Category Archives: Holiday

Dragons in Bulgarian Folklore and Mythology

Poppies_1Bulgarian folklore is filled with tales about dragons (zmei, male and lamia, female) who lived in forest and mountains in caves, holes, or cracks in rocks. Serpents or carp would turn into dragons if they were not seen by humans for forty years. Therefore, dragons often had characteristics of various other creatures: snakes, fish, birds, and even humans. Flashes of lightning, shooting stars, large clouds, and rainbows were ways dragons manifested themselves.
The lamia is what we typically consider a dragon to be: dangerous and malicious. She does not appear as a human like the zmei. Some tales describe her as a “huge lizard with a dog’s head. Her mouth is so big that it can swallow a whole man and her body is covered with yellow scales. The Lamia also has wings, four legs, sharp claws, and a long tail.”  Some had three, seven, or nine heads.
The zmei, however, who often was depicted as a man with wings under his arms. was more kind. He often fought against the lamia when she appeared as a storm or hail to destroy crops. The zmei didn’t abduct a maiden to harm her. Instead, it is because of his great love for her. He often tries to entice her to marry him, telling her of the riches she will have. If persuasion fails, the zmei restorts to abducting the maiden while she performs the horo dance in the village. However, the dragon’s marriage to a human always meets with misfortune. The bride suffers depression and is ostracized from the community.
One tale tells of a girl who married a dragon she met at his well. After a few years, she wanted to visit her family. Unfortunately, she had grown a dragon’s tail. Wanting to appear normal to them, she kept trying to bite it off. When she heard the songs of friends she had once known, she became frantic and died when her heart burst with the effort of removing the tail. The girls buried her by the well. Every year thereafter they performed a buenetz dance, not the traditional circle horo dance. In the buenetz, they dance in a snakelike fashion in honor of the dragon maiden.

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Kukeri

The kukeri celebration is one of the oldest surviving traditions that can be traced back to Dionysian rites, symbolizing life, death, and rebirth. Men initiated rituals when spirits threatened the Sun’s rebirth. The kukeri continued the practices into the spring, before the sowing of the harvest, when the earth was awakening after a long winter. Thracian warriors believed if they dressed in animal skins, they could battle against these spirits and either scare them away or capture their powers. With them, the kukeri performed rituals to renew nature’s strength. Only men, who carried the seed of life in their bodies, had the ability to rouse and nurture the female Mother Earth.

KukeriKukeri and Witch’s Magic

An unmarried ruler named Dobrodor, the maker of good, spurned the love of Zliyana, the daughter of a king of the northern lands. Because a kind, beautiful woman had captured his heart, he returned tokens of love Zliyana had sent to him.

Living up to her name, Zliyana sought to bring evil on Dobrodor and his people. She cast a spell to make all unmarried men die if they tilled the fields. Since it was springtime, some disregarded the warning and ploughed the earth, consequently dying.

To prevent any more deaths, Dobrodor told all the unmarried men to disguise themselves. Some donned women’s clothing, while others wore masks from the skins of animals and tied bells around their waists. The men dressed as women harnessed the ones clothed as animals and drove the ploughs through the fields. The witch’s magic was fooled, seeing not men, but only women and animals in the field.

Did you know…?

Kukeri have scared away more than spirits. Turkish soldiers surrounded a rebel leader his followers. To terrify the soldiers, they put on masks, bells around their waists, and made torches of hemp soaked in tar. At dusk they crept out to where the soldiers camped. The soldiers scattered upon seeing devils carrying long forks and breathing fire.

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Tikvenik: A Little Taste of Bulgaria

If you ever travel to Bulgaria, be sure to try a banitsa, one of the country’s most popular dishes. In our book “Mystical Emona,” this is one of Maria’s specialties. One reason for the dish’s popularity is that it can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Another is that it’s simple to make. Traditional banitsa is made with filo dough, feta cheese, eggs, and yogurt. However, since autumn has arrived, we’d like to introduce you to a special variety called Tikvenik (teek-vah-neek), pumpkin banitsa.

Tikvenik (pumpkin-pie)

Tikvenik (pumpkin-pie)

The recipe for this scrumptious meal follows, but first we’d like to tell you about an interesting tradition involving banitsa. To celebrate New Year’s Eve, Bulgarians make a banitsa with fortunes. The mother of the household makes lucky charms or fortunes (small sheets of paper on which wishes are written then rolled up and wrapped in foil). She places them inside the banitsa before it’s baked.

