An Interview with Brendan Noble

Brendan NobleBrendan Noble is a Polish and German-American author currently writing fantasy inspired by Slavic mythology: The Frostmarked Chronicles. Through these books and his “Slavic Saturday” post series on YouTube and his website, he hopes to bring the often-forgotten stories of eastern Europe into new light.

Shortly after beginning his writing career in 2019 with the publication of his debut novel, The Fractured Prism (Book 1 of The Prism Files), Brendan married his wife Andrea and moved to Rockford, Illinois from his hometown in Michigan. Since then, he has published six full-length novels, including four in The Prism Files and two in The Frostmarked Chronicles, along with a novella for the latter series.

Brendan founded Eight-One-Five Publishing in 2021, wishing to inspire and help authors in the Rockford area write, publish, and distribute their works, regardless of socio-economic status.

Outside of writing, Brendan is a data analyst, soccer referee, and the vice-president of Rockford FC (Rockford’s semi-pro soccer club). His top interests include German, Polish, and American soccer/football, Formula 1, analyzing political elections across the world, playing extremely nerdy strategy video games, exploring with his wife, and reading.

About the Book

Title: A Dagger in the Winds and The Trials of Ascension (The Frostmarked Chronicles books 1 and 2)

Location: Fantasy realm inspired by Eastern Europe (particularly Poland)

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Audience: Upper YA

Time period: Fantasy realm inspired by time period around 500 – 800 CE

The Frostmarked Chronicles - Noble

Interview

Tell us a little about The Frostmarked Chronicles.

The Frostmarked Chronicles tell the tale of an outcast named Wacław and a witch named Otylia, two once-best friends who were torn apart against their wills as children. Combining Slavic mythology and epic fantasy, it explores what a fantasy realm would look like if Slavic gods, demons, and spirits roamed the world.

Quick description of A Dagger in the Winds:

An outcast cursed since birth. A witch chosen by a goddess. Torn apart by fate, together, can they save their tribe from eternal winter?

Rejected by his father and forced away from his best friend, Wacław is a dreamer who has never actually dreamed. Each night, his soul leaves his body, allowing him to wander invisibly until he wakes. He’d do anything to understand why—even give a blood offering to the goddess of winter and death.

But when a dark force soon rises within him, his only hope for answers is the one girl he’s forbidden to see: the witch Otylia.

Favored by the goddess of spring, there’s no one Otylia hates more than the winter goddess—except her once best friend Wacław. It’s been four years since she saved Wacław’s life using forbidden magic. Her thanks? Abandonment. She’s needed only the spring goddess since.

But when her goddess goes silent on the first day of spring and she discovers Wacław bearing the winter goddess’s mark, Otylia realizes the horrific truth: Winter will not end, and her lost friend is the key to uncovering why.

Embark on an epic journey through a world rooted in Slavic mythology and folklore that has powerful gods, menacing beasts, cursed forests, forbidden romance, and plenty of secrets to uncover.

What is your passion about this country? Why did you choose it for you setting?

Growing up as half Polish, I never realized some of our family traditions came from our Polish heritage. When my grandparents on my mother’s Polish side of the family died in recent years, though, I took an interest in my heritage. I dove into learning about Polish soccer/football and tried to learn more about its language and history, since so little of it is taught in the United States. That led me to Polish mythology (and Slavic mythology as a whole).

As someone who’d loved Greek myths in school, these new gods and demons were fascinating to me. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to find about them in English, so I decided to compile as much on them as I could through my Slavic Series posts on my website and YouTube, sharing the cool stories with others. I’d also enjoyed the bits of the Witcher that had Slavic mythological inspiration. Nothing I saw, though, was like the Percy Jackson books I’d read as a kid. It was all loosely pulling from tales or implementing a few demons here or there. So, I decided to write my own epic fantasy with the gods and myths wrapped into a new world.

Is this the country you were born in? If not, have you ever lived there?

I am from the United States and have unfortunately not had the chance to visit Poland or Europe at all yet. Though, it is definitely on the top of the places I would like to visit once the pandemic has passed.

What will readers discover about this country when they read your book?

Despite The Frostmarked Chronicles being high fantasy, Wacław and Otylia’s Krowikie tribe is rooted in the Vistula Veneti and the successor tribes of the Dark Ages. Their tribal government, customs (like the Drowning of Marzanna), warfare, and conflicts with surrounding groups are inspired by real events, just in a new world. Throughout the series, readers will meet Slavic gods, encounter horrific demons and spirits, visit mythical realms, and delve into some of the themes of Slavic myths.

What other books have you written? 

My previous series is called The Prism Files. Based in the modern Twin Cities of Minnesota, the series examines an alternate history where the United States never became a republic. In the dystopian present, people are sorted into color-coded classes by the corrupt Prism Test, and through the four book series, a Red slave named Ivan must infiltrate the elites of the society to end the Prism. This one has no Slavic mythology, though the remnant American monarchy is inspired by the Russian one.

