Ritual zoomorphism in medieval and modern European folklore: some sceptical remarks on a possible connection with a hypothetical Eurasian shamanism

Source document: Religio. 2017, vol. 25, iss. 1, pp. [3]-24
  • ISSN
    1210-3640 (print)
    2336-4475 (online)
License: Not specified license
An interesting ritual motif can be studied transversally in European areas in a period of time that goes roughly from antiquity to modern times. This ritual motif is the performances of men disguised as – and acting like – animals at certain times of the year. In the past, these performances did not usually occur during official celebrations, but rather during popular festivals like Carnivals, and were normally considered "pagan" or "vulgar" or, more recently, "folkloric". For centuries, these ritual or pseudo-ritual practices were harshly criticised – if not openly discouraged or even forbidden – by representatives of the different societal hierarchies, and especially by the clergy. In this article, I present a short overview of the rather diverse interpretations that have led to possible proposed connections between these performances and rituals and a hypothetical Eurasian "shamanic substratum" which would constitute their cultural matrix. In so doing, I also suggest that different conclusions can be drawn from these observations on this and other related topics.