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Unearthly creatures rule Lötschental

Ernst Rieder is responsible for creating many of the unique masks

(Keystone Archive)

Although it's one of the most picturesque valleys in the country, it's not safe to visit the Lötschental during the month of February. That's when the "Tschäggättä" rampage through the valley towns.

There's not much known about their origins, but the Tschäggättä appear every year at the same time, usually under the cover of darkness.

In reality, the creatures are costumed young men. They drape goats or sheep's fur and bells over their bodies and disguise their appearances with carved masks. Typical to Lötschental, they have twisted faces, bulging eyes and sinister wide grins.

It's a centuries old tradition, but remains true to its anarchic roots with the Tschäggättä refusing to be organised. Like many winter customs in Switzerland, its believed the masks and bells helped drive away evil spirits.

In 1550, the people of the valley even donned the Tschäggättä costumes to go into battle against the forces of the bishop.

Today, the Tschäggättä roam through the villages following no set route, and often prey on attractive young women, marking them with soot they've smeared on their fists.

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