The Arc de Triomphe – Unique Art Project

I love to travel and explore the world, and Europe is my favorite place since I was born and raised there. One of the places I wanted to visit was France and I was fortunate to visit Paris in October. In addition to visiting all the main art actions, I was able to visit an usual art project, the wrapped Arc de Triomphe. This project was a long-life dream of Christo.

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He was a Bulgarian refugee who had escaped Soviet occupation like me, but he made his way to Paris in 1958. He went to Paris because he was an artist and that was where he believed the capital of art was located. In 1961, three years after he met his wife in Paris, Christo and Jeanne-Claude began creating works of art in public spaces. One of their projects was to wrap a public building. When he arrived in Paris, Christo rented a small room near the Arc de Triomphe and had been attracted by the monument ever since.

During his career he and his wife did a lot of different projects to transform public spaces. One of his dreams was to wrap the Arc de Triomphe. Even in his early work, he was thinking big, wondering what it would look like to wrap something important and public—like, for instance, the Arc de Triomphe at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. Unfortunately, he passed way before he could achieve this dream. But, per Christo’s wishes, the wrapped L’Arc de Triomphe was completed by his team after his death.

From my hotel window in Paris, I was able to see the giant silver Arch among the golden trees. We decided to go there immediately after we unpacked out luggage and we had a cup of aromatic, double espresso to rejuvenate ourselves.

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After going through the checks of our green certificates, we headed to the tunnel that led to the Arch. The pictures on the walls told the structure’s story. Footsteps filled the tunnel, and it was difficult to read everything under each picture in the dim amber light. My mask made my breathing difficult, and I quickened my pace at the sight of the stream of light at the end of the tunnel. Fresh raindrops fell on my flushed face as I exited, and I removed my mask to take a deep breath of the cold autumn air.

I didn’t have time to think, because my attention was drawn to the arch. It was a splash of silver and gray. Hundreds of people moved around its bold giant columns like an anthill. Camera flashes reflected off of the metallic gray-blue fabric.

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We were in the open air, but it felt like a big gallery that gathered the whole world under its roof.

Squeezing my umbrella that could fly out of my hands at any moment, I slipped between the smiling faces of the people. I smiled in return and walked toward the arch, trying not to interfere with selfie and group photos.

Languages ​​merged into one: German, French, English, Russian, Scandinavian, Arabic, and Slavic, and others creating a sound a music of delight and wonder.

After a few minutes, I crept to the arch and, without waiting for an invitation, went closer to touch it. I shivered at the coldness and roughness of the gray-blue fabric. When I touched it, the threads of the fabric felt like muscle fibers wrapped around the body of the arch. The red threads ran like veins through it, tying it tightly to the body of the arch.

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The arch looked like a great Egyptian mummy to me, wrapped up, veiled, and ready for its next journey. Beneath the heavy material lay the graceful forms of baroque bas-reliefs depicting battles, victories, and triumphs. But in those days, this story was closed, the forms were transformed, and the arch had wrapped its history under a silver veil.

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When I stood in the center below it and looked up, I felt small, lost in space. The light from the spotlights accentuated the folds, the shadows; the glare formed a web of beauty. I felt the power of the silver dome above my head.

It was me and the wind, even the clatter of footsteps on the plates could not disturb this moment.

The wind passed beneath the arch, crashing into the crowd and continuing its way through the veins of Paris.

It was a cold autumn day, but I felt a lot of energy around me, people from all over the world watching, observing and reflecting.

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The art project received positive and negative feedback, but from my perspective, it was an art project that united people during the time of a pandemic, when we are all scared of human interaction and have gone virtual. The sound of cheers, the smiles on people’s faces, the noise of the crowd was like a gift to me, a spark of life. This gave me hope that everything would be fine and people would find the right path again. Cheers, hugs, something we didn’t see often after the start of the pandemic. Art is a temple of the human soul, and it comes in all shapes, colors, media and ideas.

Images copyright Nelly Tonchev and Vesselina Toncheva

Magical Herbs of Love in Bulgarian Folklore

Disclaimer: The information in the article is not a recommendation for treatment, but to acquaint you with interesting old customs and historical facts. You should always consult a medical professional before undertaking any herbal remedies.

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Happy New Year! We wish everyone luck, health, and love. We look forward to what the new year will bring even though we don’t know what is in store for us during the days that follow.

In Bulgarian folklore, on December 24, families start the process of forecasting the future with their ritual bread. Inside it are hidden lucky charms – messages for health, love, and success – normally wrapped in foil. Everyone in the household hopes to get one and secure their fortune for the entire year.