The Prism Files

What People Are Saying about The Frostmarked Chronicles …

“This is one hell of a journey, one hell of an epic adventure and once I picked this up I was so engrossed in the story the day just slipped on by! It’s so well written and the world building is so incredible that you can actually visualise yourself there as we follow our amazing characters on their journey.” – Goodreads review of A Dagger in the Winds

“I was so excited for this book and it did not disappoint. A Dagger in the Winds artfully weaves Slavic mythology into a story of feuding families, disgraced young people, and the hope of finding yourself. Both main and supporting characters are incredible and give hope that there is redemption for even the demons among them.” – Goodreads review of A Dagger in the Winds

“The world I found myself in, was so beautifully crafted, so many different aspects come to life, the underworld is unlike any I’ve read before, magnificent.” – Goodreads review of The Trials of Ascension

Connect with Brendan

Social Media: Website | Newsletter | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | BookBub | YouTube |

Email: brendan@brendan-noble.com

Where to Buy: Amazon | Apple Books | B&N | Kobo | Books2Read |

Baba Yaga: Deity of Death or Regenerator of Life?

Back in March, we gave a brief overview of the infamous Baba Yaga, which you can read here to refresh your memory. But, this famous witch is more than a mere child-eating demon. If Hansel and Gretel had happened upon Baba Yaga in the forest, the witch might have taught them a thing or two about Slavic customs. She is a “baba,” after all, a wise, skillful old woman, who often performed the role of a midwife. Saving lives, not consuming them, she’d tell her honored guests.

First, she would let them know that by venturing into the forest, they had entered the in-between realm, the land of unconsciousness, the other side of life. It’s here that she guards the entrance to the “other world,” the world of the dead. It was once her role, long ago, to escort souls to the world beyond.

Baba Yaga and boy
Ivan Bilibin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

And next, if they questioned her about her penchant for sticking children into the oven, she’d tell them it was an age-honored tradition in parts of Russian and elsewhere to perform a ritual on premature babies to make the infant strong and resilient. Just like you make dough rise by putting it into a warm oven, so you do the same with a baby born early.

“How so?” her guests would ask.

“Why,” she’d reply, “aren’t you a wonder. What do they teach children these days? All the smartest people know that you have to cover the baby with dough and place him on a bread shovel, which you place into the warm oven—warm, mind you, not scorching hot. We only want to plump up the little one so he completes his growth cycle. The oven is much like it’s mother’s womb and ensures the child becomes fully developed.”

“But how do you know when he’s done?” children ask with a tremor in their voices.

“Surely, you know when bread is done. By practice, you can tell. Same goes for the little one.”

The witch, with a gleam in her eye, goes on to tell them that the same can be done with older children who have become ill. The oven heat will burn away the disease and it escapes through the chimney. Then, lo and behold, the child becomes healthier. These ancient rites and traditions have served our ancestors well, she tells them, and it’s such a shame they are now forgotten.

“How are you feeling, dear children?” She approaches and touches their heated cheeks.

“Fine, just fine,” they say as they take cautious steps back to the doorway.

The woman they see before them may be ugly as sin. She may even have a snake’s tail. Once, long, long ago, before she had any resemblance to a person, she had the appearance of a frog. Her arms were twisted with claws at their tips. She was bent over and had long, dirty hair.

Baba Yaga in Her Mortar
Ivan Bilibin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It is this Baba Yaga who is said to transform you through your death. Yes, you heard me right, your death. She not only burns away impurities such as diseases. She can also end your existence—but for the better. That part of you that dies is that which holds you back from becoming who you should be, the better you. Fear not, she has the power of death, but the power of life, as she is the keeper of both the Water of Life and the Water of Death.

***

We could talk about Baba Yaga for 1001 nights. There is so much information about her. But we hope this is enough to pique your interest in this ambiguous witch. We are currently researching more about Baba Yaga and will publish the fourth book in our “Spirits & Creatures” series hopefully by the end of 2022 or early 2023.

Sources:

“Baba Yaga’s Cottage: Meeting the Goddess of Death and Rebirth”: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/babayagascottage/2020/03/baba-yagas-cottage-meeting-goddess-death-rebirth/

“Baba Yaga – The Ugly Evil Witch of Slavic Folklore”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSCkdWREr7k

“Баба- Яга: в сказках и в жизни” (Baba Yaga: in fairy tales and in life): https://www.b17.ru/article/6550/

The Uniting Power of Wine

That cool May evening, Chorbadji Marko, without his hat in a warm robe, was having dinner with his family in the yard.

The table was set, as usual, under the grape vine (asma) between the clear and cold spout of the cheshma, which sang like a swallow, day and night, and between the tall, bushy boxwoods, which darkened by the wall, always green in winter and summer. The lantern shone on the branch of a lilac tree, which hung amiably over its fragrant lilacs over the heads of the children.

The above is an excerpt from the novel Under the Yoke by the great Bulgarian author and patriot Ivan Vazov. It is no wonder this chapter begins with an idyllic warm family dinner under the vine or as we Bulgarians call it “asma.”

