In recent years, many Slovenian coal mines have been forced to shut down or reduce their operations, but the coal mining tradition that has shaped many parts of Slovenia for centuries lives on, and several examples of mining folklore have been preserved into the modern era.
One of the oldest coal mining traditions is known as “jumping the hide.” Each year, a new generation of coal miners is initiated with a ceremonial jump over an animal hide resembling the kind once worn by miners. Before their jump, the candidates answer various questions to prove that they are ready to become miners — and then make their symbolic leaps from barrels.
The tradition emerged in other parts of the Hapsburg Lands in the 16th century and eventually spread to the Slovenian Lands. Since 1961, jumping the hides has been a part of annual Miners’ Day celebrations in Velenje. Despite the dwindling number of young miners, large crowds still gather every year to wish the new generations luck as they start their careers far beneath the Earth’s surface.
Also helping miners in the shafts were elves known as perkmandeljci. With their green pants and red coats, they can still sometimes be spotted at miners’ celebrations. In days gone by, however, their appearance wasn’t always welcome. They were thought to foretell accidents, often explosions of dangerous gases. Because their appearance allowed miners to leave the depths in time, they were considered friends of the miners despite being bad omens. In fact, miners frequently would frequently leave food in remote corners of the mine to ensure that they remained in the good graces of the elusive perkmandeljci.
Despite changes in technology, mining remains a dangerous profession – perhaps one reason why old mining lore remains very much alive.
Source: RTVSLO.si | Jaka Bartolj