Since Ash Wednesday is coming closer, you run across carnival coverage more frequently when zapping through the tv programs, though I think this year Lent starts early March so there's yet a short reprieve until it's going to be truly inescapable once you turn on the tv. Around here it's historically a thoroughly protestant area, so there is no tradition of any kind of Karneval, Fastnacht or Fasching where I am, and I have next to zero interest or patience with the carnival as it's done around the Rhine. But of course in some other areas it's quite important to people, so it's on tv. A lot. Still, I find some of the smaller regional carnival traditions utterly fascinating in their weird alienness from anything I know. It similar to watching tv documentaries about some remote tribe and their foreign rituals, but without the -- I'm not sure what to call it "queasiness" maybe, that comes when you see documentaries about places and people who have been traditionally the object of "exotic" projections by Europeans.
So anyway, I came across a documentary of the Fastnacht in Imst
(a town in Austria), and like often when I see these things, I'm always vaguely surprised that people still do them. Apparently in that town they have (despite some attempts of governments in previous centuries to stop it) a continuous tradition for centuries with written proof of its current form dating back from the 17th century. Anyway, in the procession there are only a certain number of fixed costumes with wooden masks, always representing the same figures, though there are different interpretations what
exactly they represent, and all have to do certain things, some dance with certain steps, make certain sounds as the procession moves through the town. Even though there are both male and female roles and costumes, only boys and men are allowed to wear them. It is not done every year but only every four, though there are two kinds, one done by adult men and one done by boys between 6 and 16, sort of as training, so there is, if I understood it right, one kind every second year. The documentation I've seen was about the "Buabesfasnacht", i.e. the one done by boys, but the costumes and ritual movements are equivalent in both.
The two main characters are called "Scheller" and "Roller" and in the procession are a fixed number of these pairs I think it was 17 Scheller/Roller pairs. They have quite impressive costumes, large head dresses (with flowers, feathers and small reflecting mirrors) and wooden masks (btw, in order for the costumes to fit for the hours the dancing and the procession last they sewed the people into all the different layers, beginning with the underwear which is also sewn together), also they both wear bells. The Scheller usually 6-8 large and heavy (cow)bells, an older male mask with a large mustache and the larger head dress, the Roller a younger more female mask, an smaller head dress, and a belt with many smaller bells, around 40. And each pair of those performs some sort of ritualized dance with each other as the procession moves forward, with turns, jumps and bows, that is the Roller dances around the Scheller, moves his hips (sort of like a courtship dance), bows before the Scheller, and then the Scheller does his jumping. The Roller seemed to have some small kind of broom involved in some kind of prescribed movements as well. It looked really strange
. Besides those two characters, there are others, some of them forming a sort of moving circle around the Roller/Scheller pairs holding the bystanders back and "protecting" the central figures, some with water pumps which they fill at the wells, e.g. some figure called "Engelspritzer", some as "Sackner" who hit the bystanders with small sacks (there seemed to be different types of those), it seemed mostly they hit the legs, and there were a number of other figures as well, like bears, bear herders, witches... While the procession moves through the town, they have to move in certain ways in front of wells, inns, chapels, churches, etc., like move in certain circles when they're at a well, or splash water on certain people, this sort of thing.
And of course my clumsy description can't do the costumes and procession justice. I found it utterly fascinating in a really alien way.