An asma is a wooden or metal structure like a pergola to support a climbing grapevine.

asma1

Whenever you go to a Bulgarian house in Bulgaria or even here in America, you’ll find a grapevine and a vegetable garden. The gardens are small, but you’ll be amazed at the variety they produce. Bulgarians are well-known gardeners, and this is true here as well. In some gardens, you can find nettle and other rare, exciting varieties known for their curative power. Another plant that is famous and beloved is the Bulgarian geranium called zdravets, an herb spoken about for centuries in songs and poems.

Let me explain why an asma and grapevines are so important to us. An asma is where friendship is offered around the table or just a place to take a break from work to sit in the shade. Under the grapevine and in the vineyard are where we celebrate wine and love every year on February 14. This day is not only St. Valentine’s Day, it’s also Trifonovden, St. Trifon’s Day, one noted for festivities surrounding grapes and wine.

Wine has an important place in the life of Bulgarians. Each region in Bulgaria is known for a specific type of wine, and they all have their unique tastes and quality. Bulgaria was one of the largest wine producers, but lost its place after the government changed in 1989. The glory of Bulgarian wine has been written about around the world and has been raved about by many connoisseurs of fine wines.

Based on historical facts, Winston Churchill was one of those known connoisseurs. Every year, he ordered wine from Melnik, a small town in Bulgaria famous for its red wines. The climate and soil produce heavy, full-bodied wine with a unique taste. In the town, which has no more than 300 inhabitants, there is a wine museum, and almost every house has a cellar carved into the rocks where the sparkling red liquid is stored. The mastery of making wine is passed from generation to generation.

Like everyone in rural Bulgaria, my grandparents produced wine. My mother still keeps this tradition alive in her small vineyard. It’s a ritual she performs the entire year, starting with paying respect to the god of wine in February. After months of hard work, she harvests the grapes in late fall when they’ve turned into red, holy juice and puts it into wooden barrels that have been in use for many generations. An important part of the process is to clean the barrels with warm water and other special ingredients inside and out to make sure everything is clean, pristine, and ready for the young wine. She also puts a cotton bag containing herbs into the barrels to make the taste of the wine unique and bring out its healing power. Each household has their own recipe. One popular ingredient is St. John’s Wort, an herb used by healers. It is believed to increase the hormone of happiness. Combine this with the wine and you definable have a great cure for stress and anxiety.

My grandmother was poor and she used wine, honey, and herbs to cure coughs and everything else. She mixed wine and black pepper, wine and honey, and boiled wine with different herbs. My grandfather drank the wine and the rakia produced from the wine to heal his soul and forget what was stolen from him by the Communist party until he left this world early.

It’s no wonder why wine is so important to Bulgarians. It has an old history going back to the Thracians, who used to live in the area which is now modern Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, and at one time even extended farther. Thracians were fine craftsmen; they believed in immortality and had beautiful horses. Some scholars speculate that when the Thracians populated the area, they were the first to bring viticulture to the region. They brought grape vines, cultivated them, and began wine production.

wine symbolism

In the past, Trifon Zarezan was a popular event in February. Groups of men, young and old, went to the nearby vineyards, bringing food and wine to celebrate the day. After setting their bags of food, baklitsi (wooden vessels for wine), and tools down, they walked around the outside of the vineyard, holding up icons of Saint Trifon. When they returned to the starting point, they faced east and made the sign of the cross three times. The oldest in the group would kneel by a strong grapevine root and pour red wine around it three times. He also broke a crust of bread and put four pieces into the hole, equal distances apart, saying, “How many drops in the wine that many grapes in the vineyard this year.”

They also scattered “magical” ashes around the vines to ensure a good harvest. The ashes came from a budnik, a log burned on Budni vecher, Christmas Eve. Sometimes a priest went to the vineyard, but since he was old, I don’t remember seeing him as part of the festivities. In some villages, people also selected a “King of the vineyard.” His success during the year ensured everyone else would have bountiful harvests.

They used shoots from the grapevine to make a wreath to decorate their baklitsa or to wear as crowns. They’d also cut more shoots to take home to place by the family’s icons. My grandmother kept the wreath and used it in the fall when she made sauerkraut. She placed it into a barrel to cover the cabbage and make sure the juice stayed steady and didn’t get too sour. In my books, you can read and learn a lot about the rich traditions and rituals.

We also use wine and bread in rituals to welcome people to this world and send them on their way to eternity.

In northern Bulgaria, it’s a custom on souls’ day to pour wine over your loved one’s grave and when you leave, to pour a drop at the cemetery gate. Some soul always sits there at the invisible doorstep. Wine is poured as a symbol of remembrance for all souls—for those you know and those you’ve never met. Baba used to carry home-baked bread, boiled wheat with sugar and nuts, and wine when she visited the cemetery to honor all the dead.

