Where the Wild Things (Still) Are
The following article originally appeared on The Main Point.
In the second half of the last bloody century, a new model for rational man emerged... or so we were told. With the ever-increasing union of the former nation states of Europe the peoples on this continent would transcend national identity. International conflicts would be decided by law rather than war, and armies could be mostly disbanded leaving only rump forces for the purpose of humanitarian and peace-keeping operations. Not only would war crimes be prosecuted at the Hague but a new body of law would be developed outlining "crimes against peace." The European Union would ensure free movement of people across borders and goods across markets. The EU would enforce a maximum 35 hour work week. Death would be optional.
Okay maybe no one actually claimed this last, but in 1992 Francis Fukuyama argued that "history had ended."
Meanwhile, the Spanish banking system is right now creaking, and Greece is falling apart and will soon likely be dropped from the Eurozone. The late twentieth century Eurocrat vision of a paradise for rational man is in some doubt.
Somehow apropos of this, last month, during a flight from Mexico back to London I picked up a copy of British Airways' High Life magazine and was struck by a portfolio of bizarre photos by Charles Fréger. This Frenchman had spent two years in remote pockets of Europe documenting the costumes of contemporary masked participants in ancient festivals in Europe.
"Hirsute and horny," as the accompanying article explains, these were no New Age dabblers. Gaze upon them. It's not that paganism is making a comeback in Europe, but that in certain corners it apparently never went away. Fréger's subjects were reclusive, and with the aid of ethnologists and translators he spent years conducting "granular research of the phenomenon, visiting remote pockets in eighteen European countries, from France to Finland, from Sardinia to Slovenia."
"Celebrating life and death, fertility and the cycle of the seasons, these masquerades were mainly captured by Fréger in the winter and spring, during key moments in the pagan calendar, such as solstices and equinoxes."
"Once disguised, the men often channel the creature they represent, be it a boar or goat or bear, the symbol of fertility."
"In one memorable encounter, Fréger embedded with the Mechkari (bears) in Macedonia. After three sleepless days wearing heavy animal skins and masks, dancing and drinking spirits, the men became, says Fréger, 'twisted in the mind'.
" The High Life "Wilder Mann" feature, with text by Lucy Perceval, may be found HERE.
Charles Fréger's website is HERE.
His book, Wilder Mann: The Image of the Savage (£25, Dewi Lewis), is out this month, with information HERE.