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Prizzi’s ‘Dance of the Devils’

In Prizzi, in the hills south of Palermo, Sicily, an interesting event takes place on Easter Sunday – The Dance of the Devils. Death, masked and dressed in yellow robes, with a crossbow in his hand, walks through the city searching for souls to take to hell. He is attended by demons, dressed in red with black satanic masks complete with horns and grotesque noses. They wreak good-natured havoc on the townsfolk, attempting to get passers-by to buy them drinks (a metaphor for stealing their souls). If the gullible soul agrees, he or she is taken away to a house with the other “victims.”

The peak of the event occurs when Death and the Devils try to prevent the gathering of the Virgin Mary and the Resurrected Christ statues in the town’s main piazza. In the struggle that ensues between good and evil, the demons are always successful during their first two attempts. On the third try, it is Christ and the Madonna who triumph, along with local residents who arrive dressed as angels, who strike down the forces of evil.

At that point, the Virgin Mary loses her black cape and shows herself with a light blue dress. Church bells throughout Prizzi begin to ring, marking the beginning of the celebration. It is then that the devils’ surrender is complete and they perform a ritual called pigliar’a paci, each bowing down three times in front of the statues of the Virgin Mary and the Resurrected Christ.