ADIEU WINTER (Satis Shroff)
It was 8 am on a snowy Monday morning. There were hundreds of motley clad and colored spectators stomping their cold feet, all waiting for the boisterous merrymaking (Narrensprung) at the Old Town of Endingen (Kaiserstuhl), with 3500 costumed Narren from five countries. Among the Swabian-Allemanic figures were also masked guests from Belgium, Switzerland, Venezuela and Italy (the Ballerini of Bogolino from Lombardy).
On this cold, wintry morning the ghoulish, tragic-comical figures of Swabian-Allemanic origin were underway to drive away the chilly, unfriendly, bitter winter with much noise and ado. And there were 1,468 of them. There they came all 3500 of them. Rows of toddlers and grown-ups, men and women in yellow and scarlet dresses with big cow-bells hanging from their shoulder-straps, and red roses and black-painted beards. Each had a small basket filled with bon-bons, sweets and chocolates which they strew to the public who greeted them with: Narri, Narro! The costumed Narren, as they are called in Germany, were preceded by the eleven elders of the town. In Nepal, the five-village elders in every hamlet were called the panchas, and the Hindu Panchayat government was toppled in 1990 after a democratic struggle.
The other masked figures were: the cute Hansele, the lame Schantle, Grottagoscha and the witches, whom you could recognize from the masks they were wearing and the notorious broom-sticks with which they d provoke you. The oldest characters of Fasnet were the Narro of Villingen, the Hansel from Donaueschingen, H|fingen and Brdunlingen. The Spdttlhansel from Wolfach carried a tin-larve, with a moveable lower jaw. Almost all the Narren carried attributes such as bells, pig’s bladder, poles or mirrors. They came with pomp, music, tomfoolery and their characteristic movements, distributing sweets, oranges, brezeln (salty-bread), sausages and dry humor.
The word Fasnet is derived from two words and ‘fas’ means growth, fruit, juice, and ‘net’ or ‘nacht’ can be traced back to the Roman story-writer Titus, who wrote in the eleventh piece of Germania…”they don’t even count like us, in days, but in nights…the night is manifested as the harbinger of day.” The Fasnet in south-west Germany and Northern Switzerland is a very old tradition, which dates back to old Rome, begins on the 6th of January and ends on Thursday (Schmotz’ge Dunnschdig). Schmotzig is a synonym for ‘fat’ and in these days the Germans bake tasty cakes called Schmalzgebdck. Back in 1903 seven masked figures took part in the Narrensprung, as a countermeasure against the town people, who preferred the carnival, where they shout and greet people with ‘Helau’ and ‘Alaaf.’ The Z|nfte, as the cliques are called, organized themselves and founded in 1924 the United Swabian-Allemanic Narrenz|nft, which has 69 members today. After World War II, the cries of the knaves became the identification characters of the respective organisations.It might have its origin in the cry of joy called ‘Juchzen’ in German.
Fasnet was originally the season of merrymaking just before Lent. But today it s three days between Christmas and Ash Wednesday. The Fasnet is run by the different cliques (Z|nfte) and there are : musical corps, garde-girls with beautiful long legs, gymnastic and acrobatic groups, clowns, witches, sheiks, belly dancers, people in their night-gowns. You name ’em, they have ’em. In Germany they say, when three Germans get together they create an association (Verein) and get organized. The planning, coordination and discipline that the German fasnet demands is organized with typical German thoroughness. To a Nepalese it seems like Gaijatra, Lakhe and Mani Rimdu festival on the same day.
Masks always have an element of religion, myth or magic in them. There are people who wear masks to hide their Id which is normally written all over one s face. With a mask you can transform your current facial expressions into another permanent one. You symbolize another being. And in Fasnet or carnival a participant goes costumed in order to be what he always wanted to be, but never dared due to social inhibitions. If you re wearing a mask you can really flip-out, without being recognized. A bored housewife might play the vamp for three days, and an over-worked and under-paid clerk portrays a billion-dollar sheik and so forth.