No Bulgarian table (trapeza) lacks wine; it’s part of weddings, name days, and bereavements. It’s part of life. Nowadays, people continue to congregate in the vineyards, sing songs, and celebrate. The tradition has its own followers here as well. Whoever has a name day that day opens the doors of his home for relatives and friends. Wreaths are also made from vine rods, like the wreath of Dionysus.

Food and wine unite people no matter what their nationality or language is.

~~~

Note: This article contains excerpts from The Wanderer and Light Love Rituals.

The Wanderer - A Tear and A Smile       Aveela_Light-Love-Rituals-thumbnail

Travel to Emona by Book

In celebration of our new cover, Mystical Emona: Soul’s Journey is on sale from September 21 – 24, 2021 for $0.99 at all your favorite stores: Apple Books, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, Smashwords, Amazon, and more!

Set in the remote village of Emona, Bulgaria, the tale of parted lovers begins… or begins again. Read the story of Boston-born Stefan and the beautiful mystery woman he meets on the shore of the Black Sea. In the process, discover the beauty of the land and the magic of the rituals and customs, many surviving since the ancient Thracians.

Mystical Emona 3 image promo with quote

You can get the book here from your favorite store: https://books2read.com/Mystical-Emona

The Healing Power of a Traditional Bulgarian Spice

Tomorrow will be 20 years since the tragedy of 9/11. It’s hard to believe that a new generation has made their way to adulthood since the horrific day. This is a solemn time in our country, a time to honor the lives of the thousands of people lost in New York, D.C., and Pennsylvania to terrorism. I still remember the disbelief I felt when a co-worker told me the news. I was certain he was playing a terrible joke. Nelly, too, was horrified and shocked at the news like the rest of the nation. She was working the night shift at Middlesex College. For me, that autumn holds an even more personal tragedy. My mother suffered a stroke and died the following month. The pain of her loss remains with me even today. My wish is that the nation can put aside its differences on September 11 and honor those who died on that day, and remember that we all suffer and want to keep our nation safe. I wish that the herbs you’ll read about below could heal our nation of its great divide.

***

The aroma of freshly baked bread and “sharena sol” (colorful salt) always transports me to my childhood. Using it on Bulgarian cuisine is an irresistible tradition. The taste of oregano, savory, fenugreek. The aroma of freshly picked organic herbs from my baba’s garden. This is how I describe this authentic Bulgarian spice.

What Is “Sharena Sol”?

Colorful salt is a spice that contains several herbs. Our grandmothers and mother have known the power of herbs and have planted them in gardens to use in everyday life.

Let’s look at the individual herbs in the spice and what their health qualities are.

None of what follows is medical advice. Always consult your physician or health advisor prior to using any herbs in your diet.

Herbs

Savory

Garden savory has a fragrant, pleasant, spicy aroma. The main health benefits of savory are for the digestive system. This herb not only helps digestion, but it also prevents gases from forming. Years ago, a healer taught me a recipe for helping to cure canker sores in the mouth. Take one spoonful of honey mixed with a pinch of savory, chew for a minute, and spit it out. Don’t drink water for about five min. It works miracles.

Fenugreek

Fenugreek stimulates the generation of estrogen, helps lowers cholesterol, and improves the microcirculation of blood. All this makes fenugreek a great herb not only for your health, but for supporting feminine beauty. It’s believed to reduce the risk of heart attack.

The Miracle Thyme

Thyme is one of my favorite herbs. My grandmother gathered it every year from a pristine sunny location in the mountains. It was one of the main herbs in her kitchen. It’s not only aromatic, but also a useful herb in folk medicine. Tea made from thyme is believed to ease symptoms for people suffering from respiratory infections, obesity, menstrual cramps, insomnia, Alzheimer’s, dementia, upset stomach, and constipation. If you have a cold or the flu, consider drinking a cup of hot tea made from thyme and sweetened with honey. This is a great way to strengthen the respiratory system to deal with colds. If you have a high fever, it will promote sweating to help your body cool off.

Tea from thyme is particularly good as an expectorant, to help clear lungs and respiratory tract from accumulated secretions and mucus. It’s also praised as a tea that helps with weight loss because it can suppress your appetite, while still stimulating energy and providing nutritional substances, which prevent overeating and snacking. Also the compounds in this tea can improve metabolism, which helps you burn fat quicker to lose weight.

Some people use thyme as a remedy against heartburn. And, not least of all, it helps strengthens your immune system. I’m sure this alone will get this herb added to your favorite list.

Recipe to Ease Heartburn

Pour three teacups full of boiling water over three or four teaspoons of thyme stalks and leave for 3 to 4 hours. Boil the mixture again for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the stove, strain, divide into three parts, and drink three times a day before meals.

Oregano

Folk medicine healers (znahari) say that oregano is an excellent antioxidant which has a powerful reinforcing effect on the immune system. I read somewhere that it has twelve times the antioxidant capacity of oranges and is forty-two times that of apples. Oregano also has antiseptic and soothing properties. It’s used for soothing coughs, severe colds, influenza, bronchitis, and asthma. It’s also used to relieve constipation and stomach and intestinal cramps, liver and bile diseases. Because it has a calming effect on the central nervous system, people have used it to ease nervous excitement, insomnia, and headaches. My grandmother combined oregano, honey, and ground egg shells to ease bronchitis, asthma, and coughs.

Pumpkin Seeds

