gibt sehr viele magische und symbolische Rituale:
Das Brautpaar tritt in jedes Haus. Die Braut verbeugt sich, küsst die Hand des Hausherrn, gibt ihm ein Tuch, in das er ein Geschenk wickeln soll. Währenddessen nehmen die Kukeri einfach alles, was ihnen gegeben wird – Mehl, Käse, Lauch; und wenn sie einen „Esel“ haben, sprechen sie die berühmten Worte: „Lasst den Esel nicht lange schreien!“ Oft stehlen die Vogelscheuchen Eier aus dem Hühnerstall. Das Großmütterchen bettelt von Haus zu Haus um eine Gabe für ihr „Kind“. Daraufhin wird sie manchmal von den Bewohnern entführt und versteckt – das Entführen der Baba, die den Anfang der weiblichen Fruchtbarkeit symbolisiert und auch der „Vormund“ der Kukeri ist, bewirkt, dass nun alle Kukeri eifrig nach ihr suchen, und alles durcheinander schmeißen und schlagen, bis sie sie gefunden haben. Der Hauptkuker spricht seinen Segen für eine erfolgreiche Ernte und für niedrige Preise aller anderen landwirtschaftlichen Produkte (Wolle, Getreide, Wein, Mais). Manchmal hebt er Kinder in die Höhe und schlägt den Bewohnern auf den Buckel, auf das sie gesund bleiben durch das folgende Jahr. Die Bewohner geben den Kukeri Wein und beim Abschied vollführen diese einen runden Tanz mit wilden Sprüngen und schellenden Glocken, damit das Korn auch „hoch wächst“.
Manchmal besuchen die Kukeri alle zur Heirat bestimmten Frauen im Dorf. Diese Kukeri tragen nach oben spitz zulaufende Masken und Frauenröcke. Sie sprechen zu ihnen: „Gebt mir doch den Halbmond, hey!“ und die Meid muss dem Kuker – ihrem Auserwählten und Verlobten – einen Halbmond aus Zweigen umhängen.
Die Haratsharen fesseln Männer mit Ketten und fordern Lösegeld, um sie freizulassen; der Barbier „rasiert“; der Hauptkuker zeigt auf die Frauen mit seinem hölzernen Phallusstab und imitiert den Geschlechtsakt mit dem Großmütterchen.
Daraufhin versammeln sich alle Kukeri zum wilden und ohrenbetäubenden Tanz – Kukersko Horo.
Das Säen und Pflügen bildet dann den Höhepunkt der Kukerspiele.
Am Nachmittag, nach dem Lauf, strömt das gesamte Dorf unter dem Geläut der bunten und wilden Kukeri zum für dieses Ritual ausgesuchten Platz. Nun taucht der Tsar auf. Mit Verbeugungen und Huldigungen heben ihn die Kukeri auf einen geschmückten Wagen, den sie bis zum bestimmten Ritusplatz schieben. Für den Tsaren wird eine Tafel gedeckt, warmes Brot, gebratene Eier und Wein.
Danach „bespannt“ er die Kukeri mit dem Pflug und sie ziehen über den Acker. Dreimal ziehen die Kukeri zu stark an, damit der Tsar auf den Boden fällt, doch er richtet sich immer wieder auf.
Wenn der Tsar dann das rituelle Säen durchführt, versuchen die Kukeri ihn wieder zu Fall zu bringen und wieder richtet er sich mit den Worten auf: „Das winzigste Korn soll so sein wie ich – aus einem werden tausende!“, oder: „Soll Gott uns Glück geben, viel Korn und Kinder noch mehr!“. Auch fallen viele unverschämte aber segenvolle Sprüche über die Fruchtbarkeit der Frauen, auf das die Erde auch fruchtbar sei. Als er fertig ist, rollt er den leeren Saatbehälter auf den Boden – falls er nach oben offen ist, wird es eine gute Ernte geben. Dies verkündet auch der Hauptkuker mit donnernder Stimme.
Ein weiteres, weniger bekanntes Ritual ist das „Kamelspiel“ und das rituelle „Bad“. Der Hauptkuker führt zehn weitere an, Startsi, Djamali und Derwische. Hier wird das Pflügen und Säen nicht durch den Tsaren durchgeführt, sondern durch das „Kamel“ oder dem „Gehörnten“. Mehrere Männer tragen das riesige Gerüst (2m hoch und 6m lang), das mit Leder und Fellen und zahlreichen Glocken bedeckt ist. Man sieht also, dass die Kukeri sehr paradoxe Charaktere sind; sie sind zwar positive, glücksbringende Gestalten, jagen und “terrorisieren” aber die Dorfbewohner.
