National Geographic : 2013 Apr
dancers. In Sardinia, Italy, goats, deer, boars, or bears may play the sac- rificial role. Throughout Austria, Krampus, the beastly counterpart to St. Nicholas, frightens naughty children. But everywhere there is the wild man. In France, he is l’Homme Sau- vage; in Germany, Wilder Mann; in Poland, Macidula is the clownish version. He dresses in animal skins or lichen or straw or tree branches. Half man and half beast, the wild man stands in for the complicated rela- tionship that human communities, especially rural ones, have with nature. The bear is the wild man’s close counterpart—in some legends the bear is his father. A beast that walks upright, the bear also hibernates in winter. The symbolic death and rebirth of hibernation herald the arrival of spring with all its plenty. For festival participants, says Fréger, “becoming a bear is a way to express the beast and a way to control the beast.” Traditionally the festivals are also a rite of passage for young men. Dressing in the garb of a bear or wild man is a way of “showing your power,” says Fréger. Heavy bells hang from many costumes to signal virility. The question is whether Europeans—civilized Europeans—believe that these rituals must be observed in order for the land, the livestock, and the people to be fertile. Do they really believe that costumes and rituals have the power to banish evil and end winter? “They all know they shouldn’t believe it,” says Gerald Creed, who has studied mask traditions in Bulgaria. Modern life tells them not to. But they remain open to the possibility that the old ways run deep. — Rachel Hartigan Shea SPain Juantramposo, a mischief-maker, appears on Mardi gras in alsasua. the festival ends with all the participants taking part in a celebratory dance.