by Dimo Dimov
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 blessings 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 Kurentiin 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