Diversity Is a Fact – Inclusion Is a Choice

Diversity is a fact; inclusion is a choice! In the last few years, we’ve all heard the word “diversity” used on TV, in newspapers, and during work training sessions. For a lot of people, diversity is about a person’s skin color, but the subject goes well beyond color.

Diversity means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our differences, whether they are race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. When we’re open to diversity, we see people from different angles and accept them as equal to us.

Whenever anyone asks me where I’m from, I tell them and then ask the same question in return, because everyone has come from somewhere in the last twenty years, or fifty, or a hundred. America is a melting pot, but all these newcomers, immigrants like me and others, bring to this country new ideas, passion, creativity, and a desire to succeed and build their dream. This is the steam moving the engine and making this country great. Diversity is power, but you need to know how to nourish individual cultures to drive innovation, passion, and inclusion.

Love is natural; hate is learned. A child hugs and kisses another person long before he learns to hit and hurt. Yet as we grow, we become aware of all the hatred that fills this world—hatred toward those we know little to nothing about, simply because they have different beliefs, religions, skin color, or any other aspect that makes them not like us. But we are humans. We are all the same. What makes us different is due to where we grew up, what we were taught.

Each person is a constant project: changing and adapting—sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. All our lives we wander to find a better place to live or a better job, to learn new skills, to make a discovery, or to invent something of value. Today, technology has removed boundaries. We can easily physically travel to different places in the world, but we can also “bounce” around the virtual space of the web, where we make acquaintances worldwide.

In our travels, we build our homes, make new friends, raise our children, attend weddings, and say goodbye to friends and family, sending them to the world beyond. Even thousands of miles from where we were born and raised, we keep our customs and practice the traditions that we have been nourished with. We share them with friends who have a different cultural heritage, upbringing, and faith; and we in turn accept new ones.

We must learn to respect other cultures as much as we support people in our own community. Traditions are a great way to teach children the cultural and religious history of mankind by giving them their own identity and roots. Culture is a temple for the human soul. This is what we carry with us as we wander, what we develop as we adapt to the place we choose to call our home.

In my book “The Wanderer – A Tear and A Smile,” I reflect on my life as an immigrant, the appreciation of my Bulgarian culture and the culture of my adopted country, America.

Pick up a copy of The Wanderer – A Tear and A Smile: Reflections of an Immigrant for more insight into Bulgarian faith, folklore, and rituals.
The Wanderer - A Tear and A Smile
 

The book is available here: https://books2read.com/TheWanderer

Also available in Bulgarian: Българска версия “Скитникът – Усмивки и Сълзи” (Skitnikut – usmivki I sulzi: Rasmisleniata na edin bulgarski emigrant)

The Wanderer - Bulgarian

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1949397963/

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/skitnikut-usmivki-i-sulzi-ronesa-aveela/1135608799?ean=9781949397963

Other retailers: https://books2read.com/TheWandererBulgarian

 

Hope and Miracles

September is here. We’ve had many sunny days this summer where I live in Virginia, but now the sunrise is coming a little later each day, and the nights are getting cooler. I find myself thinking about what changes autumn will bring in this unusual year. I want summer to go on a little bit longer, so I can savor the sun, the sand, and the sea. I want to linger in that lazy feeling of endless summer.

My grandmother used to say that when there is an “R” in the name of the month, it means that it is one of the cold months. We will have to wait until May to enjoy the warm rays of the sun. Maybe this is normally true, but this September has been like a summer month, with temperatures 20 degrees above normal.

On September 14, Bulgarians and other Orthodox Christians celebrate the Day of the Cross. On this day, a special festive table is arranged and a strict fast is observed. The apples have ripened, the grapes are plump and sweet, and the harvest has begun. However, it is forbidden to eat red foods such as apples, peppers, tomatoes, and others as an expression of respect for the cross on which Jesus shed His blood to save mankind.

The oldest woman in the house prepares ritual bread, called Cross Pitka (round homemade bread) for the holiday. She shapes a large cross on the bread before she bakes it. Its ingredients include half a kilogram of flour, half a teaspoon of honey, half a teaspoon of baking soda, half a tablespoon of vinegar, and water for kneading. According to tradition, you have to sift the flour three times before kneading the dough. The ritual bread is broken when the whole family gathers around the table. The bread will rise only a little while it’s baking, so you should eat it while it’s warm. Once it cools, it’ll become hard.

The Day of the Cross is considered the day on which autumn begins. Therefore, typical autumn foods like grapes (any but red ones) and tikvenik (a pumpkin banitsa) must be present at the table. (You can find a recipe and more info about tikvenik here.)

After families pluck the first grapes of the season, they bring them to the church, so the priest can consecrate the fruit. It’s also customary on this day for people to give each other grapes, so the next year will be bountiful.

On the Day of the Cross, thousands of pilgrims go to churches, monasteries, and other holy places to pray for health, forgiveness, and miraculous cures. One of these places of hope is the Cross Forest, located in the beautiful area in the Middle Rhodope Mountains. This was the birth place of Orpheus, the famous musician from ancient mythology. One of the most magical places in Bulgaria, Cross Forest gives you a sense you’re touching the mystery of nature.

The Forest of the Cross is said to be filled with unexplained, extraordinary power that can cure any sickness. The magical powers are at their peak on the evening of September 13, the night before the Day of the Cross. People believe the heavens will open, and Jesus will descend to Earth to grant the wishes and cure the illnesses of those who offer prayers with true faith. Many stories tell how people with cancer and other incurable diseases miraculously found a cure. They say the water cures skin diseases and helps women conceive.

Unfortunately, I’ve never visited the place myself, but my grandmother told me many interesting stories. According to legends, part of the cross on which Jesus was crucified is hidden in this place, but no one knows its exact location. Monks hid it after Turks attacked and burned the monastery.

People also believe the extraordinary healing energy of Cross Forest comes from an ancient sanctuary to Dionysius, which is said to be hidden somewhere in the forest. But the Rhodope Mountains keep their secrets.

Miracles happen there, but people must have faith. Magic or not, in these challenging days, we all need to find our own Cross Forest. We need strong faith and believe in something to keep us going, so we can stay positive as we search for cures, happiness, and personal fulfillment.

Pick up a copy of The Wanderer – A Tear and A Smile: Reflections of an Immigrant for more insight into Bulgarian faith.

Thunder and Lightning, Very, Very Frightening

When I was younger, I loved to sit on the porch during a summer thunderstorm, hearing the rain pound on the roof and watch the lightning spit across the sky. This was especially enjoyable right after a steamy day, as the rain brought with it a cool breeze.

Long ago in Bulgaria, thunder and lightning once were thought to represent dragons fighting in the sky. Zmey (the good male dragon) would fight against Hala or Lamia (both bad female dragons). Lamia would stop the water from flowing and bring drought, while Hala would bring hail that destroyed the crops. She was also known to steal the fertility of the land. She’d carry it from one place to another in her huge ears. Wherever she dropped her stolen goods, the land would prosper.

The lightning was the Zmey’s fiery arrows, and the thunder was him crashing against his enemies. Often, his weapons fell to the ground, embedding deep into the soil and turning to stone. Anyone who found one of these magical arrows would grind it into power and add water to it to cure wounds.

Example of a stone-age arrowhead, which was believed to be a dragon’s weapon.
$1LENCE D00600D at English Wikipedia

Among other Slavic nations, thunder and lightning were thought to be caused by the god Perun. Under Christianity, Perun became St. Iliya (St. Elijah), the thunder-wielder, whose saint day is celebrated August 2. Thunder was caused by his chariot wheels rolling across the sky as he battled demons and dragons. St. Iliya was even known to elicit the help of good Zmeys to fight against destructive dragons.

