Birth of the Masks
Birth of the Masks
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Birth of Tragedy
Male Spirit
KUKERI:Thracian Origin
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Greek Dance
Greek Festivals
Cyprus Festivals
Masquerade Games of Bulgaria
Dionysus of Balkan Carnival

MASK of Positive Thinking: You are what you think. Only allowing yourself to think positive fantasies about yourself does really work to make yourself more attractive and attract positive energy

 Studies show being cheerful, even when troubled and amidst tragedy is healthier than wearing your "true self." Dionysus, patron saint of actors,  invites you to play a role that is in constant metamorphosis, changing with circumstances. This is how Dionysus can be worshipped everyday and not just special occasions like carnivals and theatre.
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  Masks have played an important part in the history of drama since the time of the ancient Greeks. They were originally used to allow the actors to clearly convey emotions such as anger, joy, or sorrow to the entire audience, and they made it easier for men to portray female characters.

Dionysus is best seen generally as the god of reversals, of the breaking of categories and of the reversal of norms. A mask serves this purpose very well.

Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter. 
--- Nietzsche

"There are women who, however you may search them, prove to have no content but are
purely masks. The man who associates with such almost spectral, necessarily unsatisfied beings
is to be commiserated with, yet it is precisely
they who are able to arouse the desire of the man
most strongly: he seeks for her soul -- and goes
on seeking."

from Nietzsche's Human, all too Human, s.405, R.J. Hollingdale transl 

"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 Pythagoras and Egyptian mysteries. KUKERI is a tremendous example of a Dionysian ritual
Women did not participate in these performances. Men wore masks to impersonate women.

Men were liable to military campaigns beyond the frontiers up to the age of fifty and might be called to defend the city wall until the age of sixty. By its jealous restriction of citizenship the polis limited its citizens in their choice of wives; its wealthy citizens were liable for special income taxes as well as 'liturgies'--public service could range from organization and financial responsibility for a dramatic performance to equipment and command of a warship.

There was a constellation of values and customs which included patriarchy, pederasty and male homosexuality as a norm, glorification of war and male athleticism, public male nudity and public display of sculpted phalluses, along with the almost complete exclusion of women from the public sphere. ... Maleness is the ideal, and to this core adhere the primary Greek values - self-control, order, clarity, rationality, civilization, struggle against nature, heroic glory, dominance in war. These were the values of manliness in ancient Greece, and other values and qualities, to the extent that they deviate from the idealized norm were pushed to the periphery, to the dark and spinning edge of the world. All that is foreign, all that is feminine, all that is wild and unrestrained; all these are coalesced into an idea of Otherness that forms a dark sea of chaos into which one must strive continually not to fall.

  The Ivied Rod: Gender and the Phallus in Dionysian Religion by Delia Morgan

Beneath the conformist, as Nietzsche insisted, there
lives the satyr. Comedy tears off the foolish mask of
conformity and indulges for a brief but relieving interval the equally foolish satyr. This catharsis yields an insight into the less respectable but ever present animal-like basis of the human being.

comic mask with tragic mask in background,
Roman, 2nd century CE
London, British Museum. Credits: Barbara McManus, 2001

 There were competitions in Comedy and by the end of the fifth century BC,  there were also added competitions in tragic composition as well which competed for prizes.

Thus it purges folly by means of folly and brings man and his milieu into an easier and perhaps more fruitful harmony. Comedy deprecates the traditional mores, and by means of this permissive irreverence it preserves them. Comedy, like tragedy, is a self-corrective action.

The patron saint of
actors or Thespians  

 Classical tragedy , the first "fictional" work, started with first performance under Pisistratus in 534 B.C. This means the artist was allowed to invent his own characters and story and not recite the exploits of heroes from an epic past. In short, through the artist, the audience member was able to construct their own individual consciousness. Dionysus asks you to jump in and play a role, which is not necessarily the hero. The impulse is to give the soul what it wants, fictions that heal.

Wearing a mask pays homage to Dionysus, the god of carnavals and masquerades, by allowing you to free yourself from secret desires and buried regrets. Dionysos is the god who regularly conceals both his identity and his power, as we all must do, in the course of polite everyday interaction with others.

He met the Phrygian goddess Cybele and was initiated into her rites, which cured him of his madness. The followers of Cybele, like the later followers of Dionysos himself, were given to wild drumming, dancing and orgiastic rites. Once cured, Dionysos himself gathered bands of ecstatic worshippers, and again went roving the earth, this time asserting his divinity in no uncertain terms as he sought to establish his own rites far and wide.

Dionysian revelry can be interpreted as a  type of mysticism, that by which the mysterious and impious presence of the divine enters human awareness of its own accord, an experience which the devotee may invite, but should not hope to control. The arrival of Dionysos with his musicians and dancers is the opportunity for an experience with the divine, if you welcome and honor the spirit and all is well. However if resistance persists, madness may ensue. In this way the instinctual, emotional and passionate makes itself master of the otherwise rational and orderly psyche.

