|ORPHISM & the Kukeri
by Nikolai H. Chernev n.chernev
|Thrace (Greek Θρᾴκη Thr嫜ē,
Bulgarian Тракия Trakija, Turkish Trakya) is a historical and
geographic area in southeast Europe spread over southern
Bulgaria, northeastern Greece, and European Turkey. Thrace
borders on three seas: the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Sea
indigenous population of Thrace was an Indo-European people
called Thracians. Divided into separate tribes, the Thracians
did not manage to form a lasting political organization until
the Odrysian state was founded in the 4th century BC.
The Thracians fell early under the cultural influence of the
ancient Greeks, preserving till a much later time, however,
their language and culture. It also appears from mythological
accounts that the Thracians influenced Greek culture from a very
early period, with some Thracians even appearing as
culture-bearers in some myths.
Thrace south of the Danube (except for the land of the Bessi)
was ruled for nearly half a century by the Persians under Darius
the Great who conducted an expedition into the region from 513
BC to 512 BC.
Before the rise of the Macedon Kingdom, Thrace was divided into
three camps (East, Central, and West) after the withdrawl of the
Persians. A notable ruler of the East Thracians was the overking
Kersobleptas, who on many times tried to unify the Thracian
tribes, become a Satrap of Persia, and conquer Greece. He was
eventually defeated, ending the aim of a purely 'Thracian'
The region was conquered by Philip II of Macedon in the 4th
century BC and was ruled by the kingdom of Macedon for a century
and a half.
In 279 BC, Celts advanced into Macedonia, Greece and Thrace.
They were soon forced out of Macedonia and Greece, but they
remained in Thrace until the end of the century. From Thrace,
three Celtic tribes advanced into Anatolia and formed a new
kingdom called Galatia.
Following the Third Macedonian War, Thracia came to acknowledge
Roman authority. The client state of Thracia was comprised of
several different tribes. 
After Roimitalkes III of the Thracian Kingdom of Sapes was
murdered in AD 46, the Roman client state was abolished and
direct Roman rule began; however, Romanization was not attempted
in the Roman province of Thracia. It is considered that most of
the Thracians were Hellenized in these times.
The successor of the Roman Empire in the Balkans, the Byzantine
Empire, retained control over Thrace until the beginning of the
9th century when most of the region was incorporated into
Bulgaria. Byzantium regained Thrace in 972 only to lose it again
to the Bulgarians at the end of the 12th century. Throughout the
13th century and the first half of the 14th century, the region
oscillated between Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire. In 1352,
the Ottoman Turks conducted their first incursion into the
region subduing it completely within a matter of two decades and
ruling over it for five centuries.
In 1878, most of Thrace was incorporated into the
semi-autonomous Ottoman province of Eastern Rumelia, which
united with Bulgaria in 1885. The rest of Thrace was divided
between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey at the beginning of the 20th
century, following the Balkan Wars, World War I and the
Plato says (Rep. 364e) that Orpheus was one of the inventors of Magic and
in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (Edinburgh, 1967, vol. VIII,
275a) we read: "...But Thracian magic, as Hubert warns us, was really
another name for Orphic magic. Orphism itself was not essentially magic;
on the contrary, it was not only a religious movement, but a religious
movement of the most momentous
importance in the spiritual development
of classical Antiquity and ultimately of the entire Western world".
As Arcanoi know, Dionysus was a Thracian
God and from his mysteries originated Greek drama (Arist., Poet., ch.
IV) and comedy (see more in Ridgeway, W. The Origin of Tragedy.
Cambridge 1910, pp. 16 ff.; Cornford, F.M. The Origin of Attic Comedy.
London 1914, pp. 62 ff.). As Plutarchus says (De cupidit. divit., 8)
carnivals in honor of Dionysus included phallic images and songs.