Back to the Narrensprung again. The most adorable cavalier amongst the Narren is the Narro from Oberndorf, with his Brezelstange (salty bread held on a long pole). It reminded me of the Sel-roti that the Nepalese make during the Tihar festival. The motley fools (Narren) besides having their carnival license, freedom and rights, also have their rules of conduct during the processions and the merry-making period. For instance in Schramberg, where I had gone the previous winter, you had to sing the refrain:
Hoorig, hoorig isch die Katz.
Und wenn die Katz nit hoorig isch,
Dann fdngt sie keine Mduse nit.
Hairy, hairy is the cat. And when the cat isn’t hairy, then she can’t catch the mice (then the maidens will not like it(!) is another version. Then and only then, will you be blessed with a delicious brezel. Thomas and Claudia, some relatives of mine, who took part in the costumed procession had certainly made them sing the Fasnet-song before they handed them the bread with a blessing (Brezelsegen). It had been lovely to know someone under the masks.
But don t be surprised if a Narro clobbers you with an inflated pig s bladder tied at the end of a stick in Elzach. Or when another holds you with his wooden scissors, and a pair of hideously masked witches grab your arms and legs, put you in a cart and you become a part of the procession, and the nasty witches pour buckets of confetti over you. It s carnival time, and you can t afford to get mad at anyone. Humor is the order of the day.
During the Third Reich the National Socialists tried to cover up the religious origin of the Fasnet, by giving it so-called Germanic trait. But even they didn’t really succeed in changing the tradition of the Narrensprung and the meeting-of the-cliques (Z|nftetreffen). The historical and traditional springing-of-the-knaves in Villingen, erlingen, Elzach, Rottweil and Oberndorf-upon-the-Neckar dates back to the early Middle Ages. In the beautiful town of Rottweil you can get to see 3,000 Narren in historical masks: the Federhannes, Schantle and the Biter or Guller. However, with urbanization the old Fasnet traditions have somehow lost their true colors, religious significance and the vegetarian-cult. Fasnet has sadly enough become merely an excuse for fun-making and revelry in the towns. The province, nevertheless, tries to retain the traditional character, with strict dress, mask and behavioral regulations. For instance, a narro who gets drunk and creates a nuisance risks getting banned by the organization committee.
On Wednesday night at 7:30 pm we drove to Rottweil to watch the seasonal Fasnet-burning. In the middle of this Swabian city there was an open space surrounded by fir-trees. The eerie Fasnet figures came wildly dancing from all sides with flaming torches. There were ugly witches with crooked noses,r Lauser with lice painted on the backs of their tunics, the charming leggy guard girls in Prussian step, the bands n’ naturally a figure dressed like an old witch to symbolize the winter.
After a short speech in Swabian dialect with the words: Now the winter will be burnt and banned, and the days of revelry are over, the figure was set afire. As the flames grew bigger and bigger, their shadows also took gigantic proportions and the witches and ghoulish Lausers and Narros shed tears and wailed and howled (feigned naturally).
Well, the winter was driven away, but we still had cold feet.
FREIBURGER FASNET IMPRESSIONS (Satis Shroff)
Narri! Narro! The fasnet is upon us and the scary and hideous Schauinsland Berggeister, spirits from the mountains, have stormed the local kindergarten and school.
The spirits are motley attired, and spring and prance about, wearing their masks and costumes and make the children happy because they also distribute goodies in the form of bon-bons, sweets, chocolates, popcorn in small plastic bags. The children just love it, sing and dance with the Berggeister on this day. No classworks, no homeworks. Just fun and cheerfulness is the order of the day.
The next target of the Berggeister is the Kappeler town council when the mayor is obliged to hand over the key of the council to the Berggeister as a sign of courteousness and surrender to the Berggeister who then take over the show, throw confetti from the windows and at the otherwise stiff civil servants. Civilized and controlled anarchy spreads everywhere for even though people drink alcohol, they do behave themselves and are decent, though jovial and in high spirits. On the next day there’s a Bruachtumsabend at 8:11 pm during which the traditions and customs are re-told to the visitors in the festival hall where they’re all gathered. Then comes the Children’s Fasnet followed by the burial of the Fasnet on February 16 in the form of a symbolic figure, during which the witches, Berggeister and other eerie masked figures weep loudly and bid adieu to winter.
