Feb 15

The Devil Dances

Spain Celebrates Endiablada

Take a look at the brief article linked above, mainly for the pictures.

It speaks of a Spanish tradition where men dress up like devils (apparently devils were pajamas from the pictures) with red miter hats and huge cowbells and dance around town every February 2nd and 3rd. This is,supposedly, in honor of "Candelaria" at St. Blas. In the case of Candelaria the idea is that the devils were trying to distract the Virgin Mary from presenting Jesus at the Temple 40 days after his birth. The cowbells come into it with the celebration of the failed theft of a religious icon.

All well and good so far as superficial explanations go; but I always look at these things and think there has got to be something else going on behind them. Even if it is something that everyone has forgotten.

And so it is.

The first connection should be obvious to those who read Tuesday's Blog. February 2nd is Imbolc, and indeed archaeological evidince shows that the region of Spain where the Endiablada tradition is strongest has a significant pre-Christian Celtic Pagan past. Note to that one of the days associated with Imbolc is Brigid's Day (Feb. 1st). Brigid was a Celtic goddess who got transformed into a Saint by Irish Catholics, but version of her were common through out the ancient Celtic world. First, she is a goddess easily transformed into a Holy Mother. Second, she was said to have two great oxen and was the patron of cattle, thus the association with cow bells.

The figure of St. Blas is more perplexing. We can only trace him back to the 15th century, and know little to nothing about him other than what the legend surrounding the celebration says. The two villages warring over an icon found by a shepherd boy, however, is intriguing. Does it represent a religious struggle over a local shrine of a god of shepherds? Do the devils and their bells represent the ubiquitous, in Europe anyway, Pan-like figure? So far I have not been able to find out, but I will keep looking.

It is easy to see this kind of syncretism (incorporation of other cultural elements into an accepted belief system, especially regarding religion) in foreign lands where we might see their actions as "quaint." It is a lot harder to see those origins in practices we have adopted.

Which means that next week I am going to have to talk about Lupercalia and why we give each other asses on February 14th.

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