Pagan traditions in the Iberian Peninsula
Re-connecting with the Past
The Caretos' masked ritual is associated with the supernatural world and the realm of the dead. Symbolically, it serves to purge the evil side of the human soul and purify the community before the beginning of Spring. The villagers of Podence have united themselves to rescue a dying ritual, which is now recognised and protected under UNESCO.
Winter festivities, Carnival of Podence is a social practice which initially functioned as a rite of passage for men. Now extended to women and children, it has been readjusted to its contemporary context. The festivity is associated with the celebration of the end of winter and the arrival of spring and takes place over three days in the streets of the village and in the houses of neighbours who visit each other.
The Caretos wear tinplate or leather masks, costumes covered with colourful wool fringes and small bells. The outfits are made by local artisans, who are as involved in the tradition as the mask-wearers.
During the performance, the Caretos – modelled on the traditional masked character – dance around women with their cowbells, rhythmically moving their hips. Possibly connected symbolically to old fertility rites, this action is performed by those behind the mask as a way of interacting with others anonymously.
On the Monday night, there is a theatrical play, when a group of men announce a fictional list of engaged couples, satirizing them and eliciting collective laughter.
On Tuesday afternoon, the ritual of the burning of a Shrovetide figure takes place — reaching the climax of the ritual.
The individual enters the ceremony as an individual with his/her own subjectivities, and through the collective effervescence of the ritual, emerge as one with the community.
A sense of stillness and union permeates the village after the ritual climax.