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The heART of Ritual


European Winter Solstice costumes; a ritualistic expression of Shapeshifting and Protection

These images of ritual and ceremonies from old indigenous customs in Europe from around the winter solstice, show a time when we were more deeply connected with nature, with the wild, the dark nights and ancient forests. A time before we killed most of our predators, before we chopped down the forests and managed the rivers, when there was mystery and danger in the wild places.

This was an older time, a time when our ancestors had to know their place and have a deep relationship with the rivers, forests, mountains, animals and oceans. To know what plants to eat and what was poisonous, to know how they behaved and where the predators were, to honour the spirits of a place was to get to know your landscape, to listen deeply to the land. This was survival.

In these images we can see a time when we had a relationship with animals which was much more present and in some ways honest than we do now in our daily lives. Maybe these old rituals and customs help us to connect us to the reality of life and death, of the great cycles of the seasons, maybe that way when we have a deeper connection with non human nature and the wild we might just start taking more care and appreciate the simple and everyday miracles that sustain our own lives.

Charles Fréger feeds a revival of interest in the savages, devils, straw men and hybrid figures who people the folk traditions of Europe and testify to humanity's need for myth.

In a recent interview, French photographer Charles Fréger revealed that he has always been fascinated by European tribal traditions. This fascination inspired him to travel all around Europe to capture images of people dressed in ritualistic costumes honoring the arrival of winter and other seasonal celebrations.

Fréger began his journey in Austria and to date has photographed stunning costumes and rituals from 18 European countries. According to Fréger there are many celebrations that mark the arrival of winter that take place in the Czech Republic and, say, Italy that are quite similar when it comes to the materials that are used to create the costumes. Such as the incorporation of animal pelts, branches from trees, horns and bells into the costumes. Though they may share similar appearances, the story behind each living piece of folklore varies from country and location. Here’s more from Fréger about why so many of these celebrations often involve a human masquerading as an animal:

It is not about being 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 daemon.

Fréger’s exploits with international folkloric entities are the subject of his gorgeous books, one of which I gifted my father for his birthday this year. Here are a selection of images from this book, entitled 'Wilder Mann - the image of the Savage'. Enjoy!


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