Nestinarstvo – Fire Dance

October 31, 2014

Nestinarstvo (Bulgarian: нестинарство) is a ritual where people, predominantly women, dance on embers with their bare feet as a means to purify themselves with the fire’s healing powers. The Thracian word “nestia” means “fire.” Like so many Bulgarian customs, fire dancing incorporates both Orthodox and pagan beliefs.

It originated in remote villages in the Strandzha Mountains area, in southeastern Bulgaria. The celebration occurs on the Day of Saints Constantine and Helena, originally June 3, but now May 21. The ritual also celebrates the cults of the sun, fire, and water in order to bring fertility and health. Fire had protective powers and increased the sun’s divine power, and water had healing powers. Emperor Constantine I himself worshiped fire, and so he allowed the nestinari to perform their dance even after he legalized Christianity.

“Nestinarka” Art by Nelinda.com
“Nestinarka” Art by Nelinda.com

The celebration begins in the morning when people gather outside the home of the oldest dancer. They light candles and bow to the icons on the saints at the chapel that has been set up near the woman’s house. The dancer leaves her house when she hears the sound of kettle drums and bagpipes. She is pale and is already in a trance. Next, everyone goes to an ayazmo, a sacred spring, where they drink its healing water. The gathering continues to a meadow near the forest. Singing and dancing take place, and a fire is built.

When evening arrives and the fire has turned to embers, those present form three or nine circles, which is associated with the Sun, the “Fire of Heaven.” They perform a chain dance, a horo, around the fire and kiss the icons of the saints that they hold. The dancers raise the icons above their heads as they enter the fire so they can dance on the embers without injuring themselves. The music begins to speed up and so does the dancing. Fire opens a door to the spirit world, the oldest of the nestinari sees the future of the village while she dances in her trance-like state.

The following in an excerpt about the Nestinarstvo from Mystical Emona: Soul’s Journey.

As the fire died down to coals, people quieted. The smell of charcoal mingled with the salty air. Angelina looked at Kalyna, then put on a CD of bagpipes and kettle drum music. A heavy, slow folk song rose in the darkness. Everyone stood and encircled the coals. Then a man on the other side played a long flute-like instrument.

Stefan started. “What’s that instrument? I think I-I heard that music in my dreams once.”

“It’s called a kaval. Shepherds often play them.” She wrapped her arm around his waist and nestled into his side. “The nestinarstvo, or fire dance, is fascinating. It’s a famous tourist attraction. Not too many people can do it, but it fills those who can with energy. Watch.”

Angelina loosened her hair and took off her sandals. With her eyes closed and her arms stretched out to the sky, she stepped onto the live coals. She danced to the slow rhythm of the music, her long white dress flowing around her.

“Magic in the night” Art by Nelinda.com
“Magic in the night” Art by Nelinda.com

“Mystical Emona” was highlighted on October 9 at Boston University during an event called “Bulgarian Voices: Love, Light and Rituals.” It is also available on Amazon US and UK. In addition, we are working on a non-fiction book that will describe many of these Bulgarian customs and others in more detail, as well as their Thracian origins. Look for it in December.

Here is one interesting video from UNESCO to learn more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ru506gJ1iI

 

 

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Music and Dance

October 30, 2014

Bulgarian folk music and dance are quite different from what Americans are used to. Dances are performed by men and women in lines or circles (horo). The performers wear traditional, colorful garments of primarily white, red, and black, embellished with much embroidery. The colors and designs have meanings. White and red represent the sky and earth, the marriage of the male and female gods of creation, while black is the destruction of the earth, when it is no longer fertile. Traditionally, the embroidered designs were not symmetrical because this was considered a diabolical creation. To have symmetry was to invite the evil eye.

The dancers move their feet in fast, intricate patterns, or at times, slow and deliberate ones. They often jump and shout while they twirl around a room.

The music has an eerie, hypnotic quality to it. Common instruments are the gaida (a bagpipe made from goat’s skin), kaval (a flute-like instrument), tupan (drum), and outi (stringed instrument). In Mystical Emona: Soul’s Journey, Stefan hears someone singing in the forest when spring arrives. An excerpt follows:

The whistling of the wind sounded like a reverent song drifting out of the forest. He moved toward it, stopped, and spun around. The tune came from every direction, as if the forest itself sang a hymn of praise to the arrival of spring. Riveted by the music, he remained immobile until the last note drifted away like mist evaporated by the sun. So unlike any song he had ever heard, it filled him with peace, and he experienced a oneness with nature.

And in another scene, preparations are being made for a wedding – gaida, zurla (another type of flute), and tupan playing at the joyous celebration.

soare On that glorious wedding day, festivities abounded in the village. The aroma of roasting game from the magnificent feast mingled with the fragrance of flowers decorating the streets and houses. Joyous, mellow notes of zurlas joined wailing skirls of gaidas and the steady beat of sticks against tupans. Music vibrated through the air, drowning the clamor of the multitudes.