Die bulgarischen Perchtengewänder und –masken sind zoomorph-anthropomorph aus langem Ziegen oder Schafsfell. Die Maske stellt ein gehörntes Tier dar, mit bösen und sarkastischen, menschlichen Gesichtszügen. Die Perchten sind mit Stäben und Säbeln bewaffnet, manchmal auch mit Ketten. Oft tragen sie Martenitsi (rot-weiße Fransenbüschel), Mistelzweige und unzählige Glocken.
Das Ritual der Kukeri kann man in zwei Teilen gliedern:
Perchtenlauf (ums gesamte Dorf)
Rituelles Pflügen und Säen
Ganz selten wird auch das folgende Ritual in Zentralbulgarien (Kazanluk, Karlovo) durchgeführt: Während des Perchtenlaufes versucht ein als Pferd oder Esel verkleideter Mann die Frau oder Tochter eines Hauses zu stehlen. Der Mann oder Vater versucht den „Dieb“ abzuwehren, was den Sieg über Krankheiten, Tod oder Unglück symbolisieren soll.
Das Ende der Kukerspiele wird meistens am Sonntag, aber auch am Montag, am Pesi Ponedelnik, dem Hundemontag durchgeführt, um Tollwut und böse Geister abzuwehren – Hunde werde an Stöcken und Seilen emporgehoben und in der Luft gedreht.
Die andere Variante der maskierten Spiele und Traditionen sind die Survakari, die in der weihnachtlichen Zeit, in den Raunächten auftreten. Man kann sagen, dass eben nicht die Kukeri, sondern wohl eher die Survakari den alpinen Perchten entsprechen.
Die einzelnen Benennungen der Survakari sind:
Survaskare, Suroviskare, Vasilitshari, Startsi, Koledjane, Djamalare, Metshkari, Baburtsi, Eshkari.
Auf dem ersten Blick gibt es sehr viele Ähnlichkeiten zwischen den Kukeri und Survakari:

Die Charaktere (Starets, Dyado, Djamalar und Baba, die den Zug anführen)
Die Requisiten (Glocken, Ruten, Stäbe, Tierfelle)
Bei den Survakari, genauso wie bei den Kukeri, trägt der eine Teil der Teilnehmer Tiermasken. In manchen Fällen sind die Kostüme eine Mischung aus tierischen und vogelähnlichen Elementen. Auch hier sind die Teilnehmer bewaffnet (Phallus, Säbel, Keulen) und auch hier sind die Glocken das tragende rituelle Element. Doch bedeutend ist hier auch die Rolle der Surovkarka – ein langer Hirtenstab, auf dem Gaben wie Schinken, Wurst und Speck aufgespießt werden.
Die Spiele sind gekennzeichnet mit dem Lauf ums Dorf. Dieser beginnt immer um Mitternacht vor Weihnachten, Neujahr oder dem 6. Januar und endet erst nach 2-3 Tagen. Die Survakari versammeln sich im Haus ihres Anführers und beginnt ihren Lauf mit Rufen, Geschrei, Gebimmel und Gerassel. Gewöhnlich werden sie bereits in den anderen Häusern von den Einwohnern erwartet, doch wenn jemand nicht öffnet, kommen sie stürmend herein. Mit „Gott helfe“ begrüßen Sie den Hausherrn und lassen sich von den Mägden die Hände küssen. Oft albern sie herum und unterhalten das Volk, das Großmütterchen und der Dyado simulieren manchmal auch den Geschlechtsakt. Diese phallischen Andeutungen sind ein bedeutendes dionysisches/thrakisches Fruchtbarkeitssymbol. Danach singen sie Lieder für die Gesundheit und das Glück der gesamten Gemeinde. Die Hausherren laden sie daraufhin zum gemeinsamen Mahl ein. Die Survakari antworten dann oft: „Gut tust du daran!“, und: „Gott soll euch geben tausend Ochsen, tausend Schafe, tausend Ziegen, …etc.“.
Je nach Region treten einige Besonderheiten auf:
Die Djamalaren schmücken die Braut mit Kränzen, bringen sie zu Fall und springen einige Male über sie hinweg. Dann simuliert der Dyado oder ein Starets den Geschlechtsakt mit dem Riesenphallus, die restlichen Survakari stellen sich im Kreis auf, bellen, quietschen und wiehern.
