The Rituals of Bulgarian Wildmen


Rituals of the Bulgarian

Wild Men

The Pagan traditions of the Bulgarian Wild Men (Babugeri or Kukeri) frighten away evil spirits with the haunt of human wilderness.

Bears, devils, weird forest creatures - the wild men, or Kukeri, of Europe invoke the spirit of the wild to excite the fear of evil onlookers and chase away bad spirits.

The Wild Men dance in ritual, sounding a cacophony of invocations, steer horns, and stag bells.

The full-bodied costumes include pelts, ash, decorated wooden masks of animals (sometimes two-faced) and large bells attached to the belt. Between Yule and Lent, the Kukeri parade through the local community to frighten evil spirits with their wildling sounds and sites. The rituals ensure good harvest, health, and happiness throughout the growing season.

Locals may be visited by the Kukeri at night. Hospitality is appropriate. A Kukeri visit is a boon. After parading through the village, they amass in the square for a crescendo of entertainment and one final ritual dance off with the local spirits of malaise. Kukeri rituals vary by region but remain largely the same in essence.

Photo Credits: Charles Freger

While rituals predate Christianity, the Pagan practices are conducted before lent. The head-to-toe costuming provides anonymity for the men to straddle dualities like death and birth, civilized and wild, material and spiritual.

Our need to both express the beast and control the beast is honored through and through.