The old people say that thunder is a sign that there will be a bountiful harvest in the Fall. Since there are no thunderstorms in winter, St. Elijah makes sinners build cities out of snow.

Elijah Taken Up in a Chariot of Fire

People believed the saint ruled over the summer clouds. As he flew over the sky, he collected them and locked them in the Black Sea. When the soil needed nourishment, he unlocked the clouds, sending dew and gentle rains across the land. At times, however, the saint became ill and was unable to perform his duties. The land suffered drought until he was well enough to once again bring the life-saving rain.

Thunderstorms, however, brought devastating rains. A couple of ways people tried to stop a thunderstorm from happening would be to light an Easter candle and kneel before it, or stick an axe handle in the middle of the yard and pour a handful of salt over it.

More information about dragons and dragon slayers will be available in our book about dragons, available around November 2020.

Summer Fun – A Tradition and Recipes

In the northern hemisphere, July means summer, beach, happiness, sun, school vacation, and travel. Also in July there’s a unique, modern Bulgarian tradition unknown to the rest of the world. It’s called July Morning.

People from all over the country travel to the Black Sea on June 30 and meet the first rays of sunshine on the morning of July 1. They sing, dance, talk, and share thoughts. It’s like a festival filled with love and friendship. They believe the sun rays purify and recharge them with new energy. The holiday is not pagan or religious. It’s just fun!

July Morning painting by Nelinda
July Morning – by Nelinda

Many beliefs exist about why and how this tradition began.

One version is that it stared from a pure love story.  In Varna, on the evening of June 30, 1984, a boy and a girl holding hands were walking on the city streets lost in love. They missed the last bus to their village. The lovers decided to wait together for the first bus in the morning. However, it was dangerous to remain in the Varna Sea Garden. A policeman rode along the pathways on a motorcycle, always on the lookout for stragglers. And he had a vicious police dog. The young people decided to leave the garden and hide at Varna’s pier. There they meet other young people who sang and danced all night. Together, they all greeted the sunrise. Since then, it’s become a tradition.

Another version, which became almost legendary in Bulgaria, is that in 1985, soldier Stoyan Georgiev – Tyanata promised himself on the night of June 30 that he would never meet the sunrise alone again. The following year, 1986, he made arrangements with some Varna friends to meet in a meadow in the Sea Garden to watch the sun rise. The following year, they met at the pier. And so the tradition continued.

In another, much simpler version, five young, progressive, free-spirited people, with long hair and denim jackets, gathered spontaneously at the pier in Varna in 1986. Maybe for the simple reason that there were no nightclubs at the time. They unintentionally began the tradition of July Morning.

This modern-day ritual is also associated with a song by a British rock band, Uriah Heep, called “July Morning,” which has became its symbol. You can listen to the song here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qVobQTaoV7s.

Gradually, “July Morning” became the first unofficial social festival in Bulgaria – a place where you can meet new people, talk about everything you can think of, do literary readings, and sing and dance.

I always was told that July Morning was a movement that started in Varna in 1986 to protest the communist government. According to participants, it symbolizes dissatisfaction and the desire for personal freedom. Maybe this is true, because censorship was prevalent during communism, and it was forbidden to listen to Western or American music, have long hair, wear short skirts or jeans, and drink Coca-Cola.

No matter what the story, welcoming the sunrise is seen as a new and better beginning.

According to the Nova Varna newspaper, even this year, hundreds of people have welcomed the first rays of the sun on Kamen Bryag, where the ritual has been held for years. People don’t go anymore to the pier of Varna for the simple reason that it’s too commercialized and has lost its look and romance since 1986.

Happy summer and don’t forget to look at the sun and say hello. July has 31 days so there are still many days to wake up early meet the sunrise and bathe in its rays and rejuvenate.

Summer Fun Recipes

During these hot summer days, many people eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer heavy meals. Bulgarian cuisine is not any different. Some of my favorites summer dishes are made with yogurt.

Did you know Bulgarians created yogurt? Truly, they did. Way back in the time of the Thracians. I kid you not. You can find more than three hundred varieties in the country, and many popular dishes are made with yogurt. The good bacteria in the yogurt is called Lactobacillus bulgaricus.

Yogurt is a favorite ingredient in summer drinks, cold soups, salads, desserts, and main dishes. Another main ingredient in almost all of them is garlic.

Here are some of my favorites.

Airan (Айран) –  a refreshing drink

Mix yogurt into a glass of water. Add a little salt and stir well to obtain a consistent mixture. I add one or two ice cubes. It refreshes, saturates, and hydrates.

Tarator (Таратор) – cold cucumber soup

This will help you cool down in the hot summer.

Ingredients:

* cucumbers – 1 larger European or 2 medium sized

* yogurt – 32 oz (2 lb)

* walnuts – 1 handful crushed (optional)

* garlic – 2 to 3 cloves or to taste

* water – 2-3 cups

* fresh dill – to taste

* olive oil or regular – 3 to 4 tbsp.

* salt to taste

* black pepper – freshly ground to taste

* white pepper – 3 pinches

Peel the cucumbers, leaving only thin slices of the dark green part, which will give a more pleasant look to the tarator. Grate it or cut it into small cubes. I prefer to grate, because it tastes better.

Beat 2 cups of yogurt well and pour them into a saucepan. Add enough cold water to get the tarator to the density you want. Add cucumbers, as well as grated or finely chopped garlic, some crushed walnuts, finely chopped dill, black and white pepper to taste. Finally, mix with olive oil / other oil and salt to taste. Put in the refrigerator to chill. If you don’t have time, put an ice cube in each bowl. I like to serve in bowls and garnish with crushed walnuts and a sprig of dill and serve.

Snow White Salad – (Snejanka) a delicious milk salad

During the summer or even in the winter, my kids like this salad. I use the same products that are described for Tarator, but I don’t add water. If you have time, you can let the yogurt drain to make it thicker. Mix all products and serve cold like a salad. Add some pita bread and you have a dinner or lunch. It can be used as a side dish for BBQ meat or gyros.

Zucchini with Yogurt – A simple, but yummy salad

Here is another salad you can make easy with fried zucchini.

Ingredients:

* 1/2 cup plain yogurt

* 2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill

* 1 small clove garlic, grated

* 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

* salt

* freshly ground black pepper

*  1 lb (500 g) zucchini

* 1 teaspoon olive oil

Zucchini with Yogurt

Cook under broiler.

Prepare Dill Mixture

* In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, dill, garlic, and lemon juice. If necessary add a few drops of water to make the mixture of pourable consistency.

* Season to taste with salt and a pinch of black pepper.

* Set aside.

Prepare Zucchini

* Trim the ends off the zucchini and cut it into thin slices or strips (circles or long strips).

* Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

* Place the zucchini in an oven-proof skillet or pan and broil, flipping occasionally, about 10 minutes until slightly charred and tender, but not mushy.

Final Steps: Remove from broiler. Serve zucchini warm or chilled, covered or dipped in the yogurt-dill sauce.

Alternatives: If you want a richer taste, coat the zucchini with flour. Place the pieces (circles or strips) into a frying pan with about a half inch of heated oil. Fry the zucchini pieces until they are golden brown and crispy. In the summer, you can use a grill instead.

Eggs over yogurt – a light and quick dinner

After a busy day, you can prepare a quick Bulgarian dinner.

Ingredients:

* eggs – 2 to 3.