Many cultures use pumpkin seeds for their nutritional value. They are used in folk medicine to treat urinary tract and bladder infections, high blood pressure, blood sugar, and kidney stones. Raw seeds are used to remove parasites like worms.

I’m sure some of you sprinkle them on salads. Modern science confirms that pumpkin seeds have nutrients beneficial to your health. They are a good source of zinc which helps the body fight off invading bacteria and viruses. Zinc also helps to protect the lining in our digestive tract. Pumpkin seeds contain vitamin E which is a powerful antioxidant, essential to protect our body. They’re rich source of protein, unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals that reduce risk factors for chronic diseases, including cancer. When you buy a pumpkin to cook a pie, don’t throw the seeds away. Clean and bake them. You can also buy them from a grocery store.

How to Make Sherana Sol at Home

In different regions of Bulgaria, ingredients vary. The recipes are transmitted from generation to generation, with each person modifying it to their own taste.

I don’t use pumpkin seeds in my recipe, but if you want, you can bake some, grind them, and add to the other spices in the mix.

  • 1 Tablespoon spoon salt (sea salt or your favorite salt)
  • 2 Tablespoons sweet red pepper (paprika)
  • 1 teaspoon lightly roasted (and finely milled) dry sweet pepper seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon ground fenugreek
  • 1 teaspoon powdered thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon powdered savory

Mix all ingredients into a uniform mixture and place in a glass jar. In Bulgaria it’s placed in a special shallow clay dish as shown in the picture.

Sharena Sol

Nothing is tastier than a simple meal of warm, homemade bread with butter and fragrant sharena sol. You can also sprinkle it on a toast with butter. Think of it like garlic bread, but this is even better. I also use the spice on feta cheese.

I hope you can find the ingredients in your garden or in the store and try the taste of Bulgaria with this easy-to-make spice filled with so many powerful herbs. You can make the recipe without salt if you want to use it on feta cheese or other salty food.

If you enjoy herb lore and want to learn more about herbs used in Bulgarian folklore and folk medicine, keep an eye out for our new book about the 77 1/2 herbs of Midsummer’s Day. We hope to publish it early in 2022.

Sources:

https://novinibg.net/rigan-za-kakvo-pomaga-tazi-bilka-e-istinsko-sakrovishte/

https://medpedia.framar.bg

https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-pumpkin-seeds#1

https://www.lifefood.eu/eu_en/blog-how-to-protect-yourself-from-coronavirus-with-these-5-superfoods

Bulgaria Day

We recently donated copies of our cookbook to the “Health & Home Cooking” class at Augustine Christian Academy, an interdenominational classical school in Oklahoma, to give them a taste of Bulgaria. At the end of the 2021 school year, close to a dozen thirteen- and fourteen-year-old middle-graders (seventh and eighth grades) put on a “Bulgaria Day” and in class made several recipes from the book: Banitsa, Tikvenik, Rhodopean Klin. Their teacher, Mrs. Merrill pre-made Lazy Koledna Pitka at home and brought it into school, because there wasn’t enough time to make the bread and let it rise during class time.

Kids with booksnewsletter august 2021

Banitsa is considered the queen of all dishes, a tasty delight stuffed with a feta cheese and egg mixture. You’ll find it a common staple throughout the country. You haven’t experienced Bulgaria if you’ve never had banitsa. Tikvenik is a type of banitsa that has a pumpkin filling. Rhodopean Klin is another type of banitsa with a filling of rice and spinach, in addition to the feta and egg mixture. And the bread, Kolenda Pitka, is lazy only because this is a more modern version for today’s busy world.

As the cooking progressed, students in surrounding classes could smell the aromas drifting into their classrooms, eliciting groans of hunger and perhaps envy. The cooking students, however, shared their treats with upperclassmen and teachers, and it was a big hit! Mrs. Merrill managed to snag some samples before the students devoured it all and took them to the office. The staff and teachers were loving it and talking about it all morning.

maps and food newsletter august 2021

The Kolenda Pitka was devoured quickly, and students had fun reading the fortunes hidden inside. They toasted and buttered bread, and sprinkled the Bulgarian spice, Sharena Sol, onto it. Several teachers asked for the name of the spice so they could order some online, as it wasn’t available locally. Mrs. Merrill commented that next time she’d have to bring more bread and spice.

So many of them said they loved the Rhodopean Klin. Several students told their teacher they’d never had feta before, and they really liked it. One of them thought rolling the banitsa was like rolling a long, coiled snake.

Everyone wanted more of everything. One student commented:

“My favorite was the Tikvenik. I could have ate the whole pan!”

Another said:

“This was so much fun! I’ve never worked with filo dough before.”

Their teacher, Mrs. Merrill, said, “I was jumping around trying to snap photos in between all their questions. And they were devouring the food before I could get good pictures!”

“Needless to say,” she remarked to me later, “you’ve converted a bunch of students and staff to Bulgarian cuisine! This was so much fun! Thank you for sending the cookbooks!!! I think we need a trip to Bulgaria now.”

Photos: by Erin Merrill

Mediterranean & Bulgarian Cuisine is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or by request through any book store or library.

Don’t Wait for a Vacation to Read a Book

Running chores all day long, taking care of your family and working long days, does that sound familiar? Maybe it’s time to give yourself a gift. If you haven’t read a book for pleasure lately, pause and allow yourself the time. You don’t need a summer vacation to read a book. Grab a cup of tea or coffee, curl up, and enjoy some “me” time.

The tales and stories inside the pages can help you relax, lose all sense of time, and immerse yourself in a journey that takes you out of your own life and opens new opportunities, ideas, and universes. Sometimes a book can help you resolve an issue or make the next important step in your life.