Combine the music with the lively dance, and get swept away to another place and time. Listen to the following to get a sense of what you might have heard had you been there.

Folk music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTmF2aCEJrY

Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_gm0j1H1kc

Gaida: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jccGfGBkky4

Kaval: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMpxFGUDgDI

Outi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZgSj7ko9do

Interesting Facts about Bulgaria

October 29, 2014

While researching Mystical Emona: Soul’s Journey, I came across some interesting tidbits of information about Bulgaria and its inhabitants. They made me say, “What? No way.” Some of these are incorporated into the story; others may be used in future novels as the journey continues.

The Cyrillic alphabet was invented by two Bulgarian monks. Bulgarians are proud of this fact, and get quite annoyed with the rest of the world for attributing the alphabet to Russians.

First electronic digital computer was invented by a Bulgarian-American. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYup. Those devices we can’t live without today started with John Atanasoff in the 1930s. Although Atanasoff was American-born, his father emigrated to Aerica from Bulgaria.

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.

Shaking one’s head in Bulgaria means “yes,” while nodding signifies “no.” Think of the nightmares that can cause. I read an article recently by someone travelling in Bulgaria who was approached by a gypsy. When the boy held out his hand for money, the man shook his head. This only encouraged the boy, who smiled eagerly. Believe me. It’s best not to tell a Bulgarian they have this backwards.

Bulgarians are more likely to celebrate their “name day” than their birthday. “Name day? What’s that?” you might ask. Originally, it was a feast day for a particular saint. So, anyone who had the same name, for example, “Maria” or “Mary,” would celebrate on August 15, the Assumption of Mary. Bulgarians have a lot of saints, so there is no shortage of days to celebrate name days. From what I could gather, way, way back, when people didn’t know what day they were born on (yup, I’m talking a long time ago), they took up this custom of celebrating the feast of the saints since they DID know their own names. So why not have a little fun to mark each passing year?

Bagpipes are played by Bulgarians. Nope, it’s not only done in the United Kingdom. The Bulgarian version is called a gaida.

Famous people with Bulgarian association: Mark Zuckerbuerg, creator of Facebook – his grandfather emigrated from Bulgaria in 1940. Tom Hanks, well-known actor – is married to a Bulgarian. Nina Dobrev, actress on “The Vampire Diaries” – is a Bulgarian.

Those are a few of the things I learned about a country most Americans aren’t really even sure where it can be found. If you want to find out more about these people, their culture, and their beliefs, take a look at Mystical Emona. I hope you’ll find them as interesting as I did.

Mystical Emona was highlighted on October 9 at Boston University during an event called “Bulgarian Voices: Love, Light and Rituals.” It is also available on Amazon US and UK. In addition, we are working on a non-fiction book that will describe many of these Bulgarian customs and others in more detail, as well as their Thracian origins. Look for it in December.

Spotlight Blog Tour – John Fioravanti

October 24, 2014

Please welcome the Rave Reviews Book Club Spotlight Author for October 2014, John Fioravanti.

John is the Author of A Personal Journey to the Heart of Teaching and Passion & Struggle.

Hello, I’m John Fioravanti, and welcome to the eighth post of my “Spotlight Blog Tour” sponsored by my family at Rave Reviews Book Club. I’m very grateful to be a guest today with Ronessa Aveela.

In December of 2013, my wife, Anne, and I launched Fiora Books as a book publishing house in alliance with Iceberg Publishing  also of Waterloo, Ontario. Previously, I had written a non-fiction book for high school students called “Getting It Right in History Class” (Data Based Directions, 2002). Five years later, I wrote the award-winning non-fiction book, “A Personal Journey to the Heart of Teaching” (Iceberg Publishing, 2007). This month we published my first science-fiction book “Passion & Struggle”. People have asked me why I switched genres. Good question…

 

FICTION Vs NON-FICTION

When I think back on it, there wasn’t a moment when I decided I wanted to write a book for publication. There was no sudden realization, “Hey, I want to be an author!” I just stumbled into it by trying to create skill guidelines for my students. For years, I duplicated the booklets I had written so my students could use them when I assigned writing projects in history class – including the formal research essay. One day, a colleague suggested I get them published. I thought about that, wrote letters to every major educational publisher I knew about – but no one was interested. Years after that, a former principal told me to contact a small educational publisher operating out of Barrie, Ontario – Data Based Directions. So I made the contact and the rest is history.

Four years later, out of the blue, my former student and dear friend, Kenneth Tam  visited me at the school. He and his parents had formed their own publishing house, Iceberg Publishing, in 2002. At that time, Kenneth launched his first Equations novel  and I served as Master of Ceremonies at the launch event. Four years later, Kenneth had four Equations novels under his belt, and he came to see me with a proposal. That visit culminated in the publication of “A personal Journey to the Heart of Teaching” in 2007. Again, I had not decided to write a book about my teaching career on my own. By the end of 2007, I had two published non-fiction books under my belt, and I had not made a conscious decision to become a published author.