The last fasnet event is the Scheibensclagen at the Eschenwegle during which burning pieces of glowing wood are shot into the starry, wintry sky. It looks like playing gold from a hilltop. Instead of caddies children take delight in gathering the flying blazing wood, after they’ve cooled down a bit.
Freiburg celebrates Rose Monday with a procession in which lots of participants and on-lookers watch the floats going past the Bertold’s fountain along the Kaiser Joseph street. The procession commences at 2 pm with over 100 cliques or vereins, as associations are called in German. It might be fun if you can recognise the Guenterstaeler Bohrer, the Waldsee matrosen, the Schnogedaetscher, the Wuehlmaeuse of Littenweiler and, of course, the Schauinsland Berggeister.
There is also a magical and mystical element in the fasnet celebrations for we still tend to be superstitious and still knock on wood to wish ourselves luck or to make a wish when we see a chimney-sweep passing by. You’re even supposed to touch him or her. Actually it was a profession for men but now even women don the black attire of the chimney sweep.
Through gendering, women at last approaching, if not encroaching, the bastions of the patriarchs, which is a good thing. Not only astronomy but also astrology has entered the parlours and is here to stay. There are Germans and other Alpine folk who still avoid certain odd numbers because they are regarded as inauspicious and bring one misfortune and bad luck. I remember experiencing the custom of caressing a piglet in a basket to bring you luck in the following year. That was when I was visiting some friends in the Rhone area. Whereas some Swiss masks from the Alps and Italy tend to be scary, most masks from the Swabian-Allemanic fasnet have been polished and gone aesthetic. The fasnet tradition still possesses Germanic and so-called heathen and pagan cultural elements.
During the strict Reformation many customs of the fasnet celebrations had to be relinquished so that only a vestigial part remained. Even the swine’s bladder swinging Schuddig from the Elzach Valley had to change his costume.
The masks and costumes had to go with the times. Even in the old Reichsstadt Rottweil, which is known for its springing-of-the-knaves (Narrensprung), the old Schantle still wears a dress with a cape made of brown textile. In Freiburg we have the Blue Narre, who wears big bells and a blue costume, the Fasnetrufer with multicoloured patchwork scales, and a smiling wooden face with two prominent teeth, and the Herdamer Lalli, with his rouge-noir dress and a tongue that sticks out. Gnter Grass wrote a book-title Zunge zeigen’ about the former Calcutta which is Kolkota in the Bengali tongue. Grass depicted Kali showing her red tongue. In Europe, when a person shows his or her tongue, it means that the person is not of the same opinion and it is his or her way of showing emotional negation. In South Asia showing your tongue means you’re embarrassed or ashamed.
There are a few wooden sculptors who make wooded masks in the Black Forest. One such sculptor is Herr Lang, who has a shop-cum-workshop near the tennis court in Elzach (www.holzbildhauerei.de). He says: We’ve been making Fasnacht masks since 50 years out of lime-wood. Our customers come from the entire Allemanic area and also Elzach, Waldkirch and Endingen. Just call us and we’ll make a fasnet mask for you.’
Heinz Wintermantel, has written a book Hoorig, hoorig isch die Katz,’ which is a fasnet motto from Schramberg (near Oberndorf) where you are obliged to sing this song with the fasnet-figure, and after the song is over you’re blessed with a brezel, a round, salty bread. The blessing is called Brezelsegen. Wintermantel says: The feasting, wearing of masks and processions are a compensation for the days of fasting that follow. Fasnacht is merely the time between Thursday till Ash Wednesday.
The term Fasnacht,’ as used in the Allemanic-Swabian celebrations, is thought to have been changed to Fastnacht at the turn of the 12 th century under the influence of Christian Middle Ages. The oldest source about the Fasnacht in Freiburg dates back to 1283 in a document of the cloister Adelshausen in which the Fasnacht is mentioned. This meaning exists till this day and has been integrated into the Christian calender and shows a lot of Christian aspects. We know that Christianity embraced the so-called pagan symbols, traditions, customs and changed their names. Christianity was no longer involved in struggling against the personified natural calamities. If something terrible like an earthquake, landslides, avalanches in the Alps, a disease like plague (now Aids, MRC etc) or volcanic eruptions occurred, people who read the bible closely, were religious or spiritual, called it the punishment of God. And with this thought of punishment it was pointed that human beings are sinners and indecent. The sinners were symbolised by the motley coloured and thus stained and impure clothes of the knaves (Narrenkleid).