You can learn so much from the characters and events inside books (fiction or nonfiction). They will guide you from page to page. The passion that pours from line after line of books help awaken your own emotions and memories.

Books are an easy, inexpensive retreat. They’re safe. Even when the content is high-intensity or dangerous, you can close the pages and continue the journey when you’re ready.

The books you read and those that touch you deeply shape your thinking, your vision for the world around you, and they become part of you.

I like to write and create different worlds and characters, because they help me connect with the inner me and my roots, buried deep inside me. I hope by reading my books, you can find something that will touch you, learn something new, awaken a good memory, make or adopt a new ritual, or research a topic and learn more.

Reading is “mindfulness,” because it requires an investment of time and emotion, as well as concentration and imagination. Readers need to be “present” and in constant contact with the characters of the book, their emotions.

For me, reading is an excuse to eat a lot of chocolate.

Here are some of my favorite quotes about books:

“Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.”

― John Green, An Abundance of Katherines

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”

― Charles W. Eliot

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Happy reading! Make your own ritual, travel to unknown worlds, and build your own mental retreat. You deserve it.

Connections eMagazine

Connections eMagazine runs an annual Reader’s Choice Awards. You can find this year’s entries here:  https://melaniepsmith.com/current-contest/?contest=gallery Voting is ongoing until July 19. You can vote once per day, as many books as you like. Feel free to check them out and vote, or simply look for your next favorite book.

Thracians’ Gate to World of the Beyond (Summer Solstice Rituals)

We knew little about the ancient Thracians when we started to work on Mystical Emona: Soul’s Journey, our debut novel. When people mention Thrace, the only heroes who readily come to mind are Hercules, Orpheus, and Spartacus – if even those. But Thrace has a vast history beyond its mythology or the conflict with Rome. We enthusiastically rolled up our sleeves and researched their culture, religion, and customs.

Quite often now when we mention the book, people ask, “Where is Thrace?” or “Who were the Thracians? Is that a country?”

So, let’s start with the easy question: “Where is Thrace?” The Thracians lived in southeastern Europe along the Black Sea, in the region that is now modern-day Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. At one point, their territory extended even well beyond that area.

“Who were the Thracians?” poses a more difficult question. What we can tell you is that they have been around for a long time. Since the people themselves did not have a written language, everything that is known about them comes from other sources. The first historical reference to them was in Homer’s Iliad, where it was mentioned that they were allies to the Trojans. But evidence of them as a distinct people exists as far back as 1500 BC.

They were a warlike tribal nation, living in mountains and valleys. But they were also great artisans, finely crafting delicate golden objects and painting beautiful murals.

A photo from the exhibition of the Lukovit Thracian treasure in the Lovecг history museum
Daznaempoveche, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Thracians were well known for their horses. They venerated the animals, considering them mystical creatures that carried men back and forth from the underworld, spoke to give advice, and predicted their master’s future. Thracians believed the animals were immune to spirits and sickness, and could safely transport people through forests and by rivers and lakes where spirits dwelt at night. Some customs dealing with horses were: When a ruler died, his horse was buried with him. Women embroidered images of horses onto clothing to protect family during travels. Heroes took oaths on their weapons and their horses.

Vazovo_Thracian_Pegasus
A golden thracian pegasus, found in Vazovo, Bulgaria.
Ivorrusev, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A polytheistic people, they worshiped the Sun and Moon. In her “The light imaginary and real sacred space in Thracian rock- cut sanctuaries,” Prof. Valeri Fol wrote: “In the Rock Sanctuaries the rising of the sun symbolizes the birth of the Sun God and his divine power in the days of the Summer Solstice. On the day of the Autumnal Equinox, after which light diminishes, it is equivalent to taking on the path to the World of the Beyond. The rock-cut Sanctuaries most strongly imply the unity of nature and man….”

Bronze head of a statue, probably of Seuthes III, found in front of the Golyama Kosmatka tumulus, Kazanlak district, late 4th century BC
Filipov Ivo, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Every year, thousands of enthusiasts in Bulgaria travel to sacred the Thracian rock sanctuary to see the first rays of the sun on the day of the summer solstice.

Buzovgrad Megalithic
Filipov Ivo, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bendis, called the Great Goddess, was one of their primary deities. Better known, however, is Dionysus, the god of wine, whom the Greeks incorporated into their mythology. It’s through the story of Orpheus (you remember him; he went to Hades to retrieve his wife, Eurydice) that the tale of this drunken god is probably best known. The story didn’t end well for Orpheus. The Maenads, followers of Dionysus, tore his apart. Yup, gruesome.

Even today, Bulgaria is known for its wine. Many myths and legends mention Thracian wine. Homer says the most popular wine, one with the best aroma and body, came from the Thracian city of Maroneia. Odysseus also used Thracian wine to put the Cyclops Polyphemus to sleep before he struck the beast in the eye with his spear.

When Christianity crept into the region, the Dionysian cult faded away. But even today the feast of Saint Trifon is celebrated, and the festivities trace back to the cult of Dionysus (for example, pouring wine and electing a king).

But, that could be the topic of another entire post.

