Across small snowy towns of Europe, strange animals dance atop the snow each winter as part of an annual celebration of the winter solstice and the coming spring. These “strange animals” are the inhabitants of small villages that dress up each year to take part in the ceremonies, which occur from January to March. While the spirit of the celebration is the same, the costumes practices differ between countries and towns. France-based photographer Charles Fréger visited these ceremonies over the course of two years and captured the images of the costumes and the people for his book, Wilder Mann.
While the costumes can be bizarre or even menacing, they are created with the intent of celebrating the fresh start and opportunity that comes with the thawing of the winter freeze. Many animals are represented, including goats, deer, and even monsters, but the bear remains a common theme. Fréger explains that the bear was the pagan god and was worshipped before Christianity was popularized in the region.
The costumes are often beautiful and appear intricate, but are actually created just days before the ceremony begins. Fréger says “It’s a farming tradition, so they build it with anything they can find.”
Schnappviecher, Tramin, Italy
Babugeri and Chaushi, Bulgaria.
Zezengorri, Basque Country, Spain.
Boes, Sardinia, Italy.
Fréger has photographed in other regions as well, and created this book to showcase that the root of different regions and cultures have a lot in common. “This project was to show that Europe is also very tribal,” he says. “These rituals are really connected to the same type of traditions in Africa and Asia or anywhere in the world. It’s just to say we didn’t really lose our pagan rituals and we have this in common with a lot of civilizations.”