Birth of Tragedy
As these festivals centered around Athens continued throughout time, poets raised the level of literary standard for the performers. They created set pieces of lyrics and choreography. Two poets recognized for major contributions are: Arion, who created a circular dance form performed around the altar of Dionysus, and Thespis, who introduced spoken verse to the dances and gave the leader of the chorus a feature role. Thespis gives us the word "thespian," or actor. The feature role in his works was called the answerer or the hypokrites. Tradition credits Thespis with being the first to present a tragedy at the Greater Dionysia sometime during the 61st Olympiad(536/5-533/2).
Ancient masks were made from clay, wood or linen with the attached wig covering the entire head and they had wide open mouths for easier speaking. The traditional "Comedy Tragedy" masks are used now as a universal symbol for drama, and also represent the two sides of Dionysus, as well as the two effects of wine: joyous, Bacchic revelry, and a dark, sorrowful harvest


In 534 BC, Persistrates established another spring festival in the city of Dionysia where the characteristic dance was the tragodia. This led to the second genre of poetry, tragedy, and the dance form called emmelia. This form evolved into a more dignified choric song and dance performance where three actors played multiple roles. The code of symbols used by the actors and dancers was very important. Through this gesticulative and mimetic action a trained dancer could tell an entire play without using any words.

The  highest state official or archon selected the poets and actors who competed for the prizes given at the Greater Dionysia, the religious festival that was the only time during which tragedy was performed. The poets were commissioned to write three original tragedies for this festival and one satyr play. According to the philosopher Aristotle, tragedy originated in the dithyramb and the satyr-play.

The judging for prizes was done by a panel of ten men, one from each of the ten Attic tribes. Each cast one ballot. The archon drew five at random which determined the winner Being a judge was a great honor and the judges were carefully scrutinized. On the last day of the competition, the comedies were performed.

By mid-fifth century, the competition portion of the festival lasted for three days and a proactive effort was made to get everyone in the community, including slaves and prisoners to participate. Dramas from Athens would later tour the country and were again performed at the winter's Rural Dionysia

KuKERI: The Thracian Origin of Dionysos  &
Europe's Oldest Festival Tradition

Early iconography of Dionysos shows him as a youthful adult with long hair, a beard, and foreign dress coming from Thrace. Thrace is the civilization between Greece and Asia Minor which is primarily Bulgaria today. The 'barbarian' mode of dress fit would have fit with his image as an exotic, imported deity. By the fifth century it was common for Dionysos to be portrayed as a beardless youth with long hair, naked except for a leopard skin cloak.
Cow bells, are carried buckled on the waists of the Kukeri and the skurvakari. The total weight of the bells a single kuker can carry is up to 60 kg. The mummers jump and dance to make the bells ring loudly to dispel the evil. The first bell ring sounds at sunrise on the so called 'Pesi ponedelnik' (Monday), when the Kukeri games start. The bells are called  chanovezvunzi, or khlopatari which means either cows' or sheep's bells.
Three centuries before Alexander the Great made his conquest of the Orient, Dionysus had made his conquest of Greece. Coming as an immigrant from Thrace, attended by satyrs and maenads, he took Greece by storm, and sometime between Homer and Phidias, he won a place for himself on Olympus and the patronage of the most renowned city-states in Greece.

Kukeri  are a pre-christian ritual to ensure the advent of Spring. Generally coming out at the New Year are  bands of men dressed in incredible costumes often made of amimal totems. The Kukeri are found in many EuropeanDownload  countries as far West as  Ireland. Every two years a gathering is held in mid-January in Pernik, Bulgaria where the Thracian culture first worshiped Dionysis. Some academics believe Kukari's are a living vestige of Dionysus, the once dominant diety of rebirth who preceded Greek culture. The International Fair of the Masquerade Games held every even year in Pernik, Bulgaria gathers together the kukeri traditions from throughout the Balkans and as far away as Ireland in January, the same month the groups play their ritual games in their home communities.

Mask of Dionysus Will be complemented by a thyrsos, here as the god's scepter, called a Torsi or Tirsi symbolizing the divine and the tsar's or Dionysus' power.  It is made up of grape bunches surrounding the spitted fir cone on the end of a stake. The entire superstructure of Dionysus represents the god's eyes, the Sun and the entity of man with Nature.