"Here their practice resembles the
rites called Orphic and Bacchic, but which are in reality Egyptian and
Pythagorean..." This fragment from Herodotus (Hist.2, 81) shows direct
interpenetration of Orphism and Dionysian rituals based on the link
between the teachings of Pythagore and Egyptian mysteries. KUKERI is a
perfect example of a Dionysian ritual (see more in Dawkins, RW, The
Modern Carnival in Thrace and the Cult of Dionysus, In: Journal of
Hellenic Studies XXVI, 1906, 191-206; Frazer, JG, The Golden Bough, P.
V, v. I, London, 1912, 25). Only to remind you, Osiris was the son of
the supreme God Ra and Nut born on the fifth day before the new year (In
order for Nut to become pregnant out of the 360 days cycle prohibited by
Ra, Thot took those 5 days from the Lunar cycle, now 355 days, and added
them to 12x30 in order to obtain the Solar cycle of 365 days. These days
are a symbol of Sin/the chthonic principle); on the other hand Dionysus
was the son of Zeus and the mortal Semela; Jesus was the son of Yahve
and the mortal Mariam, born 5 days before the new year. Imitation of
murdering is an integral part of a Kukeri carnival, showing the death
and rebirth of Dionysus, or Osiris, or Orpheus, or other - the same
Kukeri ritual is also performed during Christmas, which is not only the
birth of Jesus, but the day from which the Sun starts its elevation in
the sky, interpreted as a cycle of birth-death-rebirth.
The esoteric meaning in KUKERI (as a
typical Dionysian ritual) is partly that through a prayer to the God of
vegetation together with magical operations there may be obtained a
sympathetic influence over Nature using the energy of phallic dances
performed within orgiastic rites as well as in the final act of plowing
and sowing (which is the same through the direct magical connection
phallus-plow / vagina-earth / semen-grain) in order to increase
fertility. The importance of this rite in Bulgaria was still
considerable by the end of the XIX c. which may be deducted from the
fact that fights between two different Kukeri groups from neighbor
villages often resulted in real, not imitative murders.
The esoteric part of the KUKERI ritual
consists of two Acts, performed on Shrove Monday or around Christmas by
men only (remember about Greek drama and comedy?)
Dyado (grand father in
Bulgarian) - the old Kuker Baba (grand mother in Bulgarian) - his
wife Momak (young man) - the young Kuker Moma (young
woman) - his future wife Kukeri - protectors of the Moma
and the Tzar, collectors of taxes and offerings, soldiers etc.
Tzar - elected by the Kukeri Doctor Judge Priest Barber etc.
The Kukeri groups tour the village. The
Dyado and the Momak are dressed in goatskin or sheepskin, carrying
wooden phalluses, with bells around the waist. The Baba and the Moma are
dressed in old rags, carrying a baby doll (or a living cat). The Kukeri
are dressed much like the Dyado and the Momak, with different terrible
masks, carrying wooden sabres resembling phalluses, bows and arrows with
ash. The Barber has a brush with pig hair, he runs after and "shaves"
everybody, he even climbs on trees. The Kukeri and the rest perform
phallic sketches and dances in every house of the village. They tease
the Moma, the Momak defends her, gets "wounded" or even "killed". The
Moma calls for the Doctor and the Judge. They get married by a strange
Priest. The Kukeri collect offerings and "taxes" - mainly food, and pray
for a good crop and for many children. Those who do not "pay enough" may
"get shot" by the ash arrows, sabres or otherwise.
The Kukeri groups gather together with
the peasants on the central square. The Kukeri had previously elected a
Tzar (King) having a white woolen barb and tin "medals" and carrying a
plow and a bushel. The Kukeri feed the Tzar with 3 mouthfuls of bread.
All the Kukeri group is yoked an the Tzar begins plowing and throwing
different grains from the bushel and praying. After he has finished the
third furrow, he rolls the bushel and by its movement the Tzar makes
prophecies for the crop and new children. After that he is "killed" and
the Kukeri group gathers to resuscitate him. The Tzar lives and the Moma
/ the Baba (got pregnant during Act One) bring forth a child (baby doll
or a living cat). A feast is then organized with the food offered and
the rest is given to the country school, church etc.