* yogurt – 4 to 5 Tablespoons

* red pepper – 1/2 k. (spicy or sweet)

* salt to taste

* oil – for frying

* chopped garlic

* small spoonful of butter to add some twist; we love butter!

In heated but not hot oil, add each of the eggs. Fry them like you do sunny side up. I do mine medium, to make sure they’re soft. On a plate on which you’ll serve the eggs, pour the yogurt, salt to taste, and garlic. Remove the fired eggs from the oil with a slotted spoon or spatula and place on the yogurt. Sprinkle them with paprika and pour a teaspoon or two of melted butter on them. Serve with toast and green garlic or onion.

Yogurt with honey and walnuts – a tasty dessert

Last, but not the least, it’s time for dessert. If you don’t like honey, you can replace it with strawberries. It’s a delicious dessert that’s healthy and easy to make. Your kids will love this no-bake treat that’s full of protein.

Tip: When buying yogurt, make sure the Lactobacillus bulgaricus bacteria is listed in the ingredients.

Ingredients:

* 1/2 cup yogurt

* 1 Tablespoon crushed walnuts

* cinnamon to taste

* 1 Tablespoon honey, more or less, to taste.

Spoon the yogurt into a small dessert dish. Sprinkle crushed walnuts on top. You can toast the walnuts lightly in a hot skillet if you’d like, to bring out more of their natural flavor. I like to put them in water, then rinse and sprinkle them with brown sugar. Next, put them on a paper towel and bake them for one minute in a microwave. Once they’re cold, sprinkle the nuts over the yogurt. Then top it with cinnamon and drizzle with honey. Serve and enjoy! And don’t forget to make a tea with a spoonful of honey.

 

For more traditional Bulgarian recipes, get a copy of our cookbook, Mediterranean and Bulgarian Cuisine: 12 Easy Traditional Favorites.

A Day with Rusalki – Blurry Photos Miss Cryptid 2020 Contest

A Rusalka is a contestant on the Blurry Photos annual Miss Cryptid Contest. We are excited that we were asked to contribute material. You can find this, and more, in our book A Study of Rusalki – Slavic Mermaids of Eastern Europe. Blurry Photos is a great site to check out if you love to “learn something weird.”

You can find the contest and listen to the podcast here: http://www.blurryphotos.org/miss-cryptid-2020-week-3/

The part about Rusalki starts around minute 27.

Here are the other entries in the contest:

Week 1: http://www.blurryphotos.org/miss-cryptid-2020-week-1/

Week 2: http://www.blurryphotos.org/miss-cryptid-2020-week-2/

Roundup (finalists): http://www.blurryphotos.org/miss-cryptid-2020-roundup/

And the winner is… [Winner announced at time – 01:07:19.]

Blurry Photos - Miss Cryptid Contest 2020 - Week 3 - June 6 Nandi Bear, Rusalka, Euroa Beast
Blurry Photos – Miss Cryptid Contest 2020 – Week 3 – June 6
Nandi Bear, Rusalka, Euroa Beast

Mankind’s fascination with the sea has sparked imagination since the first person beheld its mighty waters. Curiosity led people to invent the means to travel across the great oceans and eventually explore beneath them, trying to discover their secrets. Throughout the centuries, millennia in fact, people have created myths and legends about creatures living within the sea’s depths. One of the most alluring and formidable beings to inspire writers, artists, children, and adults is the mermaid, who has been forever immortalized in stories such as Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. But there’s more to this sea maiden than that story tells. In Slavic folklore, she’s called a Rusalka and lives mostly in fresh-water bodies or swamps, rather than the sea.

In case you’ve never heard of a Rusalka, she’s a Slavic mermaid. The plural of the word is Rusalki, but if you want to call them “Rusalkas,” go ahead. We’ll cringe, but we’ll know what you mean. She is most popular in eastern and southern Europe: Russia, Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine, in particular.

She’s not your “Ariel” type of mermaid, because she has no tail. In fact, she was once a living, breathing human girl, but she died before she married—often the cause of her death was drowning. I know this sounds odd in today’s world, but the people who believed in them lived in a rural, farming society. Fertility of both the land and people was critical to them for survival. They believed if girls died before they married and had children, then that fertility was lost, and the girls became part of the “unclean dead,” that is, they were cursed. People did have many rituals, though, to entice the Rusalki to return that fertility to them.

Not everyone can see Rusalki, but those who can will tell you they look like normal girls, except they are extremely pale, and they have long, green hair. They can also shape-shift into geese, swans, snakes, silver fish, or frogs. Or they can appear as birds, like the Sirens, and entice men with their songs.

They don’t really eat anything, because they are … well, dead, or undead, after all. But some stories said they like wheat bread with salt, cheese, butter, and eggs. What they are more interested in is getting clothes. They were buried in wedding garments, even though they never married. That’s all part of the whole fertility mindset. So, eventually, those clothes wear out and the Rusalki are left wearing rags, or nothing at all. They beg girls to leave them even a small rag to cover themselves with. Rather sad to think about, really.

Rusalki weren’t always thought of as dead girls, though. They were once considered goddesses or nature spirits. Talk about your kick-ass heroines; they weren’t wimpy, sidekick-to-men-only goddesses, but powerful ones, who ruled the land. But then, the Orthodox Church intervened. They didn’t totally wipe the Rusalki out, but the Church authority repressed the role of these goddesses as much as it repressed the role women played in society. And Rusalki lost their goddess status. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

You can understand they probably didn’t care to much about this demotion. From goddesses to dead girls, and unclean, cursed dead girls at that. All because some supposedly holy men thought they weren’t worthy of the goddess status. So, they revolted and started their campaign of torturing men… especially any man who jilted them when they were alive, because it was men who decided Rusalki weren’t worthy of exalted status.

Being dead really wasn’t so bad. If they had lived and married, the girls would have lost what the Russians called their “volia,” their freedom. As Rusalki, they could be wild and FREE of male dominance.

They usually didn’t bother women or girls, unless they were jealous of their happy life. And they left children alone, unless they had an overwhelming desire to nurture a child, since they couldn’t have one of their own… they were DEAD after all, but still retained the feelings of the average rural girl. So men were their main targets.

They would either drown them (typical mermaid fashion) or tickle them to death with their breasts… which, I forgot to mention earlier, were huge, even if they had been small during their lifetime. This was just another sign of their unused fertility.

All right, stop laughing. Have you ever been tickled? If so, you know it can be quite painful, especially if prolonged. And a Rusalka most often was accompanied by other Rusalki, so you’re talking about several of these mermaids tickling you…

When you consider that some stories say the Rusalki had iron-tipped breasts, well, just ouch. You wouldn’t want someone to tickle you that way. Okay, laugh if you want to, but I’m glad I’m not male (says Ronesa), so I wouldn’t have to endure that torture.

They also loved to dance, and would flatter … or force … a shepherd to play his kaval, a flutelike instrument, for them all night long. He was fortunate if he survived and only had holes in his shoes and blisters on his fingers.

Geeze, you might ask, is there any hope to escape their attention? How could men protect themselves from these assaults? Well, the Russians would tell you to wear your baptismal cross, especially if you go into the forest or near water. You could also wear ferns in your hair when you go swimming; this prevents them from pulling you under. Magical chants are also useful to keep them away from you. Other methods are to prick the Rusalki with a pin or throw wormwood in their eyes. Be sure you DON’T carry anything that ATTRACTS Rusalki, like parsley, roses, birch, and especially not their favorite plant rosen (which is burning bush). You’re just asking for trouble if you do. They’ll think you WANT to be tickled.