Satyr is well represented as a large hairy beast. The other parts of Dionysus of attendants  such as maenads and nymphs are much harder to spot in the generally the all-male portrayals

The Kukeri Tsar (Mummer's Tsar) is a key figure in the Kukeri band. He plays special role in the ritual start ploughing ' first he is being killed with a 'Krosno'(kind of cloth), serving as a rifle, and afterwards the Kukeri Tsar resurrects to represent the autumn ending of Nature and its awakening in the spring. The Tsar mask has human features, a rich 'Tsar' superstructure and a netlike shroud, which (in this case) replaces the original white cloth. The Tsar also carries a Kukeri sceptre.

The Torsi or Tirsi represent a fir cone spitted on a stake, symbolizing the divine and the tsar's power. This is the Kukeri sceptre that Dionysus caries on his shoulder.
The so called Klyunkove represent wooden hooks, by which the Kukeri men get a grip of each other when they play the horo (national round chain dance).
The Phallus, carved out of wood, with head painted in red, up to 50 cm in length is carried stuck in the girdle of the Kukeri Tsar, god Dionysus and the satyrs. It symbolized the fruitfulness, the life-giving forces. In the masks it is replaced by a corn cob.

Bilki (herbs) are necessary part of the Kukeri dancers' costumes. The herbs are used to send away the evil, illnesses and troubles. Popular herb attributes are onion, garlic, dried red hot peppers, goose-grass, sumac

Today it is uncommon for Bulgarians to refer to their best known festival tradition as Dionysian. However, the deities successor, Orpheus is held in high esteem throughout the country as is his birthplace in the Rodophes mountains which pass through both Greece and Bulgaria.

"Dionysus is not the god behind the mask. He is the mask."
---Ginette Paris
Comedy -[pre history]
involves the failure to live up to an accepted standard, a failure which usually elicits a smiling or laughing reaction. Aristotle's explanation of the birth of comedy was not nearly as satisfying as his counterpart for trajedy; he wrote it that the recorded lineage of comic action goes back to the Margites (ca. 9th century B.C.).
Aristotle makes reference to comic plays enacted in fifth-century Megara.
There are other early evidences of comic mimes who, in their little dramas, poked fun at mythological characters or at self-important citizens. Aristotle claims that the origin of comedy can be traced to those who lead off the phallic songs (phallika). The phallic procession to a cult center, followed by a sacrifice, was a common feature of Dionysiac celebrations in the Greek countryside. These processions were characterized by obscenities and verbal abuse.
Another ancient author, Semos of Deos, writes of phallus-carriers who made fun of their audience.
Six men are carrying a  large figure riding a thick phallus pole. This larger man is the performing komast. They are likely a procession of drunken partygoers behaving as you would expect at a Carnaval. Komos is the original root for the word comedy.
The earliest Greek format for comedy was called the kordax and was very unsophisticated and vulgar. As it evolved, it became more standardized and actually included a plot. By the 6th century BC, satire developed. They were short plays written in verse that burlesqued mythological themes. There was a characteristic dance include in this format, too: the sikinis which was performed one or more times during the play.
 Chorus: At the festivals the myths  were danced and sung by a  group of singers and dancers called a chorus at festivals in honour of Dionysius. At first these presentations were satyric in nature with plenty of gaiety, drinking, burlesque and so on. As time passed the sung and danced myths developed a more serious form. Instead of gaiety and burlesque they became plays which dealt with the relationship of man and the Gods, and tried to illustrate some particular aspect of life.

The chorus  changed in number from 50 to 12 to finally increased to 15 by Sophocles.

The chorus dressed in goat skins as the goat was sacred to Dionysius and goats were prizes which were awarded for the best plays. The word tragedy itself is believed to be derived from the Greek word "tragoidia" which means 'goat-song'.

At some point the speaker and the leader of the chorus began to address each other and we have the beginning of dialogue.

The chorus wore identical costumes, with no masks.
They entered after the prologue, an opening scene, singing the parodos, a special song composed in a marching rhythm and remain present throughout the play as witnesses. Periodically, the dialogue is suspended and the chorus sing and dance as a troupe.

Destruction: "No single Greek god even approaches Dionysus in the horror of his epithets, which bear witness to a savagery which is absolutely without mercy. In fact, one must evoke the memory of the monstrous horror of eternal darkness to find anything at all comparable …. The terrors of destruction, which make all of life tremble, belong also as horrible desires, to the kingdom of Dionysus.
 Walter F. Otto
Though many poets composed tragedies during this time, the examples that have come down to us were the work of only three men: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes.  According to Aristotle, "Aeschylus first introduced a second actor; he diminished the importance of the Chorus, and assigned the leading part to the dialogue. Sophocles raised the number of actors to three, and added scene-painting. Moreover, it was not till late that the short plot was discarded for one of greater compass, and the grotesque diction of the earlier satyric form for the stately manner of Tragedy."
After the creative competitions were concluded, bulls were sacrificed, and a feast was held for all the citizens of Athens. A second, wilder procession, called the komos, took place.


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