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

1 Kommentar:

  1. Hello ,

    I would like to add some info (important in my opinion) regard the topic of "European masked rites".
    I want to draw the attention on the romanian masked rituals and masks.They consist of three forms of manifestation.
    The first one takes place between the period of Christmas - New Year, there are two kinds of alegoric performings, one of them is called "The Bear" where the companions dance the bear and the bear dances around the participants(a individual which is dressed entirely in a bear suit) for the entertaining of the people and to emphasize the vigor of the Spring over Winter, during it`s play the bear dies and is reborn.
    The second winter ritual is called "The Goat", which is also a allegory of death and rebirth, happening near the New Year, it is associated with the death of the old year, and the birth of the new one.
    These two kinds of rituals are the most offen met.
    Another ritual which is no longer performed from which only the masks, as decorative items have been preserved, is a funeral ritual specific to Apuseni Mountains and Vrancea area - Moldova, which was performed during the wake, masked individuals with masks representing elders,demons,priests, death wore helping the dead person in the passing over.The ritual head a ludic character.
    Another important ritual that included a masked character and is to be found on the entire area of Romania and most offen in Oltenia is "Calusarii".The head of the pack of Calusarii is called "The Mute" which is a masked person who is the head of the pack.
    The original purpose of this ritual is a healing one.The entire pack is submitted to a silence wow.
    At this moment this ritual is performed only for entertaining.

    Kind regards,

    Daniel Mocanu