Rusalki also love telling riddles. If you have the correct answer, they’ll leave you alone. But if you get it wrong… well, be prepared to be tickled to death.

As to whether or not they do any of this torture maliciously is up for debate. Some people say they are bent on destroying men. Other people claim they’re innocent maidens who are only trying to find the love they never had while alive…

Outside of folklore, Rusalki were often portrayed as tragic figures. Antonin Dvorak’s opera has similarities to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. The mermaid in this story, called Rusalka, falls in love with a prince, but must lose her voice before she can have the opportunity to meet him as a living being.

Rusalka and Prince. Illustration by Nelinda. © Bendideia Publishing.

Act 1

Rusalka has fallen in love with a human prince who often steps into the water where she lives. Although she can caress him, alas, he cannot see her, because she is merely part of the watery element herself. She wants to become human so she can embrace him and feel his arms around her as well. She asks the witch, Ježibaba, to help her. Witches are witches and demand much of their supplicants. Ježibaba tells Rusalka that she will lose her ability to speak if she becomes mortal; on top of that, if the prince doesn’t love her, he will die and she will be eternally damned. Rusalka agrees and drinks the potion the witch gives her. The prince finds her, immediately becomes infatuated with the speechless woman, and takes her to the palace. So far, so good for Rusalka. The prince wants her.

 

Act 2

But fate can be cruel. Although the fickle prince summons guests to his pending marriage to Rusalka, he soon pays more attention to a visiting foreign princess… who can speak and flatter him, while mocking the mute Rusalka.

Poor, poor Rusalka.

It doesn’t take long before the prince professes his love to the foreign princess and rejects Rusalka. Her eyes filled with pain, she returns to her watery home. The foreign princess, however, is disgusted with the prince, even though she’s achieved taking his affection away from Rusalka.

 

Act 3

Poor, poor Rusalka. She doesn’t know what to do. She returns to the witch for help. Ježibaba gives her a dagger and tells her she must kill the prince in order to be free and return to her former life. Horrified, Rusalka throws the dagger into the lake. Never will she kill the man she still loves. She dissolves into the water, forever alienated from her family. And now she has become something vile, a spirit that lures people to their death in the water.

The prince, having been touched by Rusalka’s love, can’t erase her from his mind. He frantically searches for her where he first found her. He calls to her, and she appears. “Kiss me, please,” he begs. “I can’t stop thinking about you. I regret being a fool.” She tells him that her kiss will mean his death.

To which he responds, “Kiss me, kiss me, give me peace! Your kisses will redeem my sin! I die happy; I die happy in your embrace!”

They kiss and … yes, he dies.

Rusalka kisses her dead lover one more time, thanking him for letting her experience human love. She releases his body and sinks into the lake, forever condemned to bring death to those who come near.  Yes, poor, poor Rusalka.

Well, you must have a bad impression of the Rusalki by now. But, even though they cause pain and death, they have a benevolent side. They’re magical healers. Every year, several weeks after Easter, on a holiday called Spassovden, or Ascension, they ride through the night sky in a golden chariot made of human bones. Their green hair sparkles in the moonlight, and their transparent clothes billow around them as they hasten their way to a field full of white, pink, or red rosen. They’re here to plunder the flower.

Magical Night of Healing. Illustration by Nelinda. © Bendideia Publishing.

Not only is this their favorite flower, it’s also magical and used by witches and healers, as well as Rusalki. It’s said that if a lit match is brought to the flowers in hot and sunny weather, a flame will explode in the air. Black smoke is released, but the plant remains unaffected by the fire.

Below the Rusalki, in the field of rosen, lie the ill, the crippled, the maimed, the childless women. Each person lies on a white blanket. At their head, they put a white cotton towel, a bowl of water, and a ritual bread as a gift for the Rusalki.

Spassovden is a time for “impossible wishes” to come true. Each person there hopes the Rusalki will accept their gift and give them a cure. At midnight, as the Rusalki stir up a whirlwind in their frenzied flight, they bestow cures upon those below at their whim. To the crippled or maimed, they give new limbs; to the blind, they give sight, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute; to the women who cannot conceive, they give fertility. It’s said that if any woman conceives on this miraculous night, it’s believed to have happened in a magical way and is not interpreted as scandalous behavior.

Does everyone receive a cure? Sadly, no. In the morning, people check to see what’s floating in their bowl of water. If it’s a green leaf or flower, the person will be healed. If the leaf is dry, or the water is filled with dirt, however, the person won’t be cured, and may even die soon.

Regardless of the outcome of the Rusalki’s visit, everyone must leave the healing place in silence, to keep the Rusalki happy and make sure their wish will be granted to those who were favored by the mermaids.

Are they good? Or are they bad? I guess you’ll only ever truly know when you meet one for yourself.

 

ЛУННА ИНТЕРЛЮДИЯ

“Лунна Интерлюдия” е откъс от Дебютният роман “Мистичната Емона – Пътешествието на душата” издаден през 2104.

~~~

Минало, настояще и бъдеще се събират в тази експлозивна съвременна приказка за любовта и отмъщението.

Пътувайте в света на Балканите с “Мистична Емона: Пътешествието на душата” и открийте тайният живот на самодивите. Сигурно сте срещали тези чудесни, мистериозни и опасни създания в различни книги, но  Мистичната Емона ще ви запознае с тях така както легендата ги представя.

 ~~~

ЛУННА ИНТЕРЛЮДИЯ

24 юни

С подивял поглед той се набираше да догони момичето, а дългата му рижа коса бясно се развяваше във въздуха. Когато тя се спъна и падна на колене, той скочи от въвишението, разкъса роклята й и я прикова към земята. Тя пищеше, докато ръцете му насилваха тялото й, оставяйки пурпурната следа от неговата възбуда. Спускайки глава, той задуши звука от гърдите й, като наказа устата й с целувка. Тя раздра лицето му с пръсти и по бузите му започна да се стича кръв. Той изпсува и се изправи на колене, което й позволи да скочи на крака и да се опита да избяга. Само след миг той поднови гонитбата. По-силен и бърз от нея, мъжът я настигна и я хвана за дългата й златиста коса. Жертвата се извъртя и започна да го бие по гърдите. Той я плесна по лицето и така добави още тъмни цветове по кожата й, след което я удари в корема с такава сила, че тя се преви на две, опитвайки се да си поеме глътка дъх.

Златен пръстен със син камък, блестящ като звезда, проблясваше на ръката й. Той я хвана за китката, но момичето стисна ръката си в юмрук. Силата й я напускаше, тя не можеше да му устои. Той прибра пръстите й и завъртя пръстена.

Един от неговите войници се изправи наблизо наметна пъстроцветната си зейра и намести шлема си. Две момичета лежаха вкопчани на кълбо на земята, разпилените им коси скриваха лицата им. Водата от сребърните съдове за вода пълзеше към него като змия.  Безмилостният мъж заповяда с крясък на войника:

– Вземете този пръстен и го сложете при останалото злато. Заровете цялото съкровище под ореховото дърво до реката. Ще го изровим, преди да се върнем в селото ни.

Мъжът отново насочи вниманието си към момичето и завърши това, което беше започнал. Той остави порцелановото й бяло лице натъртено и набраздено от сълзи. Очите й, изпълнени с болка и омраза, отново пламнаха, след което се затвориха. Главата й се сви на една страна и тя извика: „Душан!“, след което загуби съзнание.

