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  • Dance of the Devils (U Ballu di Diavulu)

    By Anthony Parente

    Devils of Prizzi
    On Easter Sunday in the small town of Prizzi not far from the city of Palermo in Sicily an annual event takes place called the U Ballu di Diavulu (Dance of the Devils). It is believed this started as a pagan feast in ancient times to celebrate the arrival of spring. It is an epic battle between good and evil.

    At dawn on this holy day, Death and his henchmen the devils/demons can be seen roaming the streets. Two devils/demons are dressed in red wearing a grotesque iron mask that has a very large mouth, teeth and nose. A mane with two protruding horns covers their head and extends down the back as they hold chains. Death is portrayed all in yellow sporting a leather mask with ugly looking fangs carrying a crossbow. The three roam the streets that are lined with spectators looking for souls to take with them back to hell. They will bump into people and pull them from the crowd, capturing them taking them to hell, which is a nearby tavern/house where they are locked up. They can only be released once they make an offering called an obolo. In return they are granted their freedom and given Easter candy. This will go on for hours as they catch and release people in the crowd.

    The climax of the event happens when Death and the Devils prevent the statue of the Virgin Mary wearing a black cloak in mourning from joining with the statue of the Resurrected Christ. Both statues are at opposite ends of the street as Death and the Devils dance back and forth between the two statues. The first two attempts are successful keeping the two from uniting. Finally, on the third attempt they are trapped between the two statues and Angels carrying swords strike them down. The black cloak falls from the Virgin Mary revealing a light blue dress as she is reunited with her son Jesus. The church bells ring as the crowd erupts in cheers of joy. A purification ritual called the pigliar'a paci takes place as the Devils bow down three times in front of the statues surrendering symbolizing the triumph of good over evil.

    U Ballu di Diavulu is not just an event for the locals to enjoy as it attracts many tourists. It is just one of many traditions that takes place throughout Italy during the celebration of the resurrection of Christ.


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