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.

“The Witcher” Connection

The Witcher Connection

Have you seen Netflix’s The Witcher? Although it’s received poor reviews from critics, fans are loving the show. We are excited that these types of shows are beginning to become more popular. It’s a move into a new type of fantasy realm. By now, fantasy lovers know about elves, gnomes, goblins, and such creatures. But what does the world, the western world, know about the creatures that haunt the lands of Eastern Europe?

Like Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, whose fantasy works are the basis for the series, we have a connection to The Witcher. It has been our goal to promote this rich folklore and mythology to readers. Some of the creatures you’ll discover in The Witcher are the inspiration for our fiction and nonfiction books. You can also meet other fascinating creatures such as the dragons Lamia and Zmey in our books.

At the beginning of The Witcher, you’ll meet a Kikimora. Although she’s not portrayed as the traditional folkloric creature, she’s still quite scary and fascinating. Time magazine referenced our work on household spirits (A Study of Household Spirits of Eastern Europe) when talking about the show.

Here’s what the TIME article had to say about the KIKIMORA:

Kikimora

When we first meet Cavill’s Geralt in episode 1, he’s emerging from a blackened swamp, in the middle of a terrifying battle with a multi-limbed kikimora.

Kikimoras are a mainstay of Slavic mythology, though the one shown in The Witcher may not exactly line up with the traditional depiction.

Throughout Eastern Europe, according to A Study of Household Spirits of Eastern Europe by Ronesa Aveela, kikimoras are believed to be female spirits that haunt houses. They can appear either young or old, but usually as deformed humans, thin and scraggly. Though they can be useful, they are largely troublemakers and occasionally dangerous.

“Do you hear creaking, scratching sounds coming from the walls and floors, or the clatter of pots at night?” Aveela writes. “All these may be signs a Kikimora lives in your house. This female spirit causes havoc from dusk until dawn.”

She posits that the origin of the name, as well as the myth, may stem from an old Finnish word, “kikke mörkö,” which roughly translates to “scarecrow.”

In The Witcher TV show, the kikimora appears as a very large, spider-like monster who tries to drown Geralt and bite his head off with a large maw full of sharp teeth. Not quite the type of monster that would be clattering pots in Slavic homes.

Still, the show’s depiction does match up with the some rarer aspects of the kikimora legends. Aveela writes that kikimoras have been associated with Baba Yaga witches who often appear in Russian fairy tales. They are contorted, long-limbed women who live in the deepest parts of the forest. Kikimoras also traditionally have bird feet, like the claws shown in The Witcher. And finally, many sources, including Aveela, say that a variation of kikimoras live in swamps and are married to Leshys, a Slavic woodland spirit.

You can read the full writeup here: https://time.com/5753369/the-witcher-history-folklore/

A Little Christmas Magic

Christmas is a special time for many people. The holiday can be chaotic and has become one of the most commercialized days of the year. Yet, still, it’s a holy day for many people, despite the fact that the stresses of the season take over. We talk about this holiday in our book “Light Love Rituals.” An excerpt from the book follows.

Christmas Eve. The year is coming to a close. It’s a time of festivity for Christian and non-Christian alike. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Budni vecher marks the end of forty days of fasting from meat to purify both body and soul. In preparation for the holiday, families thoroughly cleanse and tidy their houses, because on Koleda, Christmas, traditional beliefs prohibit sweeping, washing, cleaning, and any kind of household work. An old superstition says that even sewing isn’t allowed, to prevent family members from going blind.

A more unusual “cleansing” is the removal of bad spirits. To accomplish this, the female head of household walks around the home and yard with burning incense, to chase those spirits away. This tradition began long ago when people believed unseen beings lurked in dark corners. By ridding their homes of both dirt and spirits, families can greet the new year clean and full of positive energy.

Other traditions people perform on this day also have special meanings. Among these are cutting a budnik or Yule log, selecting food for the evening meal, and blessing families with incantations and songs.

~ Origins ~

People in antiquity believed the winter solstice brought beginnings, rather than endings. Up until this date, the Sun was a dying god, his light shining less each day. On the solstice, however, the Sun was reborn as a new god called Mlada Boga or Young God, and daylight once again increased.