***

Стефан се събуди със стряскащ вик. „Боже мой, какво ми става?“

Не беше сънувал два месеца – нито нещо приятно или неприятно, а сега този кошмар нахлу в съзнанието му. Сърцето му туптеше, сякаш се опитваше да изскочи. Той стисна гърдите си, където сапфиреният пръстен го изгаряше. Нападението над момичето беше толкова истинско – болката й, писъците й, отчаянието й. Лицето й остана в неясен образ, но пръстенът… Ръцете му трепереха, но той все пак постави едната около врата си. Гореше, не – пламтеше, и сви дланта си в шепа, и я задържа върху врата си, за да облекчи вълненията в ума си.

Отново същият сън! – притрепери Стефан.

Камолес, любим … Душан … Калина … Всичките тези странни сънища…

Има ли някаква връзка?

Балкан се протегна в кучешкото си легло. Погледна към Стефан и изскимтя.

– Какво има, приятелю? Събудих ли те? – Стефан се изниза от леглото, потупа кученцето, след което отвори прозореца, за да поеме глътка свеж въздух.

В красивата звездна нощ луната бдеше над морето, лъчите й се носеха по вълните като блещукащи светулки. Нямаше опасни непознати, които да дебнат отвън. Тревожният му кошмар беше свършил, но го остави замаян, а коремът го болеше. Страхуваше се отново да заспи, дори и да можеше.

Седнал на леглото той погледна часовника. Три часа сутринта. Часът на дявола!

Султана Знахарката. Може би тя ще може да го отърве от тази лудост с нещо по-силно от нейния омаен чай. Не получи ли помощ и облекчение, скоро ще полудее, ако продължи да мисли за този сън. Не можеше да чака до зори. Освен това тя беше казала, че спи малко и че той може да я навестява по всяко време.

В бързането си да стигне до къщичката й, той се спъна на стъпалата на верандата и се приземи върху червения божур. Стефан пъхна едно цвете в илика си. Вероятно Султана може да го добави към колекцията в аптечката си.

Ярката луна озаряваше пътеката, но в тъмната гора клоните пукаха и листата шумоляха сякаш горски същества се гонят по тях. Той се оглеждаше на всяка крачка, но нищо и никой не го следваше.

Когато наближи чешмата, чу бавна и нежна музика да се носи във въздуха. Няколко жени се държаха за ръце и танцуваха в кръг около прастарото орехово дърво, а в основата на дънера му светеше синя светлина. Венци от цветя украсяваха пуснатите им коси, а къдриците им се плъзгаха по раменете. Дългите им бели одежди се вееха в ритъма на танца под блестящата луна.

Това ли бяха циганите, за които Мария говореше на Великден? Той се скри зад едно дърво, защото не искаше да преживее същото след случилото се в Несебър.

В края на горската поляна една сенчеста фигура, свиреща на дълъг инструмент, наподобяващ флейта, лееше тайнствени ноти. И всяка нота увисваше в тъмнината като нежна копринена мрежа, обгръщайки жените в своите нишки. Колкото по-дълго Стефан слушаше, толкова повече звукът го хипнотизираше.

Темпото на музиката се ускори и жените продължиха да следват ритъма. Краката им танцуваха в росната трева, а телата, окъпани в сребърните и златните лъчи на лунната светлина, се приближиха още по-близо, стеснявайки кръга около дървото. Танцът им стана див и хаотичен, гласовете им – по-силни, изпълвайки нощта със смразяващ звук.

Последна проницателна нота се разнесе във въздуха. Жените пуснаха ръце, вдигнаха ги към небето и започнаха да се въртят в яростен кръг. Коланите върху робите им тупнаха на земята. Когато и последните ноти избледняха, жените отпуснаха ръце. Робите им също паднаха и сякаш изчезнаха, не оставяйки нищо друго върху блестящите им тела, освен вълшебната лунна светлина. Стефан се опита рязко да си поеме дъх, но гърлото му вече се беше свило от вида на тяхната прелест. Неспособен да откъсне поглед от тях, той си спомни картината, нарисувана върху неговото платно.

И тогава флейтистът отново засвири нежна мелодия. Жените вдигнаха лицето си към луната и запяха със странни думи. Стефан слушаше с удивление великолепието на гласовете им, докато телата им, като екзотични цветя, сякаш полюшващи се напред-назад от лекия бриз, се носеха в ритъма на поклащането на дърветата. Думите им го обкръжиха, сякаш самите жени го заобикаляха. Огледа се, но нощта не издаде никого освен танцуващите пред него жени.

Осъзнал, че се натрапва, но все пак запленен от тези неземни същества, той отстъпи с бавна крачка назад. Всяко внезапно движение можеше да издаде присъствието му. Нощният въздух отекна с пукот, когато той настъпи сух клон.

Жените замряха на мига – ни танц, ни песен. Взирайки се в неговата посока, някои извикаха: „Ела танцувай с нас“. Съблазнителните им гласове го накараха да настръхне, принудиха го да опипа врата си. Беше късно да се скрие, твърде късно да бяга.

Една от жените тръгна към него. Косата й се стелеше по раменете й като златна река и се увиваше около тялото й като бавно засилващо се торнадо. Устата му пресъхна, а сърцето му започна да бие още по-учестено, когато тя съвсем се приближи. Той силно стисна очи, твърде много се страхуваше да я погледне. Тя проговори и думите й се понесоха във въздуха и отекнаха в главата му. Стефане… Стефане… Стефане.

Тя откъде му знаеше името?

Тялото й се приближи толкова близо до него, но все пак не го докосна. Той усети дъха й като топъл, нежен ветрец да гали шията, бузата и устните му. Беше сигурен, че тя може да чуе дори ударите на сърцето му. Тя остана още един дълъг миг, обграждайки го от всички страни, прегръщайки го със своята същност и след това изчезна без да издаде дори звук.

Очите му отказаха да се отворят, за да наблюдават какво се случва, а краката му отказаха да го послушат и да бяга. Чувайки как гласовете на жените се носят около него – дали в съзнанието му, дали в реалността – все още подканвайки го с присмех да отиде при тях, да танцува с тях, Стефан си мислеше, че ще полудее.

Постепенно познатите звуци на нощта се върнаха – ромонът на потока, бухането на бухал, шумоленето на вятъра изсред клоните на дърветата. Той отвори очи и раздвижи крайниците си. Облекчението, че жените са изчезнали, получи израз под формата на дълбока въздишка. С трепереща походка той тръгна към мястото, където до преди миг жените танцуваха. Земята около ореховото дърво беше стъпкана под формата на пръстен и покрита с еделвайси.

Това поредният странен сън ли е? О, майчице! Губя разсъдък!

Стефан напръска лицето си с вода от чешмата. Когато луната се скри зад един облак, недалечният вълчи вой накара сърцето му да започне да бие още по-бързо. Той на спринт взе останалата част от пътя до къщичката на Султана. Един от прозорците светеше. Вероятно е будна. Той потропа по вратата и зачака, крачейки неспокойно по верандата. Вътре прозвучаха бавни, тежки стъпки.

– Кой е? Късно е. Какво искаш? – лекото треперене в думите й, които минаха през процепите на дървената врата, разкриха нейната предпазливост.

– Аз съм Стефан. Трябва да говоря с теб. – Ами сега? Кое беше сън? И кое беше реалност?

Вратата се отвори със скърцащ звук, постепенно разкривайки лицето на Султана, пламтящо от светлината на огъня, който гореше и пукаше вътре.

– Влизай, влизай. Каква изненада да те видя! Всичко наред ли е? В опасност ли си? – Тя отвори вратата още по-широко, погледна навън, но пусна мандалото веднага щом той влезе вътре.