In manchen Dörfern zünden die Survakari große Heubüschel an, um die Bienen und Pflanzen zu huldigen.
Sowohl die Survakari, als auch die Kukeri entspringen demselben dionysisch-thrakischen Fruchtbarkeitsideal.
Gefährlich wird es nur dann, wenn zwei oder mehrere maskierte Gruppen zu demselben Ritus in derselben Ortschaft zusammentreffen – das bringt Unglück, Pest, Dürre und Tod, deswegen ist eine genaue Koordination zwischen den einzelnen Gruppen sehr wichtig. Doch das Problem kann wie folgt gelöst werden:

Die beiden Gruppen tauschen Geschenke aus
Jede Gruppe versucht das Großmütterchen der Anderen zu entführen – dies hat in der Vergangenheit oft zu blutigen Schlägereien geführt.
Der äußerlich bedeutendste Unterschied sind die Masken der Survakari. Diese sind nicht oft keine Tiermasken, sondern eher der Fratzen der ländlichen Dämonologie oder folkloristische und reich verzierte und bunte Masken, teilweise mit hohem Gestelle, an dem verschiedenster Schmuck (Spiegel, Fransen, Tücher, Felle) befestigt ist. Die häufigste Erscheinungsform der Survakari ist, wenn sie gänzlich mit Tierfellen, deren Haare sehr lang und fransig sind, bekleidet sind. Dabei tragen sie keine Masken, das Gesicht ist mit Fell zugedeckt – es bleiben nur zwei Augenöffnungen, sowie die Silhouette der Nase. Diese Kostüme sind sehr hoch und spitz, kegelförmig.
Das wichtigste rituelle Merkmal der Survakari und somit der eigentliche Unterschied zu den Kukeri ist die Survatshka und das damit verbunden Ritual des Survakavane. Rutenbündel aus Zweigen, Heu und Stöcken, meistens werden Mispel, Apfelbaum, Weide oder Pappel bevorzugt, werden so geformt, dass eine Art Schläger entsteht – die Silhouette ist also gitarrenförmig. Diese Survatshka ist mit vielen folkloristischen Textilien, auch mit kleinen Glocken und Martenitsi, geschmückt – die Länge beträgt zwischen 40cm und 100cm. Die Surva, das zugehörige Ritual findet am 30. Oder 31. Dezember, also vor Neujahr statt. Nach jedem Hausbesuch klopfen die Survakari zum Abschied allen Hausbewohnern, und besonders den Kindern, mit der Survatshka leicht auf den Rücken und sprechen ihren Segen aus, damit er „gestärkt werde“. Dieses Ritual soll Gesundheit und Glück im neuen Jahr bringen.

Die Masken der Kukeri und Survakari sind der wahre Ausdruck folkloristischer Ästhetik, Volksdämonologie, Aberglaube und Spiritismus. Deswegen werden wir nun versuchen einige typische zoomorph-anthropologische Masken zu beschreiben.
Die Masken in Ost- und Südostthrakien werden Gugla, Kyulefa und Katshulka genannt – Ochse, Widder, Ziegenbock oder Vogelkopf (damit könnte der Schnabelpercht gemeint sein). Das Hauptmaterial sind Felle und Leder. Die Nase und Zunge sind oft ein roter Stoff oder einfach rote Paprika. Die Bärte und der Schnauzer (der schwarze/weiße Schnauzbart ist sehr üblich für die Balkanregion) sind aus Ziegenfell oder Rosshaar und auf dem Kopf werden Hörner befestigt. Manchmal werden auch die Gesichtszüge mit bunten Fransen, Büscheln, Perlen, Fäden und Knöpfen oder auch kleinen Spiegeln nachgestellt. Oft ragen zwischen den Hörnern trapezförmige Schirme in die Höhe, die auch mit allem möglichen folkloristischen Schmuck verziert werden.
Die Gugla aus Nordostbulgarien besteht aus zwei Teilen:
Der untere Teil bedeckt den Kopf – der obere sitzt auf dem unteren Teil. Letzterer besteht aus grobem Stoff oder Kaninchenfell, in das Öffnungen für Mund und Augen geschnitten werden; dazu eine lange Nase aus Karotten, Hörner aus Maisstengeln und ein Bart aus Ziegenfell oder Gockelfedern.
Auch die Startsi aus der Region Karlovo im Zentralbalkan weisen Besonderheit auf. Sie tragen die Katshulka oder den Obraz. Die erstere ist die mit Heu gestopfte spitz zulaufende Maske mit düsterer, bösartiger Physiognomie. Der Obraz hingegen stellt ein menschliches Gesicht dar; die Maske wird aus einem Drahtgestell gemacht, auf dem mit Farben und Fellen (manchmal auch Federn) das Gesicht stilisiert wird.