The symbol of the spiritually pure person became the white colour of baptism. This is also the reason why the church never challenged the roots of fasnet or fasnacht that lay in so-called heathen customs. In this context it is interesting to note that the Hindus also wear white as a sign of ritual purity during the initiation ceremony and during funerals.
Since winter is a long and bitter season, the ancestors of the Swabian-Allemanic fasnet fought against the demonic powers by wearing terrifying, hideous masks to fight the ice, snow, mountain mist and snow-storms and thus banished winter by burning its effigy and gave vent to their primordeal emotions by shouting, cursing, screaming, making noises, jumping and springing in the air in just the same wild manner as evil spirits are won’t to do.
Even today, if you visit the Allemanic-Swabian fasnet celebrations, you’ll see these scary masks and the masked and costumed figures scream and shout as their ancestors did. Another old tradition to be seen in Kappel is the Scheibenschlagen ceremony along the Eschenwegele, where a big bon-fire is made and the glowing pieces of wood cut in squares are shot to the Dreisam Valley below. If the piece of glowing wood doesn’t fly and is a dud, you might have bad luck this year.
Next week I’m off to the celebrate the three most beautiful days of the year in Basle (Switzerland) at 4pm. Ghoulish atmosphere. Suddenly, you hear the shrill piccollo flutes and the beating of loud drums. The beginning of drey scheenste Dg.’ There’s nothing like it.
Grezi! Welcome to Basle in Switzerland.
Source: O, FREIBURG (Satis Shroff)
Zeitgeistlyrik: O, FREIBURG (Satis Shroff)
O, Freiburg (Satis Shroff)
O, Freiburg! March 24,1599 was the day.
Three women were sentenced as witches and killed.
To think this town organized a reception,
For Marie Antoinette on May 4, 1770
It also deported its 375 Jewish citizens
On October 1940 to Gurs and Auschwitz.
As if in a heavenly wrath,
Freiburg was reduced to rubble and ashes,
Heaven seemed to be glowing;
Clouds began to melt and burn over the town.
A scenario within twenty minutes,
Created by the Royal Air Force.
Twenty minutes that were burnt
Into the collective memory of the Freiburger.
Frau Adolph and my mother-in-law still talk
About it when we have a coffee afternoon
Frau Adolph says: ‘ Freiburg was razed to the ground.
Stones, roof-bricks, broken glass, kaput windows
Singed curtains, burnt books, files in smithereens.
A traumatic nightmare.’
But I’m proud Freiburger have developed,
Both mentally and socially,
For today we are the hosts of Syrian war refugees.
In the nineties we made skinheads take off their Springerstiefel,
Life Asians entering a sacred temple.
We’ve developed a heart for humanity,
That is worthy of emulation.
Tolerance, togetherness, mutual respect,
That’s my university town Freiburg.
Where partner cities are welcome,
From Matsuyama, Isfahan, Guilford,
Madison and Barcelona.
Where war refugees find a safe haven,
And experience a culture of welcome.
You lovely Schwarzwald metropolis.
I watch the reassuring lights of your houses,
From the windows and roofs,
People talking, gesticulating or in control.
I drink Darjeeling at the Greiffenegg castle,
See the twin towers of the Johanneskirche,
And Freiburg’s cathedral.
This year there’s no snow over Freiburg.
The new lifts for seven skiers,
Move downhill sans skiers.
That’s climate change for you.
With a mild winter and a white spring perhaps.
The Swabian Gate is bathed in yellow light,
The Dreisam trickles below the bridge.
The tasty autumnal wine is already in the kegs,
The vines have been pruned.
Tasty nectar flows down the wine drinker’s gullet.
I say ‘Ada!’ to the blonde waitress,
Who always has a friend smile and kind words,
Descend to the Schwabentor,
Walk along the romantic Konviktgasse,
Take a sharp turn near the Kollegium Bororeum.