Various religions celebrated the solstice in their own way. In the third century A.D., Emperor Aurelian combined these celebrations into a single festival called the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun,” observed on December 25. Eventually, the early church designated this day as the celebration of the birth of Christ, and “Young God” came to refer to Jesus rather than a pagan, or non-Christian, deity.

During the solstice, people in antiquity believed the heavens and Earth were at their closest points and merged, renewing natural energies. With the release of this power, vile spirits and the souls of the dead had free rein to mingle with people. These unsavory beings desired to bring chaos to the world by preventing the return of light, that is, the rebirth of the Sun God. People therefore performed rituals to protect families and crops.

Winter Pitka bread

That’s not all. The ashes from the budnik log are considered magical. In February, in a ceremony to bless the grape vines, these ashes are scattered around the plant’s roots, ensuring a bountiful harvest.

The winter season is magical in other ways. It’s the time of year when many name day celebrations occur. We talked about this before in the “Santa’s Name Day” post.

You can learn a little more about Budni vecher in our children’s short story “The Christmas Thief,” where a little boy learns about sharing.

Wishing you a blessed and happy Christmas and holiday season.

 

Little League Nightmare

Today, we have a guest post by Keith D. Guernsey, who writes about his humorous sports experiences, as well as his battle with cancer. Below is a topic I can relate to, since I was one of those kids always picked last in school sports events. I was once an honorary member of an adult softball team, only because they needed another player so they wouldn’t have to forfeit. I hope you enjoy Keith’s childhood adventure that he relates below.

By Keith D. Guernsey

Growing up 12 miles from Fenway baseball was a very big deal in Lexington and I was determined to give it my best shot. Opening day was a major event with a parade through the center of town and players from all the teams lining both baselines (think opening day at Fenway for all its pomp and circumstance and you wouldn’t be far off). There is where it went from bad to worse. My shiny, new all-white uniform had arrived in the mail.  I was so excited to try it on and then so sad when the pants did not fit. My late mother, in her infinite wisdom, decided (glad you are not here to read this Ma) she could fix them; so I let her give it a shot, but all she had was gray material to use. So what ended up happening was that 100 Little League baseball players lined the first and third baselines at the Center Field in Lexington, and 99 had perfectly pressed sparkling white uniform pants. I had white pants with a large gray patch directly in the center of the posterior. With a last name of Guernsey (rhymes with cow) and being rotund in places where I shouldn’t have been, the laughter and humiliation were complete.

This was my most embarrassing moment but surprisingly not by that much. In little league baseball there was a rule that everyone had to play. This made the coaches unhappy but the players (especially the lousy ones like me!) ecstatic. My coach sent me out to right field (told you I was the bench warmer money can buy) with a great deal of trepidation and the sincere hope that no one would actually hit the ball to me. If you are unfamiliar with LL ball, it is where the coaches put their worst players in hopes nothing too awful will take place. Unfortunately for him it did. One of the first batters that came up to bat after I went in the game lined one way over my head and hilarity ensued.  I ran (waddled?) back after the ball when my cap flew off. Instead of continuing to pursue the ball, I stopped and went back after my lid. Only after retrieving my hat did I resume my pursuit of the ball. Suffice to say that by the time I retrieved the ball my opponent had long since circled the bases and I was unceremoniously yanked from the game. The only saving grace is that there was no AFV or YouTube to record this monumental faux pas.

Discover more about Keith in another recent interview:

Keith Guernsey – Overcoming Adversity through Love and Sports

Connect with Keith…

Social Media: Twitter | Goodreads |

Where to Buy: Amazon |

     

Keith would love your opinion on his newest book. Overcoming the Odds, at:
https://amzn.com/1798710218

 

A Spirit Here, a Spirit There, a Spirit Everywhere!

Up until the nineteenth century, it was common belief throughout rural areas of Eastern Europe that spirits lived everywhere in the world of the peasants. Every home and every place outside of the home had its guardian spirit: springs, old trees, fields, vineyards, boundary lines, and so forth.

Household spirits had different names. In Russia and other Slavic countries, he was called the Domovoy. He was most often friendly, and was treated like a member of the family. He’d warn you if trouble was coming, and he’d make all kinds of noises if your house was on fire, in an attempt to wake you up.