In the past, in addition to such rituals and traditions, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers knew the power of each herb and how to keep their home healthy and happy. They used herbs and flowers to cast love spells. And love itself is magic.

In Bulgarian myths and legends, you can find this magic by using herbs. Herbal rituals could fill many books, but with Valentine’s Day swiftly approaching, I’ve selected a few to help you learn how you can use them to attract love into your life and how to keep it.

Herbs for love

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Based on Bulgarian folklore, if you sprinkle your partner with powdered basil while he or she sleeps, the person won’t cheat. I prefer to use basil for my watermelon and feta cheese salad, but you’re welcome to try this ritual for a little love magic.

Common ivy, English ivy (Hedera helix)

If you know someone who’s getting married, give the bride a branch of ivy. It’s supposed to bring her happiness in marriage.

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

Oh, Mistletoe… I have one in my yard. I never knew how powerful the plant is. Do you know why you need to kiss under the Mistletoe?

Shakespeare calls it ‘the baleful Mistletoe,’ an allusion to the Scandinavian legend that Balder, the god of Peace, was slain with an arrow made of Mistletoe. He was restored to life at the request of the other gods and goddesses, and Mistletoe was afterwards given into the keeping of the goddess of Love, and it was ordained that everyone who passed under it should receive a kiss, to show that the branch had become an emblem of love, and not of hate (from: Botanical.com. “Mistletoe”).

In Bulgarian folklore, mistletoe is a sacred and magical herb. In winter, the bushes remain green and fresh on top of the tree host, reminiscent of spring and new birth. If a girl hangs a branch of mistletoe hangs over her bed in the winter, she’ll meet or marry her lover during the year.

Maybe give this one a try if there’s someone you long to be with and see if this ritual works. It’s harmless enough.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

If you worry too much about a loved one who’ll be away on a long business trip, place dandelion flowers and seeds into his pockets or luggage. He won’t even think about infidelity. Dill seeds have the same effect.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

“Samodivi,” Bulgarian woodland nymphs, rub their arrows with valerian, so that whomever they catch or wound immediately hates a woman or lover for life. The woodland nymphs wanted the men to love them instead.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

If you burn a pinch of ginger in your home, the relationship between you and your partner will improve.

Dill (Anethum graveolens)

If a woman washes her face and hands with a decoction of dill seeds, her partner’s love for her will increase.

Melilot (Melilotus officinalis)

Many songs and folklore tales mention this plant. It helps protect girls from being abducted by the dragon zmey. In Bulgarian folkore, the herb is also used to separate lovers as well as saving someone from zmey’s love.

Lentil (Lens culinaris or Lens esculenta)

In Bulgarian folklore, lentil is used in magic love potions. To do this, you’ll need to collect one lentil from forty different shops. After boiling them, knead them into bread while saying, “As I tried to collect 40 grains from 40 shops, so should my husband work so hard for me and love me forever.” Then, when the bread it done, give it to your spouse to eat (from Lilia Stavreva’s Български магии и гадания [Bulgarian Magic and Foretelling], p. 209).

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Beloved calming Lemon Balm. Besides its great aroma, this herb has a calming effect. Give your love tea made with it to calm them and also nourish their love.

Yellow Avens or Common Avens (Geum)

This herb is called an “old herb” (staro bile), probably because it is as old as its love magic. It will not only help you find the love of your life, it’s also used to keep away bad spirits and help you lose weight and get in shape. Stories tell how once pierced yellow avens with his arrows, and then gave it to the fairies so they could enchant and ruin the lives of more than one lover.

If you wear the herb, it will enchant everyone around you. That sounds like the movie “Love Potion No. 9” with Sandra Bullock.

Iris (Iris germanica)

The iris is a magical flower. Whoever takes a bunch of irises and puts them on his belt or hat, his soul will forever remain with the one who wears it.

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

Wormwood is another herb used to separate lovers. A girl who doesn’t want to marry an old bachelor picks up “bitter wormwood” in a dewy meadow and rubs her face it it so that the man will not like her.

An Old Love Charm

On St. Luke’s Day, take marigold flowers, a sprig of marjoram, thyme, and a little Wormwood; dry them before a fire, rub them to powder; then sift it through a fine piece of lawn, and simmer it over a slow fire, adding a small quantity of virgin honey and vinegar. Anoint yourself with this when you go to bed, saying the following lines three times, and you will dream of your partner “that is to be”:

“St. Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me,

In dreams let me my true-love see.”

(From Botanical.com, “Wormwoods”).

