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"Another aspect of the vision quest is the encounter of demons.  Our demons are our own limitations, which shut us off from the realization of the ubiquity of the spirit.  And as each of these demons is conquered in a vision quest, the consciousness of the quester is enlarged, and more of the world is encompassed.  Basically the vision quest involves getting past your own limitations, which are within even as they appear to be without.  They are symbolized in myth as monsters and demons, and in each age the characteristics change; because as a people changes, so do its limitations.
--- Joseph Campbell 

Perhaps the most spectacular and ancient manifestation of Bulgarian folk culture are the Kukeri processions.  The dramatic huge masks and costumes reflect an ancient nature tradition honoring the cycles of life, death and rebirth. The revelers put much care into their a nightmarish costumes and can be found carrying flaming torches throughout the streets of Razlog, Sandanski, Pernik and Petrich on New Year's Eve and January 1. In Blagoevgrad the processions take place as early as December 25, while in Shiroka L毾a they don't appear until March.
Sourvaki: Who are those masked men?
The winter masquerade ritual tradition, most frequently called Sourvaki, is performed during the days between Christmas (December 25) and Epiphany (January 6). One of the most important elements is the tour of homes. Late after midnight,Download they set out on their round of the homes, tapping everybody on the back with decorated cornel twigs, with wishes for health, long life and success. Greeted homeowners are expected to meet and present gifts to the party of ritually initiated boys who are now men following their death and rebirth. The group can carry on many other activities such as mock weddings, mock sowing the town center, mock intercourse when a bride and groom are part of the procession and making the bear and camel dance.
Pre-Lenten Carnival in Bulgaria:

Kouker Festival & Mummers GAMES

FIRST SUNDAY BEFORE LENT (seven weeks before Easter).

The most widespread Kukeri tradition is in the early Spring which was also the time when the ancient New Year. The Sunday and Monday before the observed Lent are the main festival days.
Everybody makes his own personal mask - a proof of the skill and aesthetic feeling of each mummer. From the very dawn, a Koukeri band may begin their rounds of  walking around  homes. By means of various symbolic and ritual-magic actions, they are wishing health, land fertility and prosperity to the hosts. The dance of these masked men will brings blessings and fertility to the community.
Ritual fires are lit and the body can get stronger still if the person manages to jump over the fire calling upon nature to send away evil forces.

Pre-LENTEN Cheese Fasting:  Lent, known as Meat-fast Shrovetide, begins in the 6th week before Easter using the Gregorian Calendar of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The faithful also begin a semi-fast where they can eat dairy products and eggs but give up meat.  Monday is called Cheese-fast Shrovetide.
Sirni Zagovezni Shrove Sunday: the day for forgiveness
(also known as the First Sunday before the Lent)   The idea is to purify your spirit  by the act of forgiveness given and asked for. People use set phrases, such as “Forgive me, mother, ..father, ..” and “Let all be forgiven to you,.. God forgives” to ask and give their pardoning to their close ones.
Hamkane. It is performed in the eve – a peeled boiled egg or a piece of white halva is tied to a piece of thread hanging from a long pole. Then the thread is moved around in large circles and everyone around the feast table, especially the younger kids,  tries to catch the egg using their mouth only.

March 1st: The beginning of Spring and Bulgarian culture
The month of March according to Bulgarian folk belief marks the beginning of the springtime. Therefore the 1st day of March is a traditional holiday associated with sending off the winter and welcoming the spring. The tradition is that on the 1st of March and the days after all people give to each other very interesting strips or small wool dalls called Pigo and Penda, or as we call them Martenitzi. They bring the name of March, in Bulgarian Mart. The name Mart also stands for an angry old lady who changes her mood very rapidly. Her name is Grandma Marta, in Bulgarian Baba Marta. The "martenitza" is also an odd artistic image of nature. At that period of the year, nature is full of hopes and expectations. It also symbolized the purity of the white snow going away and the red settings of the sun becoming more and more intensive with the coming spring. These two natural resources are necessary for the life as well as the male and female spirits. The "martenitza" symbolized new life, conception, fertility, and spring. This holiday is for joy, health and long life
Trifon Zarezan
Trifon Zarezan  is celebrated during the first half of February when the vines are pruned and a "Vine King" is chosen to be crowned with a wreath of wine twigs. The vines are sprinkled with wine and ritual songs and dances are performed to insure fertility and a bountiful harvest.


Mask and Masquuerade from mysterious initiation to Carnival in Bulgaria  by Valeria Fol
 Takes a close look at the Koukers in the small village of Pavel Banja. One of 11 small communities in our global village examined by the well done book available at amazon

Carnaval! published Nov-2004
edited by Barbara Mauldin, curator of Latin American folk art at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe USA includes a well illustrated chapter from Southeastern Bulgaria of a ages old village pageant with many Dionysian characters

Nestinarstvo or Fire-dancing  is one of the most mysterious phenomena in Bulgarian history and folklore. May 21- the day of Saints Constantine and Elena -Nestinarstvo, or fire dancing; practitioners walk barefoot on hot coals. This custom is also considered very ancient
Bulgarian Kukeri traditions are explained as annual rites of nonliterary Orphism and date back to Thracian times and their  Dionysian festivities.

Bulgarians take considerable pride in their heritage and culture, which have been preserved despite centuries of foreign domination. They are particularly sensitive about Ottoman rule. Democracy has always been important to Bulgarians. In fact, the 1879 constitution was at the time one of the most progressive in Europe. People are interested in politics, both domestic and international, and try to be well-informed. Art and science are appreciated

Comparing DEMON Carnaval MASKS
Dominican Republic Images
More Strumicia Macedonia Carnival Images
Macedonia which together with Bulgaria and Greece synthesized earlier civilizations into the perennial wisdom which the great philosophers we know today have restated for us in words that which might be better expressed through song, dance and story.  Homer and  Socrates were oral while Plato and Pythagoras were among the first writers.  The Kukeri like these philosophies are inherently in tune with nature.
From FECC Headquarters
To: carnaval.com.do/
[official Dominican Republic web site]
With great interest I have observed your website and your devil masks. I was very impressed. In the Balkan countries Bulgaria, Macedonia, Slovenia, Austria and Croatia  you will see identical masks as well.
I know that in Bolivia and Peru you see a kind of these types of masks also.
The president of the San Domingo carnival Mr. Dagoberto Tejeda Ortiz has participated during our famous International annual FECC conventions as well.
We sincerely hope, that during our 24th FECC Convention under the patronage of the President of the Republic Bulgaria, His Excellency Mr. Georgi Parvanov (23-30th May 2004) that will take place in Sofia/Pernik.
Your Bulgarian colleagues like to meet you, and want to know every thing about your culture.
For program and registration form we advice you to consult our website:
Here you will find more information.
We look forward in hearing from you,
Warm Regards,
Henry F.M. van der Kroon

More at dominicanmasks.com

ORPHISM & the Kukeri

by Nikolai H. Chernev   n.chernev at usa.net

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 of Marmara.

The 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' Kingdom.

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. [1]

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 Greco-Turkish War.


 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
Download 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.Download

"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.

Act One.

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.

Act Two

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.


Customs & Traditions bv travelguide.bulgariantour.com

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