Slovenia is a country full of culture and with a great heritage. During the carnival season, you will see its rich culture in many ways. One of them is Kurentovanje and the mask named Kurent.
The mask Kurent represents a Slovene mythological creature. It is supposed to bring abundance, joy, and sunshine in Slovenia after summer. The carnival and different traditions surrounding Kurent are believed to chase evil away thanks to the sound of bells.
Kurentovanje and other events about Kurent are an essential part of Slovenia’s heritage and deserve to be understood and preserved. To be fully aware of the tradition and be able to enjoy the carnivals thoroughly, here is all you need to know about the mask named Kurent. Let’s go.
What Is The “Kurent” Mask?
In Slovenia, there are many traditions, and one can be seen during Carnival time; it is the tradition of Kurent.
Also called Korant, Korent, Kurant, Karant, and Korat, Kurent is a creature part of the Slovenian mythology only. A mask representing Kurent is worn during Kurentovanje, one of Slovenia’s most prominent carnival events.
St. Kurent is celebrated each year on March 1st, at the beginning of spring because he is known for chasing Winter away and bringing unlimited happiness and abundance to Slovenians.
During the carnival, many people dress in an attire called Kurentija. This costume is a sheep skinsuit with red or sometimes green knee-high stockings. Around the belt is a chain with giant bells, and finally, you have to wear a Ježevka. The Ježevka is a wooden club topped with hedgehog spines. You can attach handkerchiefs on your Ježevka offered by women.
However, the most crucial part of the costume, which is symbolic of the Kurentovanje carnival, is the mask. These are leather masks with three holes encircled by red paint, two for the eyes and one for the mouth.
Out of the mouth and going til, the chest is a long red tongue. Attached to the mask is a nose, looking more like a trunk, surrounded by twigs to represent whiskers and white beans to represent teeth. There are two types of Kurent masks, the first one is feathery, and the second one is horned.
Although the price for such a costume is high, the number of orders for the carnival keeps increasing from one year to the next.
People part of the traditions and carnivals around the Kurent mask and myth generally form groups and associations. The most prominent association is the Federation of Kurenti Associations.
At first, only men were allowed to dress as kurent, and they would visit houses in their towns and the neighboring ones. Nowadays, women and children can also dress up, and kurents travel in bigger groups.
In some schools, mainly kindergartens and elementary schools, the tradition is taught through workshops and activities in order to be preserved and respected.
The kurent tradition, mask, and procession are now on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. It symbolizes an international recognition of Slovenia’s traditions and is an excellent sign for preserving the culture.
What Is The Myth of Kurent?
The fairytale of Kurent is supposed to be purely Slovenian. However, its origins are not that clear. They probably come from earlier Slavic, Celtic or Illyrian customs since traditions and myth similar to Kurent exist in parts of Croatia, Hungary, Serbia, and Bulgaria.
Some associate Kurent with the goddess Cybele from the late antiquity in Poetovio. Others say it could date back to the establishment of Croatian Habsburg soldiers called Uskoks in the 16th century.
The most recent actual mythology of the Slovenian Kurent goes back to the 19th century when he was the God of joy and wine. Kurent is a creature supposed to be able to persuade people to dance with its magical instrument.
Kurent is a patron of joy and life-giving. He initiates spring in Slovenia and the bells around Kurent’s belt ring when the creature walks through town. The sound scares the evil spirits away.
During carnivals, if kurents stopped by your house, it is a sign of good luck. On the other hand, if you saw one rolling on the ground, it is a sign of bad luck. These beliefs are still very strong for many people in Slovenia.
There are different stories about kurents. One of them is that a kurent tied Death to a tree with some threads, and while Death was tied up, no one died.
Another myth tells the story of a young man that attracted a lot of women. Since he was tired of being so attractive, he went to the desert and asked to be ugly. To comply with the handsome man’s wish, God gave him horns. After that, women left the man alone, but once a year, to remember his beauty, they celebrate Shrove Sunday, the day when the procession of people with Kurant masks happens.
The first rituals of carnival with Kurent masks began in the pre-Christian era. Masks were supposed to help to communicate with spirits of ancestors and kill winter ghosts to bring spring, but the Church has not been able to spread the tradition in the world.
The Carnival of Kurentovanje In Ptuj
During Carnival season across the world, Slovenia is in on the party with traditional parades representing different creatures from its mythology, including Gypsies, Spearmen, Diggers, and of course, Kurent.
The oldest traditional carnival of Slovenia reunites over 1,800 masks of beautiful colors and designs. It is called Kurentovanje and lasts 11 days. This name comes from Kurent, the central figure of the festival.
Kurentovanje is what we can define as a Pustovanje, which is a Shrovetide celebration. It is the oldest, most vibrant, and most touristic carnival in the country.
It takes place in the city of Ptuj, the oldest town in Slovenia. Ptuj dates back to the Stone Age and is located near the River Drava, on the north-east of Ljubljana and the south-east of Maribor.
Ptuj is a great city to explore for its historical riches and cultural activities. During an excursion in Ptuj, you will encounter churches, wine cellars, a castle, a tower, monasteries, and the Orpheus monument.
What is noteworthy about Ptuj is its ethnographic heritage. The town preserved many traditions and helped maintain Slovenia’s cultural history and authenticity. One of these traditions is the carnival Kurentovanje.
The first time the carnival took place in Ptuj was on Shrove Sunday on February 27th, 1960. Nowadays, it is a tradition you cannot miss in Slovenia. It has an impact locally, nationally, and even internationally.
During the celebration, you will find a wide range of events taking place throughout the town. Ethnographic and carnival parades are organized, as well as concerts and different shows.
Since 1999, during the annual carnival, a Prince Carnival is chosen. The enthroning of the Prince is on November 11th, on Saint Martin day. This Prince is a person who represents and works in favor of preserving Slovene traditions of Shrovetide. He receives a key of Ptuj.
Another tradition involving Kurents in Ptuj is the door-to-door rounds beginning on February 2nd in Candlemas. Since 2017, this tradition is part of Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The Kurents are devils running from house to house, forming circles in gardens, and jumping around owners of the homes. The sound of the bells they are wearing on their belt is supposed to chase evil away and bring summer and happiness. They make their round from Candlemas or Shrove Sunday to Ash Wednesday.
Although they mostly stay in villages around Ptuj, some groups of kurents also travel across the country to visit the Parliament and other local or national institutions. Hence, the carnival is not only in Ptuj. Some more prominent groups of kurents are also invited to other festivals, carnivals, and folklore events in foreign countries.
In 2010 was the 50th anniversary of the Kurentovanje carnival. The commemoration was especially important because it represented Slovenia’s history and contributed to the understanding of its heritage.
Maribor was elected European Capital of Culture in 2012, and Ptuj with the Kurentovanje Festival was included as a partner. The objective was to turn the festival into the most significant European ethno-carnival.
The Mask Called Kurent
The mask, called Kurent, comes from the legend of the demon Kurent and is celebrated during Kurentovanje in Ptuj. It is one of Slovenia’s most important traditions, and it is preserved very carefully. Participating in one of the Carnivals wearing a Kurent mask is supposed to be one of the best experiences.
The mask has an effect almost like magic on people wearing it, giving you courage and faith. Do not hesitate to go to Kurentovanje if you are coming to Slovenia during carnival times, you will discover an experience out of this world, whether you take part in the procession or not. However, strong dwellers of Kurentovanje will tell you, “If you want to experience Kurentovanje, you have to live it.”