At the evening meal, each member of the family takes a piece that contains a fortune. An additional piece is reserved for God, to keep the house safe from bad luck. Each charm tells the person his fortune for the coming year: perhaps a new job, a new house, health, a wedding, and so forth. Bulgarians have many customs that focus on health and fortune, and protection from evil. Similar to this tradition is the more common one performed at Christmas. A coin (and sometimes fortunes) are baked into a bread (pitka). The person who get the coin will have good luck throughout the year. If the coin is found in the piece set aside for the house or God, then the entire family will be healthy and have good luck. The ritual is included in our book “The Christmas Thief”

Banitsa is made with homemade or commercially made filo dough pastry sheets, sugar, nuts (optional), cinnamon, and butter. You can also sprinkle powdered sugar on top to make it a little sweeter. And, of course, don’t forget the pumpkin.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs pumpkin

1 cup sugar (or brown sugar)

2 ounces chopped walnuts

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 lb butter, melted

1 (1 lb) package filo pastry

2 – 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar (for sprinkling on top)

Directions:

  • Cut the pumpkin into large pieces grate it. The seeds and guts should have already been removed. You want to use only the meat of the pumpkin.
  • Add the sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon; mix with the pumpkin.
  • If you decide to use the butter, melt it and pour over the pumpkin mixture.
  • Open the package of filo dough and spread it out.
  • On the top layer, sprinkle vegetable oil (not more than a teaspoon), and spread it out so it coats the filo.
  • Spread 2 – 3 Tablespoons of the pumpkin mixture evenly over the filo (so it slightly covers the surface), then sprinkle some of the leftover sugar on top of that.
  • Take up 3 of the filo sheets and roll them together to form a log.
  • Place this on the outer edge of a greased baking dish, with the open end down.
  • Repeat the process with the remaining filo and pumpkin mixture, placing the log rolls in a circular fashion on the dish until it is filled.
  • Sprinkle vegetable oil over the top, coating all the filo so it doesn’t become dry.
  • Bake for about 15 – 17 mins at 350 F or until crispy and golden on top.
  • Remove from the pan immediately after baking and let it cool.

It’s best to place the pieces of banitsa flat while they cool, rather than stacked. If you stack them, the ones on the bottom won’t be crispy. It’s fine to pile them up on top of each other once they have cooled.

Banitsa is delicious as a dessert or for breakfast with your morning coffee or tea. We hope you enjoy it.

Here is a video showing a variation of the above recipe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfrRdCxFECE

We have more authentic Bulgarian recipes in our book Light Love Rituals- Bulgarian Myths, Legends, and Folklore.

Universal URL:  http://getbook.at/Light-Love-Rituals

Bulgarian Magical Healers: Don’t Call Me a Witch!

Is healing outside of modern medicine miraculous or perhaps even magical?

Do you know where Bulgaria is? It’s nestled along the western side of the Black Sea, just north of Greece. The country is perhaps best known to the Western world for the city of Varna, the place where Dracula set sail on the Demeter. But the country has so much more to its acclaim—Thracian tombs, rose oil, yogurt, honey, and herbs. Not to mention all the creatures who call it home—vampires, witches, dragons, and nymphs. You’ve most likely heard of Veelas from Harry Potter stories. In Bulgaria these nymphs, or fairies, who can charm men are called Samodivi and inhabit forests. Their sisters the Rusalki thrive in water bodies. You’d probably call them mermaids.

Bulgarians are steeped in superstitions, with numerous ways to ward off illness and curses caused by the “evil eye,” but they are also believers in the divine. Orthodox and pagan practices combine into unique perspectives on every aspect of life from birth to death. Folk medicine is widespread—in cities as well as in tiny, remote villages. Herbs play an important role in these cures. A popular saying is that an herb exists for every ache. Even during the time of the Roman Empire, Thrace (modern Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey) was known for its vast richness of medicinal plants.

No day is more important for healers than Midsummer, or Eniovden, a celebration of the summer solstice. Beginning at dusk on the previous evening, women and healers collect herbs because they’re most potent on this day. Although it may sound strange, they collect seventy-seven and a half herbs. It’s said this is the number of illnesses that exist, with the half herb designated for unknown ailments. (No, I don’t know how they determine a half herb. Perhaps they break one in half. Like so many other rituals, it’s secretive.)

Eniovden Wreath

Eniovden Wreath

Women who gather the herbs use some to create a giant wreath that young girls pass through. This protects them from being captured by a zmey, a male dragon who easily falls in love with a maiden and desires to have her for a bride. (Lest you think this might be quite the adventure, believe me it’s not. Those marriages always end in disaster for the poor girl who gives in to the zmey’s pleas and promises of wealth.)

