When you appropriate the symbols of evil, do you have power over them, or are you unwittingly giving them power over you?
I was asking myself that as I watched a group of people in animal costumes and witches’ hats taking public transit in Freiburg. They were jumping the gun on Fastnacht, a pagan festival extremely popular in this area.
Most Germans will tell you that Fastnacht is harmless, just a cultural festival that goes back centuries. It is somewhat akin to North America’s Halloween, just a lot bigger. No-one takes it seriously. Except for those who do.
This is the Black Forest after all, the setting for so many of the dark Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It is here that the witch ate Hansel and Gretel, and Red Riding Hood had her encounter with the Big Bad Wolf. If all you know of those stories is the Disney version, it might surprise you to discover just how dark the original stories are, and the extent of the evil found therein.
Last year I was insistent on watching Sulzburg’s Fastnacht parade. This year I won’t be in town for it. I figure if you have seen it once you have seen it always – I doubt the format changes.
Last year there were more than 100 groups parading through town, pledging their allegiance to the devil. There’s a social aspect to t, like being a Boy Scout or joining the Kiwanis Club. It may be all in fun for those who don’t believe, but words have a certain power that you ignore at your peril. The feeling I got was that this display was not far removed from the National Socialist rallies at Nuremberg in their call and response.
I’m told that in northern Germany Fastnacht is a one-day event, akin somewhat to New Orleans Mardi Gras. In this area it goes on for weeks. Every town has a parade, with the same groups showing up each weekend to claim the territory for Satan. I have heard anecdotally of animal sacrifices and fires being set, but have not been able to verify those.
I found last year’s “celebrations” disturbing. It seemed to me that people were playing games with a spiritual element they didn’t understand. Some of the grotesque masks worn by the parade participants have been in use for hundreds of years, passed down from generation to generation. You have to ask why, if there is no belief in the power these things have.
You may think I have lost my head, or at least my perspective. But I have seen dark spiritual elements at work in other places. I have heard the drums in the night calling worshipers to the jungles of Liberia, the ancient home to what we today call voodoo. Our western mindset rejects the idea of evil, of malevolent spiritual powers. We save that sort of thing for the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. We forget that the appeal of those books is partly that we understand the portrayals of good and evil, that they resonate with us as spiritual beings. We sense truth in the fiction.
It seems innocuous, people dressing up as animals and witches, just having fun. Think about it though. This is Germany, home to some of the biggest evils the planet has witnessed. What makes you think there isn’t a spiritual dimension to that history? What makes you think it has gone away?
I’ve just been thinking. And they aren’t pretty thoughts. Fastnacht may look harmless, but that doesn’t make it so.