I spotted an article in The New Yorker magazine last week about a fascinating documentary by Killian Lassablière. Why am I sharing this you may ask? Because he portrayed the tradition of the Kukeri. This is one of the Bulgarian rituals that have fascinated me since childhood. I have memories of seeing the masks, the sound of the chimes and bells, and the flaming torches. It’s difficult to depict with words. You need to be there to see and feel the power.
This is why I include the ritual in my book Mystical Emona and also have Kukeri as characters in the Dragon Village series. These Kukeri, Jega, Mraz, and Zima, are depicted as powerful protectors, who use their magical abilities to ward off evil forces and ensure the safety of their village. They are closely connected to nature and the cycles of the seasons.
The Kukeri ritual is usually performed in the winter months, particularly around the winter solstice and New Year’s. The performers wear elaborate costumes that are often made of sheepskin or other animal furs and decorated with colorful ribbons, bells, and masks. The masks can be made of wood or leather and are carved to resemble animals, demons, or other mythical creatures. Some masks are also adorned with real animal horns or antlers.
The dance is traditionally performed by men, but in these more modern times, females also participate. The ceremony begins when the participants gather in a central location, such as a village square or a churchyard. The Kukeri dance through the streets, making loud noises with the bells that surround their waist and with other instruments. As they dance, they chant and sing songs to drive away evil spirits and bring good luck and prosperity to their community.
The Kukeri ritual is deeply rooted in Bulgarian folklore and mythology. The costumes and masks the performers wear have symbolic meanings that are connected to ancient pagan beliefs. For example, the animal furs represent the power of nature, while the masks represent the spirits of the ancestors and other supernatural beings.
This ancient tradition has inspired many artists and filmmakers over the years. The short film I mentioned above that was published by The New Yorker magazine, for example, features stunning footage of the Kukeri performers in action. The film also highlights the importance of preserving this ancient tradition for future generations.
As you may know, my books are inspired by Slavic and Bulgarian mythology and folklore. My latest project is no different. It is inspired by magical healing trees that possess the power to cure even the direst of illnesses. Mystical creatures like nymphs protect the trees and dance around them, casting spells and performing healing rituals. Others believe that gods, spirits, or saints protect the trees. If you’re ready to experience the magic of the forest like never before, please visit our project.