Mostly, however, healers use herbs to cure illnesses, especially those caused by spirits or through curses. In ancient times in Bulgaria, during the time of the Thracians, the summer solstice was associated with spirits crossing from one realm to the next. And so, it was a day when people, livestock, and fields required protection. Only those versed in magical rites could perform these sacred rituals. They used herbs that had the power to contact invisible beings in order to help them cure the afflicted person.

Who are these healers, and how did they obtain this power?

Both men and women can be healers, although most often the role falls to an elderly woman called a znahar. But, please, don’t call her a witch. To this nation of people who believe in a single, omnipotent God as much as they do in beautiful, enchanting Samodivi, a “witch” is a veshtitsa, a spiteful person who practices the dark arts and wishes to cause death, sickness, discord, and the theft of fertility from the land, rather than healing and well-being. A community fears a veshtitsa, while they respect a znahar.

Baba Vanga

Baba Vanga: Wikipedia Commons

In rare instances, the znahar receives her healing arts by a supernatural means—from a saint, angel, or Samodiva through a dream, or even in a near-death situation, when the boundaries between this life and the next merge. The znahar in this case not only becomes a healer, but also a clairvoyant. The most famous was Baba Vanga (1911 – 1996). As a child she was reportedly caught up in a tornado and dumped into a field. From that point on, her eyesight failed, but her psychic and herbal healing abilities developed, which she claimed came from invisible creatures.

 

Samodivi are said to be daughters of the Great Goddess Bendis, and are therefore protectors of nature. In this capacity, they have the power to heal creatures and the land itself. Bulgarians believe the nymphs initiate chosen women into the sisterhood, and pass on to them the secrets of healing with herbs. The ceremony takes place in the woods right before sunrise on a Sunday on a night when the moon is full.

A more common initiation, however, is one passed down from one generation to the next, or from grandmother to granddaughter. The females involved are expected to be “ritually pure,” that is pre-menstrual or post-menopausal. These points in a female’s life bring them closest to the states of birth and death, respectively, allowing them to transition between the earthly and otherworldly realms so they can communicate with spirits.

The initiation can take place in various sacred places—by a river (symbolic of birth) or next to a hearth (representing the home or temple of the gods). In the first, the initiate climbs a willow tree by the river. With its branches in the air, and its roots in the earth, getting nourishment from the water, the tree unifies all three elements. The initiate recites the words to the sacred ritual three times, then moves to another branch and repeats the words three more times. Once more, the initiate moves and repeats the words three more times, ensuring the power will “take root” in the individual.

When performed at the hearth, the elder woman places bread in a covered clay dish called a podnitza and sticks it into the fire. Using iron tools, which have purifying power to chase away evil, she buries the dish with ashes, then places the tools on both sides of the hearth. Facing the fire, the initiate kneels on a broom, which symbolizes purification, the sweeping away of all unclean things.

The elder woman places three grains of wheat on the initiate’s right knee and three on the left, then tosses three grains into the fire. In ancient rituals, wheat consecrated the sacrifice offered to the gods. Placing it on the initiate, therefore, purifies her so she can become a vessel divine power can flow through.

Next, the elderly woman stands behind the initiate and recites the incantation, which the initiate repeats. They repeat the words three times. The elderly woman removes a metal or clay ceremonial object from a wicker basket placed to the right of the initiate. The initiate makes the sign of the cross three times, then touches the object to her forehead, then to her heart, and finally to her knees. She makes the sign of the cross again, and places the sacred object on her left side.

The elderly woman stirs a bunch of basil in a bowl of water and recites a blessing. After the blessing, the elderly woman sprinkles the initiate with the water using the basil to endow her with divine power. The initiate drinks the water from three places. This provides her with guidance for her mouth, hands, and heart: to speak, do, and feel those things that bring health and life to others.

A mediator is needed to transfer the healing power to the initiate. This is done with the bread, called dobra dusha, kind soul. The elderly woman breaks three pieces from it. She eats one, the initiate another, and the third the elderly woman places on the inside of the chimney. The two women now share the power. The initiate will gain her full power only after her mentor dies.

In the final rite of the ceremony, the elderly woman ties a red thread to the initiate’s right hand and pins a geranium onto her clothing. These both are symbolic of protection.

A Znahar’s Herbal Remedies

A znahar is said to be able to diagnose the origin of an ailment. If it’s caused by black magic, she not only uses herbs, but also recites an incantation to remove the spell. However, the spell must never be spoken without the use of the herbs, or both will lose their potency. And the spells must be uttered only when she fully understands the magic of each herb. Reciting spells over herbs before this point will harm both the woman and the person she attempts to heal.

