The Mystical Kukeri: Bulgaria’s Guardians

Need to get rid of some evil spirits? Bulgarians have an ancient and mystical tradition which helps them keeping these bad fellas away. Every last weekend of January, people gather in various parts of the country to perform a magical ritual that dates back millennia.

This is known as the Surva Festival, most characteristic of the city of Pernik, where people dress in sheepskin and wooden masks, as the Kukeri, to drive back to the forest all illnesses. The name kuker has been derived from Latin cuculla meaning “hood, cowl” or cucurum, “quiver” (i.e. in the sense of a container; an abbreviation of koukouros geros).

 

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The Myth Behind

Legend says that hundreds of years ago, the land was plagued with evil spirits, which tormented people undisturbed, these demons were led by the most terrible of all creatures: Chuma, the plague. Living was a constant state of despair, and no one knew how to solve the issue. But one day, mythical creatures known as the Samodivi water nymphs felt too sorry for us humans and decided to help… in their own way. The animation The Golden Apple explains it in a lovely way:

The Magic Bells

Not only it is visually appealing, but most of the attractiveness of the festival also comes from the sounds it creates. Since the legend states that the Kukeris magic bells are responsible for driving the evil spirits into the woods, to this day the same bells are used and can be heard all over the city.

 

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Living Tradition

The Surva festival is still alive after centuries, surviving many wars, occupations and the Christianization of Bulgaria. It is the pure expression of the culture of a people who suffered greatly throughout history but managed to keep their sense of identity. Definitely worth seeing with your own eyes.

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