Voila! I’m between the Münster and the historical Kaufhaus.
The Black Forest farmers and their wives
Are busy selling their green-wares in Green City Freiburg.
Vegetables for vegans,
Poultry and bacons for meat-eaters,
Bratwurst fried with onions as fast-food,
Or Kurdish yufka near the taxi stand.
The Siegesdenkmal is a reminder of Belfort,
An old memorial but politics has changes.
The French and the Germans: Hollande and Merckel
Do things together
And are no longer foes.
O Freiburg, you Green City,
You have embraced your share of Syrian refugees,
Have built houses for them,
The Freiburger have shown they are big hearted,
Integration has become desire of the day.
If there’s one town that’ll make it,
It’s this Alemannic stronghold.
I’m so proud of you.
* * *
©2016, satisshroff, all rights reserved
Which Witch in Germany? (Satis Shroff)
“Do they have witches in Germany?” asked Archana S., a 26-year old Nepalese woman from Dharan at a Nepalese get-together in the Pochgasse 31 in Freiburg, a university-town in south-west Germany.
It was an interesting question. I thought about the symbolic burning of the witches during the fasting period of Fasnet in the Allemanic areas, and also about the recent exorcist trials, and said, “Yes, there are witches in Germany.” European history is replete with cases of witches being burned at the stake in the name of Christianity during the Middle Ages. And there are very often reports in the media about black magic and secret ritual ceremonies being held with the effect that the Pope has appointed certain priests to weed out the satan from the souls of the afflicted people through ritual purifying ceremonies.
“Ever since I’ve come to Germany, I’ve been bitten by a boksi (witch). And I also have nightmares when a boksi bites me.” The Nepalese word for it is “aithan paryo.” When you are asleep and you have a heavy feeling on your chest and this heaviness increases, as though someone is placing heavy weights on your rib-cage. Your breathing becomes heavy and difficult, you sweat and gasp and suddenly wake up, and find yourself drenched with perspiration. What you’ve had is an attack of “aithan”. And very often a black cat darts from your bedroom.
Archana said, “When I’ve had an attack by a witch I have red patches where the witch bit me. And after some hours it becomes blue”.
I asked if she had had such bites in Nepal.
“Oh yes,” she replied, “I had it often in Dharan and Kathmandu”.
“What did it precisely look like?” I asked. “Was it like an insect bite?” I was thinking of Dharan’s near sub-tropical climate, the air infested with tropical insects like mosquitoes.
“It looks like a bite”, she answered sharply as if reading my thoughts, then added, “but here in Germany you have to look for insects because everything’s so clean and sterile. It’s difficult to find insects here because of the wanton use of insecticides and pesticides in urban areas”.
She was right. In Nepal you only have to go into the Terai or to Chitwan and you’d see tigers, panthers, leopards, elephants, rhinos, wild boars, monkeys, crocodiles and in the Narayani river the Gangetic Dolphines, exotic birds and it’s an entomologist’s paradise.
The other guests at the Pochgasse 31 were a German-Nepali doctor couple. I translated what Archana said because Werner’s command of the Nepali language wasn’t that good, and asked him what he thought about it. He was of the opinion that it could be a psycho-somatic phenomenon because of the fact that Archana was new in Germany, didn’t have friends, lived with her husband alone in a strange environment, and was unhappy because she didn’t fluent German, and couldn’t talk with ordinary Germans in the town of Kulmbach (Bavaria), where she lived.
In Nepal Archana’s problem with the boksi-bites would be no news at all, for every village has its own village-shaman who takes care of psychosomatic and religious ‘ailments,’ and treats the problems by mantras, seances, herbal medicine, or in modern times, by the competent use of modern medicine.
It might be mentioned that in the 80,000 mountainous hamlets of Nepal there are at least 40,000 shamans and traditional healers who have been, or are taught the basics of first aid. With the influx of tourists since 1950, Nepal’s shamans have marched with modern times. The winds of change have swept Nepal, where once the shaman wasn’t supposed to get rich and make a profit through his healing profession. Today, he blesses a life-saving electrolyte solution for the treatment of diarrhoea, and makes himself useful by selling ritualised anti-birth pills for a commission, thereby helping the government’s family planning efforts. Moreover, the Nepalese shamans have been given an official status while also bearing the title “Practitioner of Traditional medicine”, and being trained in the application of modern drugs.