Click the links to discover more about our books:
Mystical Emona: Soul’s Journey
Light Love Rituals: Bulgarian Myths, Legends, and Folklore

Healing Flowers, Midnight Magic, and Mystical Dancers

Spassovden is a time, in Bulgaria, when Rusalki return from their winter home in Zmeykovo (Dragon Village). They spread life-giving dew on the fields. This dew has an added benefit besides fertility for crops: it can heal diseases, especially the dreaded Rusalka disease, which the spirits themselves bring on people who disobey rules against working.

The night before Spassovden is a time for “impossible wishes” to come true with the help of Rusalki and their favorite flower, rosen (Dictamnus albus or burning bush), which means “dew.” It grows in various places across Bulgaria and blossoms for only a short time in June. According to folklore, it blooms only on the night before Spassovden, when the flower is at its most powerful state for curing people.

The spirits are known to pick the white, pink, or red blossoms this night to make wreaths for their hair. On the Sunday morning after Spassovden, Rusalki use these wreaths to sprinkle the fields with dew. Intoxicated by the fragrance of the flowers, Rusalki become merciful to people.

Rusalii – Dancing for Health

During this week Rusalli perform their mystical dance to heal people and chase away evil spirits. Diseases Rusalki cause are not to be trifled with. To rid a person of this type of illness requires various means to scare away the spirits and drive out the illness: incantations and loud noises, such as rattling cans, ringing bells, whistling, and singing. The best solution, though, is to pay the Rusalii to heal you, and you’ll get all those methods at once.

Who or what are the Rusalii?

The word refers to a group of men who travel from village to village, healing those inflicted with Rusalka disease and possessed of unclean forces. The name is associated with the rituals or festivities celebrated as well. The rituals have mostly died out today, but are still performed for show.

Rusalii

These rusalia or rusalii celebrations, as they were called, have been recorded as far back as the late Middle Ages. In the twelfth century, legal scholar Theodoros Balsamon wrote about popular fairs called “rousalia” that occurred after Easter. And in the thirteenth century, a Bulgarian archbishop mentioned the name in a homily.

Rusalii festivals take place three times a year: around the spring equinox (Rusalka Week), the summer solstice (Midsummer’s Day or St. John’s Day), which is celebrated in northern Bulgaria, and the winter solstice (the “Dirty Days,” the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany), which is celebrated in southern Bulgaria. During the cold months, the men drive away karakondjuli (night spirits), talasumi (evil spirits), and zmeyove (dragons). In the warmer months, it’s Rusalki and Samodivi (woodland nymphs) they focus on. The spring rusalii, which has “a military flavor,” is performed to cure the sick and drive away disease; the ceremonies also are dedicated to fertility and Rusalki, who bring that fertility. The spring rusalii is when Rusalki begin “to dance their way out of the wild into the world of farmer and shepherd.”

Midnight Magic

In a ritual called “visiting the rosen” or “walking on the dewy rosen grass,” sick people go to a field where this plant grows, or their relatives bring them there if they’re too ill to venture out on their own. Most often, however, people go there in secret, not allowing anyone to see them arrive.

They choose a location that’s close to a holy spring where a church or chapel has also been built. Magic wells with water that cures all diseases are often found in locations where Rusalki live. It’s possible that the springs found near rosen fields in these sacred places are ones that connect with these magic wells. One famous place you can go to is the village of Resen, which gets its name from the flower. Or perhaps you’d rather go to Krustova Gora, Holy Trinity Cross Forest, in the Rhodope Mountains. You can also travel to the Bulgarian Lourdes, a plain near the foot of the Stara-Planina mountains, where rosen grows in abundance.

Ill people, clothed in white, wash with the sacred water, then prepare for the night ahead. They spread a white sheet on the ground to sleep on. Near where their head will lie, they place a bowl of water, a twig from a rosen bush, a lit candle or oil lamp, and a white handkerchief on which they place gifts for the spirits: a cup of honey and rolls spread with honey, shirts, towels, stockings. Before they go to sleep, the people eat a meal they’ve brought: bread, cake, roasted chicken, wine, rakia (Bulgarian brandy).

Magical Healing Night

They must keep a strict silence during the night. At midnight, Rusalki arrive, bearing their queen on a chariot of human bones. They cause a whirlwind to blow over the sleeping humans, carrying with it the soft, whispered words, laughter, or songs of the spirit maidens.

As the Rusalki gather flowers, they strew leaves, twigs, sand, insects, and petals over the sleeping people. Tales have been told of people feigning sleep, those who have lost a limb, hearing Rusalki say, “Restore (person’s name) leg (or hand or fingers).” All who hear the spirits speak their name are destined to be cured.

In the morning before sunrise, people who could sleep through the turmoil awake and check their surroundings. The sight before them displays the fact that the spirit maidens have been present during the night. One person in the village of Lyaskovets said that when he took his father to the rosen field for treatment, in the evening the flowers of the dew were whole, and the next morning most of the flowers were broken, as if cut with scissors.

Everyone examines the water and handkerchiefs to determine their fate. If nothing has fallen onto the cloth or into the water, it means Rusalki have chosen not to heal the person. Others are fortunate if green leaves and live insects have dropped onto the items they set out. This means they will recover. If the leaves and insects are dead, or the water and handkerchief are covered with twigs, the people will remain ill and possibly even die from their malady. Dirt left on a handkerchief is a certain sign the person will die from his disease.

