You might not know it, but we’re in the middle of pagan ritual season! Every year from December until Easter, people from every country in Europe partake in pagan rituals in order to honor the planet’s annual cycle of death and rebirth.
Several years ago Charles Fréger set out to document the many costumes used all over Europe for pagan rituals, visiting 18 countries on his journey to pin down the archetype of the “Wild Man” that transcends any one culture. The pictures were then collected in a marvelous book called Wilder Mann. The costumes he found resemble something out of commedia dell’arte or Día de los Muertos, only far deeper and far stranger. They clearly represent the devil, billy goats, wild boars, and bizarre conflagrations thereof, using all manner of masks, straw, horns, pine twigs, antlers, bells, fur, and bones.
As it happens, I’ve attended pagan rituals myself, in rural Austria, and I’ve met men who work on their intricate, large, wooden Krampus masks all year long in preparation for the fantastical Krampus “performance” in early December. I mention this as a prelude to explaining that (in my opinion) telling the difference between some authentic pagan belief and just people partaking in a fun pastime isn’t a straightforward proposition. It isn’t that such people are necessarily undertaking such rituals in order appease the earth goddess Erda and improve next year’s crop yield or anything like that, but at the same time I think that participants and spectators alike would agree that everyone is getting something necessary out of it, something communal, something emotional.
Of the project, Fréger says, “‘It is not about been possessed by a spirit but it is about jumping voluntarily in the skin of an animal. You decide to become something else. You chose to become an animal, which is more exciting than being possessed by a demon.”
Enjoy these remarkable pictures.
Here’s some interesting footage of Fréger setting up a shoot of a Macedonian folk character.