If you found yourself in a remote, snowy town deep in the western Alps last weekend, you might have come face to face with a group of terribly monstrous creatures known as Tschäggättä. Wild, towering figures in leather and fur, these frightening demon-faced specters are actually local revelers celebrating an Alpine Carnival tradition of the Lötschental region of Switzerland, a historically isolated valley ringed with towering mountains. Believed to possibly date as far back as the 12th century, the roots of the Tschäggättä tradition are lost to history, with only the cultural phenomenon remaining, as these fearsome creatures appear once a year in the days proceeding Ash Wednesday to menace the townsfolk to the riotous clanging of cowbells.
Dressed in inside-out clothes and draped with animal skins, participants’ feet and hands are wrapped in sacks and colorful mittens – all the better to disguise footprints and pelt passer-by with handfuls of soot. Of course, one might overlook these smaller costuming details to stare, repelled and fascinated, at the traditional Tschäggättä masks. Evoking grotesque, animalistic demons, these masks are treasured heirlooms created by a small handful of local artisans such as Agnes Rieder-Jerjen, who hand-carve the masks from soft Alpine wood and outlandishly adorn them with paint and animal hair, bones, and teeth. Check out the gallery below if you missed this year’s celebration – you can always start planning your 2015 trip to Switzerland tomorrow.