However, that changed during the editing process of the Journey book. It was during the summer of 2006 that I had the fateful conversation with Kenneth about writing my own science-fiction series inside his Equations series. For the first time in my life, I made a conscious decision, not only to write a book – but an entire series!

Hey! Hold on for one darned minute here! What made me think I could write a novel? All my life, I’ve been an avid reader – mostly novels of all genres. In all that time, I never lost my admiration, no, awe, for the men and women who spin these yarns that keep me turning pages for hours. I often thought, how do they come up with these stories? How do they dream up these fascinating characters? It is such a gift! I often wished that I had that gift.

As I sat down at my computer to write the first lines of a novel I hadn’t named, I experienced a moment of near-panic. How do I do this? I must be certifiable! I needed to calm down… so I cleared out of my office and went for a short walk. I convinced myself that I was being silly, calmed down, and went back to my computer. I had been thinking about this for a couple of months before this particular day. I sat in front of a blank Word page and something remarkable began to happen.

Before I knew it, I had written a page and a half of the story. Where did that come from? My friend, Kenneth Tam, has a theory that our subconscious mind will work on problems that are bothering us and find solutions. When we are calm or relaxed enough, our conscious mind can connect with the subconscious and the ideas begin to flow. I’m convinced that this is the case. As the weeks and months went by, the story unfolded in ways I had never planned. You see, I’m a very unorthodox writer.

Best practice dictates that a writer will map out the story – plots, subplots, characters, etc. Then one writes the story. I have tried to do that and failed miserably. I sit in front of a sheet of paper and do more doodling than planning. Nothing pops into my head! However, if I sit at my computer and relax, I begin to picture scenes and then characters. The ideas begin to flow and I begin to write. I can’t explain the magic of a keyboard. Conversely, I can’t create with pen and paper. The best I can do with that medium is a grocery list!

Does the story written in this way turn out to be first and last draft? Nope! Not even close. I began to write Passion & Struggle in January, 2007. The present manuscript was not ready for editing until this past spring. Just over seven years! Lots of rewrites and transformations over the years. However, in that time I also drafted Book Two in the series – Treachery & Triumph. I don’t suggest that other authors should use my approach; but it does work for me.

Two weeks ago, my wife, Anne, came into my office while I was at the computer and stood there waiting for me to finish what I was doing. When she had my attention, she said she just wanted to tell me something. I thought I was in trouble… again! I was wrong. She told me that I was a very talented man because of the way I wrote P&S_CoverPassion & Struggle – which she had just finished proof-reading. She said she admired how I wove the various plots together and developed the characters. She thought I should know that, and then she left. I sat there, dumbfounded. Wow. I always thought those same things about the writers of the novels I’d read over the past five decades.

Fiction or Non-Fiction? I’m liking the fiction a lot more. I truly have fun writing these stories. I can twist the plots any way I like, create whatever characters I like, and do anything I want with them! But sometimes my characters react to a situation in a different way – not what I expected. I sit back, look at the computer screen, and say, “Hey! Who’s writin this dadgum story, anyway?? And then I laugh out loud!

So, check out my Passion & Struggle, and see what you think.

 

AUTHOR BIO

John Fioravanti is a retired secondary school educator who completed his thirty-five year career in the classroom in June, 2008. His teaching career was split between two schools: St. Benedict CSS in Cambridge, Ontario and St. David CSS in Waterloo, Ontario.

Throughout his career, John focused on developing research, analysis, and essay writing skills in his History Classroom. This led to the publication of his first non-fiction work for student use, Getting It Right in History Class (Data Based Directions, 2002), along with an international version of the same title. A Personal Journey to the Heart of Teaching  Iceberg Publishing, 2007, 2008, 2010) (Fiora Books 2014) is his second non-fiction work; it attempts to crystallize the struggles, accomplishments, and setbacks experienced in more than three decades of effort to achieve excellence in his chosen field.

John’s first work of fiction is Passion & Struggle and is set within Kenneth Tam s Equations universe (Iceberg Publishing). He claims that, after two non-fiction books, he’s having the time of his life bringing new stories and characters to life!

At present, John lives in Waterloo, Ontario with Anne, his bride of forty-one years. They have three children and three grandchildren. In December of 2013, John and Anne founded Fiora Books for the express purpose of publishing John’s books. After four decades of marriage, they decided to become business partners as well.

 

BOOK LINKS:

Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O7X5SXK

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/passion-struggle

iBooks: https://itunesconnect.apple.com/WebObjects/iTunesConnect.woa/wo/16.0.0.13.7.2.7.9.1.1.3.2.3.3.1.5.3.0.1

Book Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUqwuCcAEyU

CONNECT HERE:

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/FioraBooks/516763875088924?ref=hl

Website: http://fiorabooks.com/

Twitter: @FioraBooks  + @jfinwat  (I have 2 accounts)

Tikvenik: A Little Taste of Bulgaria

October 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

tikvenik_web

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

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

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

Enjoy!!!!