Domovoy image
Domovoy, house spirit by Evelinea Erato, © Bendideia Publishing

Among the Bulgarians, the house spirit was called the Smok. He frequently took the form of a snake. This spirit was revered and wouldn’t be killed. To do so would cause disaster and even death for the family. Give him a bowl of milk and some eggs, and he’d be happy and protect you and your home.

Smok image

In addition to these helpful spirits, many evil spirits also occupied places.

The Ovinnik lived in the barn (ovin), and often appeared in a catlike form. He tried to be good and helped with the threshing process. But, at other times, he might also be in a bad mood and burn your barn down.

Ovinnik image
Ovinnik, house spirit by Evelinea Erato, © Bendideia Publishing

The Bannik lived in the bathhouse (banya, which is similar to a sauna). He was known for peeling the skin off of those who annoyed him, especially anyone who lied to him.

Bannik image
Bannik, house spirit by Evelinea Erato, © Bendideia Publishing

Even worse than these spirits was the Vodyanoy or Vodnik, who lived in the water (voda). On occasion, he might help fishermen catch more fish. Most often, however, he was a demanding being, requiring horrific sacrifices: live horses cast into the water, and even drunks or strangers who happened to be around. His cruelty affected his family as well, and he was known to murder his own wife or children.

Vodyanoy image
Vodyanoy by Ivan Bilibin, Public Domain

If you’d like to learn more about the Vodyanoy, you can download a FREE ebook from Book Funnel. Follow the steps and once you verify your email, your file will be available.

Link to free ebook: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/1rq3ku0fa9

Award Winners!

This year, we entered our nonfiction books into the prestigious Readers’ Favorite annual awards event… AND WE WON! Gold and Silver!

Unlike many awards events, the Readers’ Favorite is not a popularity contest. Authors don’t have to scramble begging, pleading with friends, family, and fans to vote for their book. Quite the opposite. This event is one where judges read and rate the books. It’s open to indie and traditional publishers, and many well-known personalities have participated and won.

Our winners:

A Study of Household Spirits of Eastern Europe
GOLD MEDAL

Gold Medal Winner - Household Spirits

Light Love Rituals: Bulgarian Myths, Legends, and Folklore
SILVER MEDAL

  Light Love Rituals - Silver Medal Winner

You can find all winners of the 2019 awards here: Readers’ Favorite 2109 Award Contest Winners

Hauntingly Good

Today’s visitor from Mom’s Favorite Reads authors is Val Tobin. She writes in a variety of genres: romance, paranormal, and horror.

Val Tobin

I hadn’t read any of her books before this time, so I decided to take a look at one of her paranormal stories. I chose Earthbound. It’s a book those who love paranormal will enjoy. It resonated even more with me since I had earlier listened to a podcast where Val talked about some of her own unusual experiences.

Earthbound cover

Here’s a bit from the book description:

Nothing says bad day like waking up dead.

Software developer Jayden McQueen is dead, but it’s not in her stubborn and controlling nature to say die. When she’s offered a chance to return to the physical plane to bid a final farewell to her loved ones, she seizes it.

Who wouldn’t want to attend their own funeral?

One part of the story that intrigued me was a visit to a Shaman, where the following conversation ensues:

***

“She’s a ghost?” Cornell’s voice held awe. With one hand, he stroked my body, testing its solidity. “Fascinating, Zach. I’m sorry I doubted you.”

I shuddered at the invasion and lashed out with another kick. He jumped back at the last moment, and I almost kneecapped him.

He slapped me across the face, snapping my head back. This time, I felt it, though only lightly. It seemed the longer I stayed in this room, the more solid I became. I responded by spitting at him, which failed miserably. Apparently, I wasn’t corporeal enough to hock a loogie.

Give it time.

Cornell only smiled.

“Spirit, Jim.” White Wolf appeared at Cornell’s side.

“What?”

“You called her a ghost. The correct term is ‘spirit.’”

Cornell slanted White Wolf a look. “What’s the difference?”

“A spirit still has a soul; a ghost is a soulless entity—more energy than anything else. That’s where hauntings come from.”

***

While researching my own book about household spirits, I had my own conversation with a shaman. He politely told me they were not spirits, but fragments of “souls.”

Thank you for visiting.  Please tell us about your own paranormal experiences in the comments.

Be sure to visit Val on all her blog tour stops this week. Click this link to find out who’s hosting her.