– Моля те, помогни ми. Омайният чай не действа. Имаш ли други билки, които могат да ми помогнат и да ме отърват от сънищата, които сънувам?

Султана докосна рамото му:

– Пребледнял си! Седни до огъня. Я се виж! – и мърморейки под носа си, тя се запъти към лавицата в задната част на стаята.

Той направи крачка към огнището:

– Мария?

Тя седеше до камината, държейки кошница с билки.

– Стефане, скъпи, изплаши ни. Какво става? Защо си бил навън толкова късно?

– Ужасни кошмари! Жени, които танцуват в гората. Полудявам! – Той седна до нея, после се изправи и разтърка ръце над огъня.

Султана се върна.

– Я се виж! Сядай! – Тя потупа облегалката на стола. След като Стефан седна, тя докосна топлото му и потно чело. – Мисля, че някой ти е направил уроки, хвърлил ти е лошо око. Аз ще ти помогна!

Тя взе зелен глинен съд, пълен с вода, и използва машата, за да извади няколко въглена от огъня. Припявайки си на непознат език, тя нареди въглените в кръг над гърнето. Три пъти направи над него кръстен знак, след което пусна въглените във водата. Чу се съскане. Поднасяйки съда към Стефан, с пръсти тя направи кръстен знак и върху челото му. „Изпий водата и си измий лицето. Това гони лошите духове.

Той отвърна поглед от Султана към Мария:

– Не точно това си представях да бъде моят лек.

Мария поклати глава, като не откъсваше поглед от него.

– Стефане, скъпи, послушай Султана.

Той направи както тя му нареди и тревогата буквално се изцеди от него.

– Невероятно! Чувствам се по-добре.

Султана бръкна в джоба на роклята си и му подаде малко синьо шишенце.

– Ето нещо, което ще ти помогне, синко. Намерих тази силна отвара в книгата на баба. Много духове те преследват. Силен демон иска да ти навреди. Други духове в тебе се бият срещу него. Това ще прогони злото. Излекувай душата си. Изпий няколко капки преди да си легнеш.

И като постави шишенцето в ръката му, тя обгърна своята около неговата. Очите й побеляха.

– Получавам вест за тебе. Съпругата ти казва, че е време да я пуснеш. Тя е щастлива. Пусни я, сине.

– Ти говори с Екатерина, така ли? – Гърдите му горяха там, където пръстенът го докосваше. Със свободната си ръка Стефан го извади от пазвата си. От синия камък сияеше светлина в мек блясък.

Все още в състояние на транс, Султана хвана пръстена. Тялото й се разтресе, а ръката й се стегна около пръстена.

– Това принадлежи на друг… Носи бреме… Нещо лошо се е случило… Погребано е под стария орех при чешмата… – Тя потрепери и ръката й изтръпна. Пръстенът падна обратно върху гърдите на Стефан. – О-о, ужасно.

– Стефане, нека я заведем на люлеещия се стол! – Мария обви ръката си от едната страна на Султана, а Стефан я подпря от другата. Той коленичи до Султана, като държеше вкочанената й ръка.

– Добре ли си? Какво видя? – Той погледна загрижено в тъмнокафявите й очи. Спомняйки си съня, и неговите му ръце започнаха да треперят.

– Пръстенът притежава голяма сила…и носи послание за тебе. – Тя сложи ръце върху слепоочията си. – Не мога да чуя съобщението. Написаното върху пръстена ще ти даде отговор. Пръстен свързва миналото ти с бъдещето ти. Ти си избран. Трябва да решиш кое е реалността. Да решиш какво искаш…

– Какво искаш да кажеш, че съм избран? Избран за какво? – Стефан се изправи и стисна ръце.

– Ще разбереш. Бъди търпелив – потупа го тя по ръката. – Вярвай в себе си. Това е съдба.

Стефан започна да крачи из стаята. И погледна към Мария:

– И сега какво да правя?

– Довери се на Султана – и тя стисна ръцете му в своите; топлината и спокойствието й отново разсеяха притеснението му, сякаш вля във вените му успокоително.

Султана се изправи.

– Ще запаря чай. Трябва да се успокоиш.

– Ти си почини – Мария хвана ръката на Султана. – Аз ще го направя.

– Не, не! На него му трябва специален чай. Аз ще го направя – и тя се запъти към кухнята.

Стефан се обърна към Мария:

– А ти защо си тук толкова късно?

– Днес е Еньовден, лятното равноденствие, свещен ден, прераждането на Майката природа. – Тя седна на друг стол, взе си кошницата и започна да заплита билки. – Султана ме учи как да събирам билки и да лекувам с тях. Те са по-мощни, когато се берат на разсъмване.

– И тези ли си набрала? – каза той, докато сядаше до нея. – Но все още не се е зазорило.

– Не, тези са от градината на Султана. Скоро ще излезем. – Тя завърза няколко билки в букетче, постави го до себе си и събра още няколко клонки. – Трябва да съберем точно 77 билки и половина: по една за всеки вид болка и половин билка за всяка неизвестна болест. След това правим венец от тях. Ако оставим билките за една нощ на открито, под звездите, в кошниците, в които сме ги набрали, лечебната им сила ще се умножи. Това е традиция, която Султана и аз от години пазим жива.

– Султана си има странни начини да лекува и знае неща, които човек не очаква тя да знае. Имаш ли представя тя как се е научила да прави всичко това?

– Да.

Стефан положи ръка на рамото й и я погледна в очите:

– Моля те, кажи ми. Искам да знам.

Мария се спря за момент. Като че ли измина цяла вечност, преди да продължи:

– Преди много години, когато Султана е била дете, е попаднала във вихрушка. Хората са я търсели навсякъде, но не са успели да я намерят. Всички са се уплашили, че е била убита. Тя обаче се е завърнала няколко месеца по-късно с огромни познания за лечебната сила на билките. – Сега Мария хвърли кос поглед към Стефан.

– Продължавай, моля те.

– Хората са се уплашили от промяната в нея, защото тя им казвала неща, които ще им се случат. Започнали да я избягват, но я посещавали само когато са били тежко болни и не са имали друг избор. – Мария се спря, огледа се и прошепна: – Султана никога на никого не е казала какво й се е случило, но на мене ми сподели – едва когато започна да ме обучава.

Стефан кимна и се наведе към Мария. Думите й бяха толкова тихи, че се наложи да се наклони още повече, за да чуе какво му казва:

– Самодиви са намерили Султана и са я приели като сестра. Те са я научили как да лекува и да вижда в неизвестното. – Мария хвърли поглед към кухнята. – Една неделя, точно преди изгрев слънце, когато е имало пълнолуние, самодивите са посветили Султана в сестринското си тайно общество чрез свещен ритуал, извършен в гората.

В този момент Султана влезе и постави в ръцете на Стефан димяща чаша.

– Ето, сине, изпий това. Ще ти помогне да се отпуснеш. Добавих и мед, за да се успокоиш.

– Благодаря ти – каза той и отпи една глътка. Топлината на напитката се плъзна по гърлото му. Стефан затвори очи и започна да диша дълбоко, оставяйки билките да облекчат напрежението му.

Останаха седнали мълчаливо, докато Стефан не допи чая.

– Благодаря ти за всичко, което направи за мене, Султана. Сега трябва да се прибирам.

