Bulgarian Kukeri: Chasing away evil spirits

All countries and cultures have age-old, unusual traditions. In Bulgaria, one of the strangest and most mystical traditions is that of the Kukeri.

This annual ritual takes place in January, dates back thousands of years, and is meant to chase away evil spirits and demons. For this reason, it can be seen as somewhat scary as in order to chase the evil away, the ritual’s practitioners have to dress up in terrifying costumes. Traditionally, only men and young boys were allowed to wear these costumes and they were passed down from generation to generation. Nowadays, however, women and girls can also take part in the ritual.

The kukeri costumes are bizarre, scary, and beast-like. They are usually made out of fur or animal skins and have large, wooden masks. To make the masks as horrifying as possible, people use animal teeth, colourful yarn, horns, fur, and beads to decorate them. In addition to this, the kukeri place several extremely heavy bells around their waists: these bells make thunderous sounds as the ritual’s practitioners jump and dance. It is an equally terrifying and impressive sight as watching the kukeri move makes one wonder how they can possibly manage to jump around with such heavy weights and large costumes. Ultimately, the bells, masks, and costumes are intended to scare away all evil and protect families, homes, and villages from harm.

Photographer Aron Klein has taken breathtaking photographs of the ritual’s practitioners:

“I spent weeks on the road travelling rural Bulgaria exploring the villages and snow fields to capture portraits of the annual ritual’s practitioners. I have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in the Bulgarian mountains over the past four years and have fallen for the mysterious traditions of these tiny villages, steeped in their ancient folklore in this timeless and somewhat forgotten corner of Europe.”

Furthermore, The Bulgarian music duo DJ 89 has also taken a modern twist on the ritual. In the music video of their song ‘КУКЕР/KUKER’, one can see a creative and contemporary depiction of a kuker (in this case, a woman) fighting off evil spirits to save a man in chains:

DJ 89 – КУКЕР | KUKER [FUTURE FOLK] | BRATЯТА

While this is a special and unusual tradition which is unique to Bulgaria, there are other countries around the world which also practice similar rituals to chase away evil spirits. It is these age-old, ancient traditions which make people feel connected to their roots.

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