Thursday, January 19, 2006

Happy Kukeri

It's about that time for the Bulgarian ritual of Kukeri, where participants dress in animal skin and fright masks to scare away evil spirits and ghosts... not at all unlike the western Hallowe'en festival. In the rural villages of Bulgaria, this is an important ritual, carried forward from the Thracians. They dance in the last days of winter, just before nature comes back to life... a prayer to the god of vegetation. The participants are male only, dressed in sheepskin garments and wearing scary masks and chanove (copper bells) on their belts, dancing and singing chants, with the intention of scaring away the evil spirits that are believed to come back to the world of the living in winter. It's a sexy little celebration... phallic, 'horned' dances performed within orgiastic rites, culminating in the final act of plowing and sowing in order to increase fertility. As recently as the end of the 19th century, the Kukeri was considered so important, so serious, that fights between two different Kukeri groups from neighboring villages often resulted in actual (as opposed to the traditionally ritualised) murders! Bulgaria has a very rich, unique folklore tradition... this site covers a little of it. I really dig the Vampir-platenik, the Bulgarian vampire that has no bones or flesh-- only of skin full of blood. In a modern book for children, it is described in the following picturesque way: "In the thorn-bushes near the graveyard a skin is squatting - with short legs, small claw feet, black holes instead of eyes, with a bony nose and iron teeth. The skin is full of blood, it is a vampire."