– Не, не! – Тя сложи ръка на ръката му. – Остани тук. Духовете бродят сега навън, в тъмното. Има някакво зло. Опасно е навън. Ще спиш в задната стаичка. Не излизай. Иди лягай. Дръж вратата заключена. Мария и аз отиваме за билки. Ние сме защитени. Но ти не си. – Тя докосна цветето в илика му. – Червеният божур ще те закриля за някои неща, но не е достатъчен. Магията беше силна тази вечер. Не си тръгвай, докато не се зазори.

– Ще се оправя. Мисля, че циганите танцьори вече ги няма. – И той направи крачка към вратата.

Гласът на Мария затрепери, когато заговори:

– Моля те остани. Духовете и другите същества празнуват с ритуали в гората. Не са били цигани. Видял си самодивите да танцуват коло, кръгов танц. Султана и аз ще им платим дан: ще им оставим малко мед, за да не се поболееш.

– Аз ще… – Стефан преглътна една прозявка: от билковия чай му се доспа.

– Остани да спиш тук. – И Султана му подаде свещ и го заведе до задната стаичка.

Краката му вече съвсем не го слушаха, затова той покорно кимна и я последва. Седна на леглото и постави синята отвара на масата до себе си. Пръстенът отново се затопли върху кожата му. Вдигна го изпод ризата си. Това беше последната му връзка със съпругата му. Беше си обещал, че винаги ще пази този камък близо до сърцето си. Преумората го надви и той заспа.

Тайната се крие в пръстена.

Spassovden

An excerpt from A Study of Rusalki – Slavic Mermaids of Eastern Europe.

Spassovden (or the Ascension) is a zadushnitsa, one of many days throughout the year associated with the dead, although not specifically those who are “unclean dead” like Rusalki. Women pour wine or water over the graves of relatives, and give food to other people visiting their deceased loved ones.

In Bulgaria, Spassovden happens forty days after Easter. The name comes from the Bulgarian word spassenie (спасение, “salvation”), and so it’s the day of salvation of souls. It’s the last of the seven “Great Thursdays,” the first being Maundy Thursday (three days before Easter).

The official Orthodox holiday relates to the day Christ ascended to heaven after spending his first forty days with the apostles after he had risen from his tomb. In the same way, on Easter, God releases souls of the recent dead, so they can wander for forty days to the places they’ve known in life. Their wandering concludes on Spassovden, and the souls remain on Earth until they return to the other world on Pentecost.

In folklore, souls can appear as flies or bees, visiting flowers on trees, in meadows, and along riverbanks. If you want to hear the dead speak in their graves, all you have to do is put your ear to the ground; you’ll hear them buzzing like bees. They also appear as white butterflies that arise from the water and live only on this day. Windows remain open on Spassovden so these souls aren’t trapped inside homes. Another belief is that if you’re quiet enough when you go to a well early in the morning and peer into the water, instead of seeing your own image, you may see the reflection of a loved one you’re thinking about.

White Butterfly Souls. Illustration by Nelinda. © Bendideia Publishing.

A Day of Bread and Fertility

Spassovden is also a day of bread and fertility. Sveti Spas or St. Spas (the Holy Savior) is the saint associated with this day, although he doesn’t exist as an actual Orthodox saint. He’s a made-up saint to go along with the name of the holiday. On this day, people walk around the fields to ward off drought, praying to the saint, who “unlocks the sky and the Earth to let the rain through so there may be bread throughout the year.”[i]

Ritual traditions forbid both men and women from working on any of the Great Thursdays. If you work in the vineyard, no grapes will grow. If you work in the fields, no grain will ripen. On Spassovden itself, women avoid touching anything green, because it will bring hailstorms in the summer instead of rain. Every drop of rain that falls on this day is considered “a piece of gold,”[ii] because it means the harvest year will be rich and fertile. On the other end of the weather spectrum, to avoid a drought, women are forbidden from doing laundry and hanging clothes outside to dry.

[i] Bezovska, “St. Spas or Ascension Day.”

[ii] Bezovska, “St. Spas or Ascension Day.”

Mothers – Our White Roses

The following is an abridged version of a chapter from The Wanderer – A Tear and a Smile: Reflection of an Immigrant, Ronesa’s memoir about the challenges and joys of being an immigrant, with many reflections on life and customs in Bulgaria.

***

We love mothers. Mother’s Day is the single busiest day for phone calls home to that special lady. Mom is our temple, the first person we met when we arrived in this world. Her love is unconditional all our lives, and she’s ready to give her life for her child.

While I was working on this chapter, another shooting, actually two mass shootings, happened one after another. One in El Paso, Texas, and one in Dayton, Ohio. Why would I even mention these horrible events? While I was watching the news, they were talking about a little two-month-old baby whose mother shielded him, and the gunmen took her life. This is what a mother does: she protects, she loves, and she is ready to die to save her child.

If you ask my children about me, I’m sure they’ll say I’m demanding, powerful, and sometimes mean, or that I expect the impossible from them. When they were growing up, it was hard for me to say “good job” on a school grade just because other moms were saying this to their kids. For me to give them this praise meant what they did had to be excellent, an A or above. I know I’ve been tough, and sometimes expected too much from my daughters. I even have called myself “the dragon mother.”

Even if we planned everything and hoped for success, life is an unpredictable journey. It throws everyone ups and downs: we win, we lose. But mothers are like a safe harbor, a sanctuary we can seek to get support, forgiveness, and courage. When life has been difficult, or if I’ve needed advice, I’ve reached out to my mother many times. She never asks or judges; she just supports me.

A famous Bulgarian song, “Prituri se planinata,” is about two shepherds trapped in a mountain with a storm coming. They ask the mountain to help them. They want to go back to the people waiting for them. One of them desires to return to his mother, the other to his wife, his first and only love. The mountain responds by telling them she will let go only one of them, the one whose mother is waiting for him. A mother, she says, waits and mourns all her life, but a wife will be sad for a while and then find another love. It’s a powerful song, showing again the love of the mother and how it’s portrayed in Bulgarian folklore.

 

Притури се планината

Притури се планината,

Че затрупа два овчеря.

Че затрупа два овчеря,

Два овчеря – два другаря.

 

Първи моли, пусни мене.

Мене чака първо любе.

Втори моли, пусни мене.

Мене чака стара майка.

 

Проговаря планината:

Хей, ви вази два овчеря,

Любе жали ден до пладне,

Майка жали чак до гроба.

 

The mountain has overturned (collapsed) 

The mountain has overturned

And captured two shepherds.

And captured two shepherds.

Two shepherds, two friends.

 

The first one begs: “Let me go!

My first love is waiting for me!”

The second one begs: “Let me go!

My old mother is waiting for me!”

 

The mountain replies:

“Oh, you two shepherds,

A beloved one grieves from morning till noon

but a mother grieves for life!”

 

Being a woman and a mother is even harder when you’re an immigrant. You need to work, take care of the family, and overcome obstacles presented by the new culture. One of the roles of a mother is to introduce her children to family traditions, their roots, but also help them embrace their new culture. It’s hard to do in this high-tech world where lifestyles and communication tools are different from those in your home country.

Even though the social dynamics are different today, we need to preserve our culture, our family rituals, making sure our children know their heritage. Knowing who you are and where you come from helps you build your future and gives you identity. This is why I started writing stories and books inspired by Bulgarian folklore and customs. I wanted my children and other people to learn more about Bulgaria, so they can respect my culture. I think we all need to respect and learn about the people around us, the new people we meet every day. Don’t judge people by their appearance, accent, or color. Take the time to learn about them. Each person has a story, dreams, and ambitions.