~~~

A Study of Rusalki thumbnailThe above is an excerpt from our book about Rusalki. You can get a copy at all major retailers if you’d like to learn more about these lovely maidens and beliefs about them: A Study of Rusalki – Slavic Mermaids of Eastern Europe.

 

Bulgarian Embroidery (Shevitza)

Everyone has their own path. Like ants, we hurry and wander and look for something. As Grandma used to say, we spend our whole lives building our home and family.

The paths of our life are like Bulgarian embroidery; they wind like a beautiful Bulgarian horo dance and form infinity.

Everyone carries in his heart the tree of life! That tree embroidered by our great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, mothers-in-law. It is woven into the wood carvings around the church altars made by the skilled hands of the woodcarver masters. In its crown stands the center of the universe – love.

The love with which the Bulgarian woman made the cloth for the sacred shirts.

In the embroideries our grandmothers and great-grandmothers have encoded blessings for health, happiness, longevity, love, abundance, children, prosperity and spiritual cultivation!

Embroidery1

Each element in Bulgarian embroidery has its meaning and purpose. The colors are not random; they are aligned with taste and symbolism.

The shirt (riza) is of great importance in the life of the Bulgarians. Shirts are given at weddings, name days and baptisms.

In the past, the embroidered shirt was the first and perhaps the most important garment of the Bulgarian’s clothing and is believed to shape his identity. Its place in the costume is as the main bearer of the signs of social status. The shirt is sacred. It is made of linen or hemp (cotton fabrics) because these fabrics were thought to have a protective effect, and the inability to count the threads in the sleeve is considered a sure protection against evil and bad eyes. The shirt is richly embroidered with traditional symbols and embroideries, which are believed to protect from evil eyes and troubles.

That is why the wedding shirt has a very lavish ornamentation. This shirt is carefully stored until old age as a garment for heaven. It was believed that in paradise, on the wedding shirt, the man and the woman would meet and reunite in eternity.

White and red are the main colors in wedding attire, which symbolize male and female, heaven and earth, connected in a sacred marriage with each other. White is a symbol of the feminine principle, of purity and virginity, and red of the masculine principle, of fire and fertility.

It is no coincidence that we use white and red to make the ritual Bulgarian martenitsas.

Embroidery2

In Bulgarian folklore, white is the color of innocence and beauty. The face of the most beautiful girl is white. In Christianity it is a symbol of faith, purity and truth. It is also associated with death. In the Strandzha region the color of mourning is white. The shirt of the haiduk (freedom fighter), who goes to the gallows, is white.

Green – this is the color of Mother Nature and new life. It is associated with the Tree of Life.

Blue – this is the angelic color that represents the sky, the sea, the water. It embodies truth and trust, purity, serenity and contemplation.

Yellow – a symbol of gold and the Sun, a source of joy and merriment, fire, light, as well as the afterlife and the dead.

Black / brown – the color of Mother Earth. It embodies stability and security, fertility.

The symbolism of the Bulgarian embroideries is as rich as the soul of the Bulgarian people. Each region has its own characteristics.

Regardless of the differences, all roads intersect in our ancient Bulgarian roots.

Folklore and traditions help us to understand our past and identify and build our future.

***

If you’d like you own Shevitza design, you can select from various products on our Redbubble site:

https://www.redbubble.com/shop/ap/81619712

or

https://www.redbubble.com/shop/ap/81623543

Make sure to check back frequently. We continue to add new designs.

You can learn more about different Bulgarian customs in our book Light Love Rituals, available from all major retailers.

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