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Greek Island Carnival – Skyros
The most famous of the traditional Halloween celebrations takes place on the island of Skyros. By far the most important and impressive of the Carnival figures who make their appearance there is the yeros, or “old man.”
The old man’s costume is very elaborate. It’s basically the traditional dress of an island shepherd: wooden clogs, the shepherd’s black woolen jacket with a hood, inside or fur side out. long, white, wide, woolen trousers. white leggings tied with black garters and laced shepherd’s sandals. However, under his jacket in the back, Yeros stuffs a pillow, to give the appearance of a hunchback. His belt is joined in front with a handkerchief.
Over his face, Yeros wears a mask with two eyeholes, made from the skin of a child, either dead or too weak to survive. The skin is tied from its hind legs behind the wearer’s head and the animal’s head hangs over its face and chest. Holes are cut for the eyes, but not for the nose or mouth. Since the peels are likely to have a very strong smell, they are often sprinkled with ouzo.
Long white ropes of goat’s hair, knotted at the back, are crossed over the shoulders. The goats hang from them. These are of three different types, each with its own range of sounds. Although each bell is unique, a shepherd could identify his goats individually by the sound of the bells they wore, and it is said that from the cacophony made by a flock in motion, he could spot a single missing bell. The wooden ring collars of the bells are threaded onto the ropes and secured with loop knots at suitable distances between them. These are placed in two rows, with the longer one at the back. The arrangement of the bells is done very carefully with two considerations in mind. The first is that they will not injure the user as they swing, and the second is determined by the different sounds produced by different settings of the bells.
If the wearer is strong, he can carry up to seventy or eighty bells, depending on his strength and stamina. though thirty to forty, perhaps weighing forty or fifty pounds, is more common. To steady himself, but also to tease and provoke the spectators, he carries a shepherd’s crook. Freshly cut wildflowers adorning the hood, chest and crotch complete his remarkable outfit.
Unsurprisingly, it’s very difficult to move at all in this strange suit, and the first steps he takes will determine whether or not he’ll have to make a full recovery. Traditionally, six “steps” are recognized by which the priest makes his way to the city. Some seem to be designed to allow for mobility and others to help him create the biggest possible cacophony with his bells. Thus a son will occasionally stop, either alone or in a group, standing with his legs wide apart and his staff stuck in the ground in front to steady him. He then bends backwards and forwards from the waist while shrugging his shoulders. The result is an incredible noise.
Bells in yeros are like a local dance. Can everyone dance well? Yeros must be … craftsman or expert, his steps must be … springy or springy. he has to calculate to make the sound … have the right rhythm, and … thunder or boom just right… The excellent yeri are famous all over the island. One such, the yeri was supposed to be anonymous, the occasion would often take the opportunity to settle old scores over stolen or believed stolen animals, grazing rights, disputed results of card games and women. The deadliest insult that could be offered to a son was to cut the ropes that held his bells. Outbreaks of fighting, sometimes between large crowds of heroes and their supporters, were common.
During the twentieth century the atmosphere softened. With the decline of pastoralism and large-scale emigration from the island, there are fewer old men. Such is the strength and endurance required to be a son, it has long been the practice for strong men to assume the role, regardless of their occupation, and to borrow the bells of shepherds who cannot operate them themselves. as sons. Hundreds of old men would once appear in the city on the last two Sundays of Shrove Tuesday, but now they number only in the dozens. However, every year the men still return to their island from Athens to take part in these festivities. But, as Joy Culendianou points out, these townspeople are neither as rude nor as cruel as their ancestors.
Today the ubiquitous plastic masks are also worn by revelers and children dress up in fancy dresses, as elsewhere in Greece. The younger boys, would-be sons, walk the streets with goat bells tied around their waists. Women today sometimes take the part of corella, or even, occasionally, as yeros.
A strange and singularly unconvincing story is told by the islanders to explain the strange appearance of the “goat dancers”. It is said that many years passed there was a particularly cold winter and the snow lay thick on the ground for several weeks. When a goatherd went out to collect his animals after the thaw, he found them all dead. Then he entered the city, accompanied by his ragged wife, with all the precious bells of goats and sheep tied around his waist. On that day during the following year, someone reproduced the scene and the practice became popular.
Clearly, however, the goat dancers of Skyros are a local version of the carnival forms found throughout the north. In any case, there are many tantalizing traces of a close connection between this rite and the cult of Dionysus. In ancient times, the goats of Skyros were proverbial for their productivity, praised for it in the odes of Pindar, so that a particularly productive individual was known as a “skyros goat”. King Aegeus, after whom the Aegean is named, (the name is said to mean ‘goat’), is believed to have thrown himself to his death into the sea named after the cliffs of Cape Souni. The son of Theseus is believed to have met a similar, but unintended, fate in Skyros, pushed by an insidious host, off a cliff.
The goat was the animal most often associated with Dionysus, who is often depicted in art with attendant satyrs or goats. According to myth, the god was disguised in infancy as a child and nursed by nymphs to escape the wrath of Hera and was raised disguised as a girl. Similarly, Achilles was sent by his mother, Thetis, to Skyros to be raised as a girl, in a vain attempt to prevent him from going to his doom in the Trojan War. The corella shows that cross-dressing plays an important role in the Skyrian carnival. Although part of the general pattern observed throughout northern Greece, this is evidence of an ancient cult of Dionysus as a goat god in Skyros, traces of which have survived to this day.
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