I told them about an ethnologist from Freiburg who’d specialised on Thakali-shamanism and had spent a few years in Nepal. She even had a huge Jhakri drum (dhangro)with her, but wasn’t concerned with the healing aspect of shamanism. Her job had been to record and document about shamanism and wasn’t concerned with the healing aspect and didn’t possess the ability to heal a patient. The thought of a German with a dhangro provoked laughter, but in England there’s a woman-Jane Purce-who uses chanting influenced by Mongolian and Tibetan shamanistic techniques for healing and transformation. A weekend course 59 Pounds Sterling.
And then Archana went on to say, “Even my husband has bites on his arms.” Her husband, who’s a food technologist, answered in the affirmative. Since it was a Nepalese evening, the main language was Nepali, but our conversation was studded with German words so that our German guests wouldn’t feel uneasy and out of place.
Just as the Germans have a grillfest with steaks, würst and beer, the Nepalese buffet consists of: dal-bhat-shikar, rounded up with momos and delicious achaar. And there was soft Nepalese ethno-music (Sur Sudha)and songs sung by Narayan Gopal, Ambar Gurung and Sambhu Rai accompanying the conversation and delicacies.
“I had an uncle in Nepal who first had dreams about shamans,” said Archana S. She said the old experienced shaman of his village had died. Her uncle had begun to see the dead shaman in his dreams and had spoken to him, but he had dismissed the dreams. The dreams, however, became persistent. Whenever there was a shamanic seance in the village, her uncle would start shivering and shaking like a leaf, as if in a trance. The drums of a shaman would incite his quiverings.
Sometime later, he’d seen the shaman in his dreams again. He said that the shaman had shown him where he’d hidden his shaman’s paraphernalia: the dhangro (drum), gajo (stick)were behind a certain bush, the headgear of porcupine quills in another place, and beside a big boulder by the rivulet were his Rudraksha malas and belts with cauri mussels and bells. The brass bumba (jug)and his thumri, a wooden ritual dagger, were also hidden in the vicinity.
It was a call to Archana’s uncle to be a shaman, and the younger man after the fashion of the layman’s etiology, had asked his elders and neighbours for advice, and they had concluded that he should take up the mantle. So he went and collected the dead shaman’s ritual objects and became a jhakri.
I mentioned that I’d read a book written by an American named Larry Peter’s, who’d done a stint of shamanism in Tin Chuli in the outskirts of Kathmandu. Mr. Peters worked as an assistant Jhakri (shaman), and beat his dhangro, but said he did not believe in the spirit world to which the Jhakri, Bhirendra, was introducing him. He refused to enter a de rigeur initiation psychosis. Sadly enough, when he and his son were seriously ill, they preferred the missionary hospital to the shaman. The son, however, died in the hospital. And Bhirendra the Jhakri was understandably not on speaking terms with Larry because of the breach of confidence (Vertrauensverlust).
The question is: would the boy have survived if the traditional healer had treated him?
Perhaps the modern doctor should also learn to send his patient to a shaman when he gets baffled by certain symptoms. The shaman will then banish the cause of the illness, namely an invisible power that becomes active in the visible world, causing suffering and illness. For the shaman establishes contact with the invisible world and the earthly sphere, and forces the evil power that takes residence in human hosts to reveal their identities, ask them to what they desire, and eventually make them promise to leave the somatic environment of their hosts. And that is traditional healing through a ritual.
Asked about life in a small German town, Archana S. said “Man-parey-na!” which means she didn’t like it. She longs for the mountains of Dharan in Eastern Nepal, and worries about her children who are still in the small Himalayan Kingdom. What will happen to my children when there’s a monsoon-flood? Or an earthquake in Nepal? Or malaria? Or typhoid or dysentery and diarrhoea?
In the meantime, Archana S. has been to a modern German doctor and has had blood and allergy tests, but her boksi-bites will be healed when she returns to Nepal forever this autumn–and visits her local shaman.