Animal metamorphoses of the sort many associate sooner with Amazonia than with Europe are in fact common this time of year throughout a wide swath of Eastern and Central Europe (see Charles Fréger's wonderful photo essay on this subject here). Not far from here, in Ruginoasa, television news reports are showing an official campaign to suppress this year's ritual battle between men from neighboring villages, dressed up as buffaloes, carrying clubs that look like bones (here is some footage of past years' battles). Anyone who has read Carlo Ginzburg's I Benandanti will recall straightaway the 'night battles' fought among 16th-century Friulian peasants carrying bushels of fennel. There is surely some connection, but those were fought in the fields and had fertility as their ritual purpose. The news reports do not say what the buffalo battles are for, but again they seem to be connected essentially to the season, when everything is frigid and lifeless. So anyhow they called in the police to lecture the villagers on the danger and illegality of the planned battle, and they called in the priest to lecture them on its sinfulness; and the villagers interviewed by the TV reporters afterwards replied unfazed: "But we've got to fight." When academics denounce 'Eurocentrism', it is certainly not these Europeans they've got in mind. These are pockets of resistance to the homogenizing forces of modernity, and are much more resistant than many imagine.
In her wonderful short story 'The Ghost Ships', Angela Carter writes of the 'Lord of Misrule' as the true patron of Christmas, whose presence is now only dimly felt during the winter holidays: "He is mirth, anarchy and terror. Father Christmas is his bastard son, whom he has disowned for not being obscene enough. The Lord of Misrule was there when the Romans celebrated the Winter Solstice, the hinge on which the year turns. The Romans called it Saturnalia and let the slaves rule the roost for the duration, when all was topsy-turvy and almost everything that occurred would have been illegal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts." Carter is contrasting Puritan New England with the more vibrant and deeply rooted folk culture she saw as characterizing the country the Puritans had left. England, if her portrayal is accurate, used to be like these pockets of Romania still are, though the memory of that is long gone now.
There is nothing more obscene than human beings becoming animals, losing their right common sense, hurting each other. And the goat dance, too, balances on the fine line between celebration and aggression, between shared revelry and outright violence. I'm not sure what would happen if one did not hand over a bit of money after the goat dance is finished. The threat of irrational violence from people dressed up like animals has no place in the modern, well-regulated state. I'm glad the modern state hasn't fully succeeded, yet, in stamping it out.