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Kukeri from the region of Karlovo
A Kuker in Pernik
Kukeri in Razlog
Kukeri from Smolyan
Kukeri from Blagoevgrad
Kukeri from Gorna Vasilitsa, Sofia Province
Kukeri masks from the village of Zidarovo, Burgas
Kukeri masks from Pernik, near Sofia

Kukeri (Bulgarian: кукери; singular: kuker, кукер) are elaborately costumed Bulgarian men, who perform traditional rituals intended to scare away evil spirits. This Bulgarian tradition has been practiced since Thracian times and is of a Thracian origin.[1][unreliable source?][2][unreliable source?]

Closely related traditions are found throughout the Balkans and Greece (including Romania and the Pontus). The costumes cover most of the body and include decorated wooden masks of animals (sometimes double-faced) and large bells attached to the belt. Around New Year and before Lent, the kukeri walk and dance through villages to scare away evil spirits with their costumes and the sound of their bells. They are also believed to provide a good harvest, health, and happiness to the village during the year.

The kukeri traditionally visit peoples' houses at night so that "the sun would not catch them on the road."[citation needed] After parading around the village they usually gather at the village square to dance wildly and amuse the people. Kukeri rituals vary by region but remain largely the same in essence.

Kuker from the village of Kosharevo, Bulgaria


The custom is generally thought to be related to the Thracian Dionysos cult in the wider area of Thracia[3] and similar rituals can be also found in much of the Balkans.[4] The term could be derived from Proto-Slavic *kuka ("evil spirit") with the agentive suffix *-ařь (i.e. literally meaning a "chaser of evil spirits"),[5] or from a pre-Slavic divinity named Kuk.[3]

Another theory suggests the name kuker derived from Latin cuculla meaning "hood, cowl" or cucurum, "quiver" (i.e. in the sense of a container; an abbreviation of koukouros geros).,[6] though the practice pre-dates Roman rule by several centuries.

The corresponding figure in Greek-speaking Thrace is known as Kalogeros "rod-carrier", also shortened to cuci, in former Yugoslavia known as didi, didici, in Bulgaria as kuker or babushar, as momogeros in Pontic Anatolia, in North Macedonia it is known as "babari" or "mechkari". In Romania, this figure mostly appears together with a goat, known as capra, turca or brezaia.[7]


Kukeri is a divinity personifying fecundity. Sometimes in Bulgaria and Serbia it is a plural divinity. In Bulgaria, a ritual spectacle of spring (a sort of carnival) takes place after a scenario of folk theatre, in which Kuker's role is interpreted by a man attired in a sheep- or goat-pelt, wearing a horned mask and girded with a large wooden phallus. During the ritual, various physiological acts are interpreted, including the sexual act, as a symbol of the god's sacred marriage, while the symbolical wife, appearing pregnant, mimes the pains of giving birth. This ritual inaugurates the labors of the fields (ploughing, sowing) and is carried out with the participation of numerous allegorical personages, among which is the Emperor and his entourage.[4]


Capra comes from the Latin capra, meaning goat. A halo like head piece was worn as a crown to symbolize the spiritual divine realm while fur, feathers and other external body-parts of an animal attached to represent the natural world. The fact that nature has good and evil, and that humans are the intermediary between spirit and nature. It was a time to pay homage to the Spieth gods. Some cultures imbibed in human flesh to satiate the gods thirst for blood, as an act of solidarity for the gods.

Kukeri in the media[edit]

Kukeri or Kuker Warriors are some of the main characters in the epic fantasy animated series The Golden Apple, which is currently being developed by Studio Zmei. In it, young brothers Bran and Vlad have been trained as Kuker Warriors to fight evil spirits but they have to question what they have been taught when they are forced to team up with half-spirit Vihra and Samodiva-spirit Tina in order to protect their world.[8][9]

Kukeri are featured in the music video for the song "Fish on", by the industrial metal band Lindemann, and in the film Toni Erdmann, directed by Maren Ade.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Kukeri Tradition: How To Keep The Town Safe From Evil Spirits". 2020-01-15. Retrieved 2021-05-30.
  2. ^ "International Kukeri Festival in Pernik, Bulgaria". www.studyenglishtoday.net. Retrieved 2021-05-30.
  3. ^ a b Zlatkovskaia, T. D. (1968). "On the Origin of Certain Elements of the Kuker Ritual among the Bulgarians". Soviet Anthropology and Archeology. 7 (2): 33–46. doi:10.2753/AAE1061-1959070233. ISSN 0038-528X.
  4. ^ a b Kernbach, Victor (1989). Dicţionar de Mitologie Generală. București: Editura Ştiinţifică şi Enciclopedică. ISBN 973-29-0030-X.
  5. ^ Колева-Златева, Живка (2012): К этимологии болг. кукер (On the etymology of Bulg. kuker) (in Russian)
  6. ^ W. Puchner, Studien zur Volkskunde Südosteuropas und des mediterranen Raums, 2009, p. 180 fn. 32
  7. ^ W. Puchner, Studien zur Volkskunde Südosteuropas und des mediterranen Raums, 2009, p. 276.
  8. ^ https://goldenappleseries.com/
  9. ^ https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-golden-apple-animated-series-pilot-episode-fantasy-animation#/

External links[edit]