Join Bulgaria’s Masked Kukeri Dancers in Warding Off Evil Spirits
Photographer Aron Klein captures the dramatic costumes of Bulgaria’s Kukeri, a ritual used to dispel evil spirits and bring good fortune.
Every year in the middle of the harsh Bulgarian winter, gathering together are groups of costumed figures resembling terrifying beasts equipped with painted wooden masks, menacing jaws and claws, and covered in hair from head-to-toe.
Kukeri is an ancient pagan ritual practiced across the Balkan mountain regions annually, where local men wear carved wooden masks of the same monster and hang heavy bells around their waists as they dance and jump in arcane rituals intended to dispel the evil spirits, which might otherwise bring ill fortune to their local community. They spend the day embodying the fierce character, which also serves to purify place, bring health, harvest and fertility to the local community.
“I guess in our society, ceremony and ritual have ceased to be the part of the cultural practice, so I was really drawn to document a community that continues to value folklore and tradition.”
After working as a photographer for the Meadows in the Mountains music festival that takes place in the Rhodope Mountain range between Bulgaria and Greece, Klein admits he’s fallen madly in love with a somewhat forgotten corner of Europe. Equipped with charming villages that have seemingly been lost in time, steeped in ancient folklore and mysterious traditions, Klein says he wanted to capture “the subtleties of each character’s mythology, drawn from local folktales.”
The origins of the carnivalesque tradition date back over a millennia ago with many of the initial details too far back to even know. Once celebrated by young men as a coming-of-age ceremony, the annual ritual has evolved as the society around it has over the centuries, and it is now practiced by men and women of all ages.
Rituals like kukeri have a funny way of reminding about the simplicity and innocence of some of humanity’s forgotten ceremonies. “I guess in our society, ceremony and ritual have ceased to be the part of the cultural practice so I was really drawn to document a community that continues to value folklore and tradition,” Klein admits.
Serving to embody the bold artistry of the almost surreal costumes and glimpse into an ancient time and juxtaposed against the backdrop of a barren Bulgarian winter, Klein’s photographs force us to take a step back in perspective and appreciate the dramatically changing world around us. The result is a powerful series of images that stand alone and give us a genuine look into the magical folklore of Bulgaria.
Words by Braeden Alexander – Discover more of Klein’s exquisite photography here.