European wild ginger (Asarum europaeum)

Wild ginger evokes a feeling of love. People use this magic grass to cast spells to unite two young people.

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I hope this information helps you spice up your holiday on Valentine’s Day. As you can see, your love life can be improved just by going to your pantry. Many of the spices and herbs in your spice rack can make both your kitchen and your relationship magic. It’s as easy as pie if you know the power of herbs and seasonings. Our mothers and grandmothers understood the power of herb and used them in everyday life for love, health, and great meals, uniting everyone in the kitchen and around the heart.

Herbs Cover

I’m working on a new book about the 77 1/2 healing herbs from Bulgarian folklore. It includes information like the above, as well as recipes from Baba Vanga and other famous, trusted healers, as well as more interesting facts about herbs.

Sign up for our newsletter for updates on this book and others.

 

Epiphany – St. Jordan’s Day

Jordan’s Day is celebrated on January 6.

The old Bulgarians believed that at midnight the rivers stopped flowing and their water became healing. On this day, the holy water from the church service was brought home, where the oldest woman sprinkled it for health. Also, people drank from the water for good health, and the rest was kept for healing throughout the year.

After returning from the church, people put an ax in the middle of the house, with the blade up, and they jumped over to stop diseases.

Divination and magical rituals are also performed on this day.

The leaves of the ivy are used to foretell health. In the evening before the holiday, ivy leaves are strung on a thread, one leaf for each member of the family, and the leaves are left to spend the night outdoors under the moon.

People believe that at night the sky opens, Saint Elijah rides out on a horse, and puts a sign on each leaf. A leaf without a stain means good health!

Be alive and healthy, and happy name day to everyone named after Saint Jordan!

A Magical Wand

The year 2021 is coming to a close. After the world-shaking events of 2020, many people hoped that 2021 would be better. For some, it may have, but for many, the trials afflicting the word continued on. But still, each new year brings hope, as if somehow the turning of the calendar to a new year will wipe away all the bad that preceded it.

We don’t have a magical wand that will do that, unfortunately. But, we’d like to share with you a Bulgarian custom performed with the hope of bringing recipients good health, happiness, and wealth for the coming year: Survaki.

In Bulgaria, Christmas was forbidden. For more than forty-five years, Bulgaria was a Communist country, so it was inappropriate to celebrate religious holidays. Christmas day, like any other religious holiday in Bulgaria, was a working day. New Year’s was the New Christmas or Koleda. Even though everyone could celebrate New Year’s openly, most people, including my family and grandparents, would secretly perform the old Christmas traditions on that day.

We didn’t have Santa Claus, but the identical Russian version called “Dad Moroz.” He was a friendly looking old man with a long, white beard and a red suit. He gave presents to the children, but he didn’t come down the chimney. He entered through the front door and met us in person. Most importantly, we received gifts on the evening of December 31 instead of on December 25.

Each year, I waited to get a doll I wanted to have for a long, long time, or a blouse I’d been looking at through a window shop for months. The presents were so meaningful to me that I was afraid to play with the doll. Sometimes, I kept it in the box for months. I’m sure my mother still has some of my dolls in her memory boxes. Even an orange was a great gift. New Year’s celebrations were the only time people had the chance to taste what was then considered exotic fruits: bananas, oranges, tangerines, and others. These were impossible to find during the rest of the year.

The new year was a time of remembrance. And what better way to remember than through food and smells. Even though Bulgaria is a small country, its cuisine is diverse. The meals, like the colors woven into the nation’s rugs, represent the hospitality and rich spirituality of its people. The food gathers people around the table where the many generations can talk and connect. Even my grandmother’s cats waited quietly near the stove for a taste of the special holiday bread.

I learned most of the rituals, cooking, and traditions from my grandmother. Some I only observed, while others I helped her perform and prepare. Before dinner, she purified the house and bread with smoke from incense burning on hot coals. I walked behind her, wanting to carry the metal container holding the embers.

Once everything was ready, we sat around the table to eat and talk. On New Year’s, the dinner table was similar to how the Christmas (Koleda) table would have been set. It held the traditional ritual bread with fortunes. We didn’t have a fireplace in my grandmother’s house, but she cooked and baked bread on a wood stove. Instead of only the customary vegetarian meals we’d normally have at Christmas, the New Year’s table contained a variety of traditional meals including meat. My mother and grandmother prepared delicious dried red peppers filled with rice, spices, and sometimes boiled, crushed beans.

