DISCOVERING THE HIDDEN GEMS OF SWITZERLAND – LÖTSCHENTAL
There is no doubt that the tourist offer of Switzerland is mesmerising and inviting, having in mind the whole beauty of this European land. It is kissed from the mountains, lost in the rich forests and one of a kind. You are never wrong if you pick up Switzerland as your holiday destination but personally, I believe that Swiss culture gives one touch more to the whole paradise.
Lötschental is the right start for our Swiss adventure since it combines the breathtaking pristine surroundings with authentic local culture of the valley that is located between Valaisian and Bernese Alps. Back in history, this valley has been more than connector between cantons but also the powerful hiking trail longer more than 200 km, that is proudly included in UNESCO World Heritage Region Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch. This means, if you love trekking and mountains, you wont be wrong if you look up for Lötschental and if you decide to research the story behind the interesting cultural manifestations with mythological and religious meaning. One of them is well known Tschäggätta or the carnival of gruesome and dangerous creatures. It is actually the parade of the wooden carved masks that are typical for Lötschental region itself and linked to the Alpine mythology and fairytale witch Tschäggätta.
According to the belief, this witch has been evil and she was lurking on people in the cold season, especially in the area of Switzerland, Austria, Bavaria, Swabia and Tirol. The countrymen have been afraid that witch wont show mercy so they wanted to keep her and her common spirits away with some kind of Fasnacht carnival, through the specific masks of evil spirits that combined animal pelts ( goat or sheep skin) and bell. That was some kind of ritual to keep the malign ghosts distanced and to ask nature for blessings. The similar habits have been in many mythologies all over the world, depending on the local attach to the forces of nature.:“From 3 February – the day after Candlemas – to midnight on Shrove Tuesday, they rampage through the village streets in pursuit of women and children. Once caught, the Tschäggättä rub their icy gloves over the faces of their victims. The economic and social development of the valley since the 1950s have transformed this tradition from a courtship ritual practised solely by local bachelors. Today, married men, women and children also don the masks, skins and bells of the Tschäggättä.”
We are talking about one of the most advanced lands in the world that still has the tone of paganism in its modern cultural layers and that is exactly what is so attractive about Switzerland, that mixture of modern perspective with the old, good ancient religion. During the challenging time of rise of catholicism , this type of customs have been prohibited and controlled but today they are more than just customs, rather the element fo heritage and cultural feature that is touristic irresistible. The awaking of old rituals in new age of Switzerland has nothing to do with greed for tourism but with feeling of harmony with the past. The Swiss community is enough brave to keep on habits that have been coloured the development of Switzerland and shaped it as it is now.
The mountain farmer of Switzerland has no problem to follow the traditions of founding fathers and grandfathers because he knows that something must be there. The Nature could be your best friend and also your enemy and it may be that Tschäggätta is there and ruin your life or the force of nature don’t let you do your thing. There is always something that is influencing your road and that is why we keep ancient beliefs active and present.
This carnival that is known to be in February turns Switzerland into the one of most popular winter destination. The people all over the world are curious to share the explosions of Tschäggätta vibes and to participate in the local mood, the rise of darkness and fear during the short days and long nights. I can imagine that possibility of being caught by those evil spirit brings some kind of adrenaline to the visitors and, at the same time, DNA oriented attraction to the darkness and its world. It is within all of us, the part of mythological network in our veins, the spiritual journey of all of us, no matter who we are and where we live. There are some common things that all human beings share and the fear from unknown is definitely one of them.
The meaning of such kind of carnivals is not just mythological and religious in the modern times but also not just for the sake of tourism. It is the attempt to unite people in their indigenous art, to make them rethink their past and adapt to the present, without being really worried about uncertain future. The popular rise of those manifestation has a lot to do with the time of risk and fears from tomorrow and it is not only the cheap entertainment. Even the official Church decided not to dig into the paganism and local cultists, trying to wind the middle way of non-confronting life. If there is a ban on occultism and its roots, it could cause the distancing from Church and neglecting of true religion. The homo sapiens needs God as well as needs spirits and the modern clergy must redefine the concept of being religious.
Swiss collage of high tech society, modern aspects of living and the primal instincts that wake up every February are actually the sign of one amazing mixture of socially accepted pattern and formula of belief, fun and pleasure at the same time. It might be that Lötschental found the solution for being loyal to the fire of ancestors, courage to deal with darkness of Tschäggätta witch and the joy in making light of tourism stronger than ever in winter time. I am sure I also found my next trip, adventure and reason to search for evil spirits while collecting my memories in this fascinating Switzerland.