In Bulgaria and in Europe, Mother’s Day is on March 8. This is the day when everyone appreciates their mothers and says thank you for their hard work. I still celebrate on March 8 and also on the American Mother’s Day in May. Celebrating in May helped my children feel the same as their classmates. They make me lovely cards, and we go out for lunch.

On Mother’s Day, I get a bouquet of white roses, my favorite flowers, from my husband. A white rose is the flower of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, our Mystical Rose of Heaven. For me, Mother’s Day isn’t about being one day in the year when you get cards, kisses, and flowers. Every day when you know you’ve raised good children is Mother’s Day. Every day we celebrate the love, the pain, the sleepless nights, the cheers.

We grow, we make friends; we move, we lose many of them. As time passes, it’s more and more difficult to make new friendships. But also with time, we become wiser and gain the ability to appreciate and respect the people around us. We begin to understand that our mother has always been and will always be our best friend in life.

Our mothers are our white roses.

Herbal Remedies for Health

NOTE: The following information is not meant to be taken as a cure for any illnesses. If you’re sick, always contact your health-care professional. The information that follows is common folk medicine, which people have used from generation to generation.

In these times when people across the globe are stressed and anxious about the future, it’s important to maintain and strengthen our immune system. Look around your kitchen and you’re certain to find products that are beneficial to your health: fresh vegetables, fruits, spices. The kitchen, the garden, the meadows are gifts that are good for our health.

Every culture and every household have beliefs and recipes passed down from generation to generation. A number of herbs and products in Bulgarian folklore are believed to help us achieve this. Here are some of my favorites, plus a couple of tasty recipes with simple ingredients you can easily find.

Ingredients for Healthy Living. Photo by Nelinda.

Honey

Bulgarians honor bees and in the summer, on July 8, pay tribute to their patron, Saint Procipius, or Prokopia the Beekeeper. On this day, early in the morning, people who raise bees go to the hives to remove the first honey of the year. They burn incense, allowing the smoke to enter the hives. The beekeepers bring two pitkas (ritual bread) to the hives – one for God and one for the saint. They take the honey and the bread to the church, where the priest consecrates them with a special prayer. The beekeepers then spread the honey on the bread and give them to neighbors to ensure the health of both the family and the bees, so the bees will produce even more honey. The rest of the consecrated honey is used as a remedy for mumps, measles, and other illnesses throughout the year.

Honey is a delicious immune-stimulator! It’s rich in many vitamins, including B and C, and has iron, calcium, zinc, and more. Honey acts as an antioxidant, much like fruits and vegetables. Using it regularly will stimulate your body’s organs, helping to improve your physical and mental state.

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm. Photo by Nelinda

The herb is native to the mountainous regions of Southern Europe, but you can buy it in the spring at Home Depot and other chains or local flower nurseries. The leaves of the lemon balm are well-known in Bulgaria and used in herbal teas. I have a few plants in my garden because its lemon smell keeps away mosquitoes and other insects.

Ever since ancient times, it’s been used to cure diseases resulting from the nervous system. The plant has a calming effect, it stimulates appetite and digestion, and suppresses nausea and vomiting. In folk medicine, the leaves are used to treat high blood pressure, dizziness, headache, vision problems, and tinnitus. Gargling with water infused with lemon balm also gets rid of bad breath.

Yogurt

Yogurt is an integral part of many Bulgarian meals. It’s served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When I was a child, my grandmother used to make yogurt with jam and call it “ice cream.” It was a much healthier option than regular ice cream.

It’s good for the digestive system, bones, and teeth, but it also helps strengthen the immune system, fighting disease and helping the body resistant to infection.

Walnuts

Walnuts are rich in vitamin B, vitamin E, fiber, magnesium, iron, and mineral salts. They are also high in calories, so limit them to no more than 42 grams a day. Even walnut leaves are a natural remedy, often used in tea to help prevent atherosclerosis, goiter, and skin problems such as eczema.

Nettle

Nettle is also a gift from nature that appears in the spring. If you pick it yourself, make sure to wear gloves, because nettle is not a friendly plant; it “bites.” My grandmother used to say that if you pick up nettle with your bare hands, it’ll prevent you from getting arthritis, but I never tried this. You don’t have to go and look for it in fields, though, because you can buy dried nettle online or in your local farmer’s market. You can drink it as a tea or add it to soup. I like to add fresh nettle to cream soup.

Recipes

Honey-walnut elixir

Combining walnuts with honey creates an elixir that boosts the immune system, and fights colds, exhaustion, and anemia. The elixir is suitable for children, because it naturally increases the body’s defenses.

You’ll need medium-sized jar, about 24 oz. like the ones used to make jam. Cut a handful of nuts into small pieces. Then peel a medium-sized lemon and cut the fruit into small pieces. Add the nuts and lemon to a half jar of natural honey. Stir the mixture well.

Take 2 or 3 tablespoons once a day.

Tip: Don’t throw away a used lemon after the juice has been squeezed out. You can use it to clean your cutting boards. If you add a little baking soda inside the peel, you can use it to clean pots. It works like magic. I even like to massage my hands with lemon peels and yogurt. It makes them soft and cleans the germs naturally.

 

Dessert

Here is one of my favorite desserts using yogurt, walnuts, and honey. If you don’t like walnuts you can omit them.

400 g yogurt

4 Tablespoons honey

50 g walnuts (or other nuts)

Divide yogurt into individual bowls, one per person. Pour honey over it. Sprinkle with the chopped nuts.

Tip: You can bake the nuts for about 5 minutes in a preheated 220 degrees C (about 430 F) oven and then crush them and sprinkle them with milk. The dessert works well if you replace plain yogurt with strained yogurt. It’s best to look at the label and make sure it has Lactobacillus bulgaricus bacteria in it. You can substitute honey with liquid chocolate or your favorite sweet.

The Art of Forgiveness

The following is an excerpt from my memoir, The Wanderer.

According to Orthodox tradition, every spring before Easter, we ask our relatives for forgiveness. We also call our parents and other relatives in Bulgaria and ask their forgiveness. Even if we haven’t hurt or offended them, we use it as a way to get rid of the negative energy in our lives.

It’s important to differentiate between forgiveness and trusting someone again. Can you forgive a person when he hurt you several times? If you do, does it mean you approve of his actions? Are you giving this person permission to hurt you again? Some people don’t change for the better; they become more self-centered.

You can forgive, but you don’t have to forget.

Forgiveness is an important part of our lives. It’s no wonder Bulgarians, like other Orthodox, have a celebration called Proshka, Forgiveness. On the church calendar, this occurs before the Easter fast begins. The idea is to cleanse not only the body, but also the soul.

Although the church and other rituals were strictly forbidden during the Communist era in Bulgaria, my grandmothers honored them rigorously and taught us children to honor them. Before dinner, we had to kiss their hand and ask for forgiveness from them and our parents. It wasn’t just words; it was a serious matter. I saw the respect and dignity on their faces as we paid our respect.

Afterwards, for my cousins and me, the day was like a party. My grandmother made her delicious round bread, cooked fresh eggs, baked banitsa, and had homemade feta cheese and white halva. When she didn’t have white halva, she used Tahan halva, but they both melted in our mouths. We all waited for the dinner to end so we could make a hamkane.

My grandmother tied a red thread to the end of the dough roller, like a wooden rolling pin. To the other end of the thread, she attached a piece of halva, a piece of cheese, or a hard-boiled egg. We children stood in a circle on the floor or around the table with our hands behind us. We eagerly awaited our grandmother to shake the thread and make the halva dance. Like kids in America playing a donut game or apple dunking, each of us struggled to bite into the halva and get it to stay in our mouths. My brother and my cousins always won.