The healing ceremony begins with a prayer to beings in the spiritual realm so they’ll bless the sick person. In one ritual, the healer leads the patient to the front door. There, he bows, touching his forehead against the threshold. He rises and proceeds to the hearth, where he again bows. The healer places embers in a bowl of water. Using the designated herb, she sprinkles the ill person’s head with the water. She holds bread and wine over his head and asks the illness to depart.

Magical herbs grow in valleys or high in the mountains. Using them is reported to enable the znahar to contact spirits to help with the magic. A few of these herbs follow:

  • One mysterious herb is bile, used to expel demons causing illnesses.
  • Angelica protects against spells and demonic attacks.
  • Pink iris root provides happiness, success, strength, and energy for those who are depressed.
  • Basil is used for cleansing and healing.
  • Vervain enhances magical powers and prevents attacks against the mind.
  • Lilac brings peace and tranquility.
  • Nettle breaks spells and exorcises demons.
  • Wormwood keeps dragons away.
ENIOVDEN by Albena Markova

ENIOVDEN by Albena Markova

Ronesa Aveela writes fiction and non-fiction dealing with Bulgarian mythology. Mystical Emona: Soul’s Journey, her first book, is a romantic fantasy about a Samodiva (Bulgarian woodland nymph) and a Boston artist. Light Love Rituals: Bulgarian Myths, Legends, and Folklore takes the reader through the season, identifying popular Bulgarian holidays and the rituals associated with them, as well as information about their origins. It even includes several recipes. She has also written short stories for children called “Baba Treasure Chest stories.” “Born From the Ashes” uses much of the information about and describes this transfer of power from a magical healer to her granddaughter.

References:

Konstantinova, Daniela Prayer (trans.). “Prayer blessing, vow: the secret lore of the Bulgarian healers and sorceresses.” Sept. 27, 2012. http://bnr.bg/en/post/100170254/prayer-blessing-vow-the-secret-lore-of-the-bulgarian-healers-and-sorceresses.

Mag, Selena. “Secrets of magic herbs” (translated from Bulgarian). Mar. 13, 2009. http://www.selenabg.com/index.php/2008-07-29-07-51-40/1616-2009-03-13-06-32-15.html.

Mishev, Georgi. Thracian Magic past and present. Sept. 2013. (BM Avalonia: London).

Light Love Rituals Receives Readers’ Favorite Award

Light Love Rituals: Bulgarian Myths, Legends, and Folklore by Ronesa Aveela is a wonderful book that gives readers a peek into the rich culture, customs, traditions, myths, legends and folklore of Bulgaria. The book speaks about the traditions that are part of the soul’s journey and the topics discussed reflect the relationship of nature to mankind. The rituals described are a collection of ceremonies practiced throughout the country and the author also intersperses these with fun facts and legends, making it an informational and engaging read. The book is educational, fun and entertaining, and it reveals the fascinating history and culture of the Bulgarian people in an enjoyable way.
Readers' Favorite Five Star Award
The recipes shared at the end are mouth-watering and readers will be tempted to try them out. The illustrations are bright and colorful and complement the author’s thoughts and ideas beautifully. The author takes readers through the sections methodically and every ritual has a story which makes it easier for readers to understand. The ‘Did You Know’ bits shared with readers in every chapter throw light on the beliefs and superstitions that exist in this country.

I learned a lot about Bulgaria, its culture, customs, rituals and traditions through the book. It’s obvious that the author has done a lot of research on the topic. The seasonal rituals with the questions at the end of each chapter does help readers connect better with the Bulgarian rituals, practices, and traditions that existed. I loved the book. The author does a great job in telling readers about the culture, customs, and traditions of Bulgaria.

Love Light Rituals

Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Readers’ Favorite

Light Love Rituals Review

Our new book “The Christmas Thief” in on Amazon

We are excited to announce the launch of our new book “The Christmas Thief” (A Baba Treasure Chest story)!

It is an illustrated short story about a boy discovering the true meaning of Christmas. Includes activities and coloring pages. This book is dedicated to people everywhere as a reminder of the beauty of Christmas when we count our blessings and help those in need.
Included is a Bulgarian ritual that people from all backgrounds and heritage can enjoy.
Entertaining the entire family will enjoy!

Christmas

Christmas

Also we are so happy to report that our book “The Christmas Thief” (A Baba Treasure Chest story) is live on Amazon as paperback or ebook.

Now we are able to offer the book to a wider audience via the amazing technology of the digital revolution.

Get your copy of the book today on Amazon