Die Region Sredna Gora zum Beispiel verzichtet fast gänzlich auf animalische Masken und setzt mehr auf anthropomorphe Züge.
Die Masken der Derwische und der Djumalen werden Kyulyaf genannt. Der Augenbereich ist brillenförmig, aus einem verschiedenen Stoffstück hergestellt, mit verschiedenen Fäden und anderem Schmuck brodiert. Die Derwische sind auch sonst an ihrem sehr zotteligen Fell gut erkennbar.
In Westbulgarien sind die Likove der Survakari sehr populär. Das sind breite, an Stecken und Latten aufgestellte Fächer/Flächen, auf denen Federn, Stofffetzen oder bunt angemalte Maisblätter angebracht sind.
Ganz besondere Verdienste hat Michail Arnaudov mit seiner ethnologischen und ethnographischen Arbeit hervorgetan. Er geht davon aus, dass die Maskentraditionen der Kukeri und Survakari, aber auch aller anderen Balkanländer, rein thrakischen Ursprungs ist, also das Fest des Dionyssios, des Gottes de Natur und Fruchtbarkeit. Die zeitliche Differenz der Kukeri und Survakari – Winter und Frühjahr – ist damit zu erklären, dass im heidnischen Kalender die Zeit von Weihnachten bis Ostern eine Einheit bildet und sich gänzlich den Freuden und Freiheiten des Volkes widmet.
Jeder dieser Perchtenriten hat eine direkte Verbindung zum Dionyssioskult:
Das Kukersche Ehepaar
Das Großmütterchen
Der phallische Ritus
Der „Tod“ des Tsaren und dessen „Wiedergeburt“
Auch die zoomorphen Masken und Kostüme können damit verbunden werden: die Tänze der Nymphen und Menaden und deren phallische Riten, das rituelle Säen und Pflügen als typischer dionysischer Brauch und der Tsar als Äquivalenz zum griechischen Vassilos, dem Zeremonienmeister der Akropolis. Diese thrakischen Einflüsse sind zwar entscheidend, bilden aber mit den späteren slawischen, altbulgarischen und byzantinischen Riten und Bräuchen die bulgarischen Perchtentraditionen, wobei noch unzähligen regionale Eigenheiten berücksichtigt werden müssen. Arnaudov glaubt auch, dass viele Besonderheiten und Details dieser Feste im Laufe der Jahre und der Christianisierung verloren gegangen sind.
Ein weiterer Ethnograph, Peter Petrov, ist der Begründer der These, dass die Kukeri und Survakari, unterschiedlichen Ursprungs sind. Die Survakari in Westbulgarien entsprechen der slawischen Komponente im bulgarischen Volkstum und werden mit der Jagd und Viehzucht verbunden. Wie bei den Slawen ist das Opferritual der Survakari sehr bedeutend: Nachdem die jungen Männer Tier oder Vögel erlegt haben, wird es mit dem gesamten Dorf gegessen – anschließend setzen die Jäger Masken, um für weiteres, erfolgreiches Jagen zu tanzen. Dagegen sind die Kukeri in Ostbulgarien ein altthrakisches, agrarisches Volkskarneval – eine Renaissance des Dionyssioskultes.
Andere sprechen wiederum hauptsächlich vom slawisch-heidnischen Veleskult. Der stierköpfige, gehörnte slawische Gott Veles tritt als heißblütiger, zorniger, jedoch gerechter Charakter auf, der sein Volk liebt und beschützt. Er ist sozusagen die Schutzgottheit der Bauern und Landbevölkerung. Er symbolisiert Fruchtbarkeit, Landwirtschaft, Erde, Ernte, ist aber vor allem Gott der Viehzucht. Da zahlreiche Kukeri Masken mit Hörnern tragen, könnte man dies auch als ein Symbol des Veles verstehen. Andererseits wird aber auch von manchen Ethnologen Veles mit Dionyssios gleichgesetzt.
Was zählt ist eine bedrohte Tradition zu erhalten, der Wunsch einer Perchtenrenaissance, wie in manchen alpinen Regionen, oder wie die litauischen Uzgavenes, nach einer Periode des kulturellen Zerfalls, nun wieder im Volkstum integriert und für die nächsten Generationen als kulturprägenden Folkloreschatz bewahrt.