Bulgaria organizes exorcism festival

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Bulgarians have a special tradition every winter. Men, women, and children spent days crafting a variety of sometimes bizarre costumes, complete with masks designed to be as creepy as possible. They are preparing to revive the long-standing annual carnival.

The residents of the village of Cherna Gora in the mountainous region of Batanovsi, Bulgaria, were among those who never missed the carnival. For them, carnival, which is part of the Surva Festival, is an activity they always look forward to. On Thursday night (13/1) they took to the streets to carry out activities to exorcise evil spirits.

Among those who enthusiastically attended the carnival was Valentina Marinova, a resident of the village of Cherna Gora.

Dancers carry torches as they perform an ancient ritual to exorcise evil spirits on the streets of Batanovci, Bulgaria on Thursday night, January 13, 2022.

“The clothes I wear today are for expelling evil spirits and forces and for health. We offer different characters. There are bride, groom, father-in-law, mother-in-law. We also do various scenes such as weddings. or fights,” he said.

At the carnival, participants in strange costumes were called kueri. They danced in the streets, around bonfires and in people’s homes, loudly ringing copper bells in hopes of bringing health and fertility ahead of the coming spring.

Usually the procession would pass through the village and stop by every house where the host would offer them some snacks and small gifts. However, due to various restrictions related to the pandemic, dancers are only allowed to play on the streets this year.

A masked dancer performs an ancient ritual to exorcise evil spirits on the streets of Batanovci, Bulgaria, on the night of Thursday, January 13, 2022.

A masked dancer performs an ancient ritual to exorcise evil spirits on the streets of Batanovci, Bulgaria, on the night of Thursday, January 13, 2022.

The costumes they wear are usually made of sheep or goat skin, with fur on the outside and a rattle at the waist. Masks are usually made of wood and depict goats, rams or bulls, or another animal often mythologized as evil creatures.

It is seen that some masks have two faces, bad in the front and good in the back, symbolizing the relationship between good and evil.

Previously, only adult men could attend the carnival. Not surprisingly, the female figure in this carnival is also sometimes played by a male. Over time, women are finally allowed to join this decades-old tradition. Now, even children are rarely involved.

The biggest carnivals are usually held in Pernik, which hosts the International Surva Festival. However, the event, which usually invites foreign tourists, was canceled for the third time in a row. Cancellations due to the water crisis that hit the city in 2020, cancellations in the next two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Similar rituals dating back to spring are also held in many other countries in the Balkans, including Romania and Serbia. [ab/uh]

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