Even though it was forbidden for Bulgarians, Christmas was, and is, an important holiday. In the past, it reflected the beginning of the winter holidays. The harvest had been picked, the wine bottled, and the grain milled. Everyone was ready to rest and celebrate a quiet holiday. On Christmas Eve, the family gathers around a special table and also respects the deceased predecessors of the home. It’s a night full of magic and love.

Some of these traditions are preserved and practiced here (abroad) among our Bulgarian community. Families and friends gather to celebrate with meatless dishes and the famous soda bread (pitka) with lucky fortunes and a coin baked inside. Everyone prepares what they’ve learned from their grandmother, mother, or from information and recipes on the Internet. It’s a world without borders, and we have access to all kinds of information to make our celebration unique for us. On Christmas, we also drink a homemade brandy called rakia.

Whoever fails to find the lucky coin has a second chance on New Year’s Eve when a special pastry called banitsa is made. The hostess puts fortunes in the banitsa and makes sure each guest gets a piece with one. What is a banitsa? It’s the queen of the Bulgarian cuisine and among other societies. It’s an egg-and-cheese-filled pastry made from filo dough.

Nowadays, we make the traditions special by sharing with our neighbors. In return, they share specialties from their ancestry. Our Greek neighbor’s baklava is famous in the neighborhood. She also makes a spinakopita (a Greek banitsa), which I admit is quite tasty. We also know an Italian family who prepares food for the whole street, plenty of wine and a variety of dishes.

The Italians also prepare and serve a special multi-course seafood dinner on Christmas Eve (La Vigilia). It’s a wonderful holiday mealtime tradition that originated in Southern Italy and is known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes. They make bread and have adopted our “fortune coin” tradition.

After the Christmas fever passes, we count the days to New Year’s: Survaki.

As we say in Bulgarian, “New year, new luck.” Since for most of my life, New Year’s was the New Christmas, I can’t watch a movie and eat Chinese takeout quietly at home. It’s still an important day for my family and friends. We usually gather in a friend’s house or in a lake cabin and prepare a variety of food in Bulgarian style. We cook and clean for two days, bake bread, and make banitsa with fortunes.

As the New Year rings in, our energy levels are high. We make a toast with sparkling champagne and dance the Danube horo, while we eagerly await the arrival of the Survakari. If you ask my children, I’m sure they’ll say this is a weird ritual. Survakane nowadays are the youngest members of the family, the children. We teach them how to sing and perform the ritual. They chant “Surva, Surva Godina” while patting every guest on the shoulder with a survachka for health and prosperity in the New Year. To make sure you receive their luck, you have to give money to the singers.

Koledari_book

On Survaki, people party and ring in the new year, but like many Bulgarian holidays, other rituals ensure good health, fertility, and wealth. The day is especially exciting for children. They participate in the fun-filled tradition of creating a survachka stick. They then travel from house to house with the survachka. When they arrive, they tap family and friends on the back with the stick to bestow blessings on them. They also tap livestock and domestic animals to ensure they remain healthy and fertile. In return, the children receive gifts from the family. At one time, participating in the ritual was a right of passage for boys into manhood.

In antiquity, Survaki was a time to move away from darkness toward light as days became longer. The festival gets its name from the Thracian god Sureget, also called Surgast, Suroter, or Surat, all meaning “glorious sun.” Many nations besides Thrace worshipped the Sun God. In India believers called him Surya (from the Aryans who conquered that nation), and the Thracian’s northern neighbors, the Scythians, called him Getosur.

The survachka branch itself has ancient origins. Made of cornel or dogwood, it was one of the sacred World Trees. People believed that by performing mystical rituals, they could transfer the branch’s magic to those who held it, giving them prosperity, health, and long life. Equipped with this power, they could communicate with heaven and the underworld, acting as mediators between this life and the next one.

Survachki are adorned with yarn, wool, popcorn, dried fruit, beads, and other small items. Each survachka is unique. I used to teach in the Bulgarian school years ago, and I demonstrated to kids how they can make them. It’s a fun activity to learn about your Bulgarian heritage. I call it a magic wand. The survachka has an ancient story. The stick held power to chase away evil spirits, which, during the winter solstice, could cross the threshold between the spirit world to the land of the living.

We don’t have dogwood here, so we improvise. If we find a fruit tree, that’s fine, but when no tree is appropriate, the idea is to continue the tradition of the magic wand. Making the survachka is an opportunity for old and young to be together and to create something they’ll remember and pass on to their children.

Cheers, “Nazdrave,” and a prosperous year! Fill your homes with health, children, and abundance.

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The above content is excerpts from Light Love Rituals and The Wanderer.

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.

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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

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