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Vogel Gryff dances this Monday, January, 13

By Shirley L. Kearney, Basel: A Cultural Experience; publisher Spalentor Verlag 2005 / (Photo: By Patapat, via Wikimedia Commons)

The yearly gathering and celebration of the three Honourable Societies of Kleinbasel takes place on January, 13, 20 or 27. The Wild Maa / wild man rides down the Rhine on a platform supported by two boats. He begins his wild dance to the accompaniment of drums and many cannon shots. The boats must never cross the middle of the Rhine, which would bring him onto the main Basel side and allow the spectators the opportunity to jeer him; he must always keep his back turned towards Grossbasel. Ivy leaves and a garland of apples are part of his adornments; he carries a large sapling fir in his hands. This follows an ancient custom symbolizing the abundance of spring. Upon arrival at the Kleines Klingental Museum around 11 a.m., the time-honoured figures of the Vogel Gryff / griffin and the Leu / lion, representing the other two honourable societies, greet him.

According to strict rules, certain dances are performed at various locations throughout Kleinbasel and on the Middle Bridge, but only up to the middle of the bridge. The fabulous figures neither tread on nor look to the left bank of the Rhine (the city side), nor does the Wild Maa, who wears a frightful and heavy copper mask, turn his head in that direction.

The trio makes its rounds throughout Kleinbasel, all the while paying honour to the guild masters. Upon arrival at the Waisenhaus / orphanage, they carry on with their vigorous dancing. At a scheduled time the three take a break for a well-deserved meal, after which dancing resumes and the festive atmosphere continues until around 10 p.m.

If you wish to see the Vogel Gryff, Leu and Wild Maa – here’ s their route.

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