Nostradamus of the Balkans

In our book, we talk about various healers throughout Bulgarian history. Who are these healers, and how did they obtain this power?

Both men and women can be healers, although most often the role falls to an elderly woman called a znahar. But, please, don’t call her a witch. To this nation of people who believe in a single, omnipotent God as much as they do in beautiful, enchanting Samodivi, a “witch” is a veshtitsa, a spiteful person who practices the dark arts and wishes to cause death, sickness, discord, and the theft of fertility from the land, rather than healing and well-being. A community fears a veshtitsa, while they respect a znahar.

In rare instances, the znahar receives her healing arts by a supernatural means—from a saint, angel, or Samodiva through a dream, or even in a near-death situation, when the boundaries between this life and the next merge. The znahar in this case not only becomes a healer, but also a clairvoyant. The most famous was Baba Vanga (1911 – 1996). As a child she was reportedly caught up in a tornado and dumped into a field. From that point on, her eyesight failed, but her psychic and herbal healing abilities developed, which she claimed came from invisible creatures.

Baba Vanga2

Samodivi are said to be daughters of the Great Goddess Bendis, and are therefore protectors of nature. In this capacity, they have the power to heal creatures and the land itself. Bulgarians believe the nymphs initiate chosen women into the sisterhood, and pass on to them the secrets of healing with herbs. The ceremony takes place in the woods right before sunrise on a Sunday on a night when the moon is full.

A more common initiation, however, is one passed down from one generation to the next, or from grandmother to granddaughter. The females involved are expected to be “ritually pure,” that is pre-menstrual or post-menopausal. These points in a female’s life bring them closest to the states of birth and death, respectively, allowing them to transition between the earthly and otherworldly realms so they can communicate with spirits.

The initiation can take place in various sacred places—by a river (symbolic of birth) or next to a hearth (representing the home or temple of the gods). In the first, the initiate climbs a willow tree by the river. With its branches in the air, and its roots in the earth, getting nourishment from the water, the tree unifies all three elements. The initiate recites the words to the sacred ritual three times, then moves to another branch and repeats the words three more times. Once more, the initiate moves and repeats the words three more times, ensuring the power will “take root” in the individual.

When performed at the hearth, the elder woman places bread in a covered clay dish called a podnitza and sticks it into the fire. Using iron tools, which have purifying power to chase away evil, she buries the dish with ashes, then places the tools on both sides of the hearth. Facing the fire, the initiate kneels on a broom, which symbolizes purification, the sweeping away of all unclean things.

The elder woman places three grains of wheat on the initiate’s right knee and three on the left, then tosses three grains into the fire. In ancient rituals, wheat consecrated the sacrifice offered to the gods. Placing it on the initiate, therefore, purifies her so she can become a vessel divine power can flow through.

Next, the elderly woman stands behind the initiate and recites the incantation, which the initiate repeats. They repeat the words three times. The elderly woman removes a metal or clay ceremonial object from a wicker basket placed to the right of the initiate. The initiate makes the sign of the cross three times, then touches the object to her forehead, then to her heart, and finally to her knees. She makes the sign of the cross again, and places the sacred object on her left side.

The elderly woman stirs a bunch of basil in a bowl of water and recites a blessing. After the blessing, the elderly woman sprinkles the initiate with the water using the basil to endow her with divine power. The initiate drinks the water from three places. This provides her with guidance for her mouth, hands, and heart: to speak, do, and feel those things that bring health and life to others.

A mediator is needed to transfer the healing power to the initiate. This is done with the bread, called dobra dusha, kind soul. The elderly woman breaks three pieces from it. She eats one, the initiate another, and the third the elderly woman places on the inside of the chimney. The two women now share the power. The initiate will gain her full power only after her mentor dies.

In the final rite of the ceremony, the elderly woman ties a red thread to the initiate’s right hand and pins a geranium onto her clothing. These both are symbolic of protection.

If you’d like to learn more about these healers, you can get a copy of our book through our Kickstarter campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ronesa-aveela/77-1-2-magical-healing-herbs-the-secret-power-of-herbs?ref=a23n7m

Don’t Miss Out on FREE Ebooks

The week 1 perks are coming to an end tonight (Saturday, May 14) at midnight, Eastern time. And they won’t be offered again. Get them now while you have a chance. Simply pledge at any level and they’ll be yours after the campaign ends successfully.

Week 1 Perks

The Midsummer’s Day Wreath

Earlier this week, we talked a little about the herbs. Today, we’ll tell you another special use of these magical herbs.

“Is this a portal to another world? Is this a circle to protect against black magic and evil spirits?”

These were questions in my mind when I looked at the colorful floral wreath on Midsummer’s Day many years ago. It was giant. I mean really giant… Woman, maidens, and girls were passing through the wreath. It felt like they are going to a different dimension.

It was magical experience, one which I always wanted to learn more about.

The wreath is made every year on Midsummer’s Day. It’s considered sacred and is woven from 77½ herbs. Not any herbs, but ones that are magical and healing. According to folk belief, the herbs in the wreath can cure illnesses, break spells, and drive away dragons (zmeys) and other malicious entities.

It’s well-known in Slavic folklore that dragons love to capture girls for brides, so the unmarried females need this extra protection as they approach adulthood.

Besides walking through the giant wreath, girls also crown their heads with a wreath made from herbs that repel zmeys and keep the beasts from loving the girls.

Sounds scary, right? Who wants to be abducted by a dragon and taken to a dark cave?

Don’t forget to follow our campaign on Kickstarter if you haven’t already done so: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ronesa-aveela/77-1-2-magical-healing-herbs-the-secret-power-of-herbs?ref=a23n7m

And here’s another ritual where herbs are prominent.

Rain

Is This Herb the Sorcerer’s Stone?

37-1 Depositphotos_457713322_XL FOR WEB

Water clover (Marsilea quadrifolia) is called the raskovnik in Slavic folklore. It is one of the most secret magical herbs. People believe that the herb has strong alchemic ability and can transform iron into gold. More common, however, is the belief the herb can brings the person who finds it love, happiness, luck, and wealth. I wish that list included eternal youth as well… Some say the raskovnik makes whatever its owner desires come true.

Only a turtle knows where the plant grows, but if a hedgehog is covered with a bowl, it can also find the herb.

According to legend, the herb can unlock any padlock or closed gate. It has the power to make buried treasures rise from the ground: it does this by splitting the ground at the place where a treasure is hidden, so that people can locate it. But if the herb breaks, it’ll lose its magical powers.

African pygmy hedgehog isolated on white background
Gray african pygmy hedgehog isolated on white background

In some regions of Balkans, the treasure itself was a giant man in chains. He’d would request that a raskovnik be brought to him. The raskovnik would break the chains and the man would disappear into the ground, replaced by a cauldron filled with gold coins.

Would you like to learn more about the secret power of herbs?

We have created a book that includes more than 250 color images, medical and magical herb use, traditions, and more. Read on to find out more…

Our Campaign

Discover the power of herbs with our forthcoming book, 77½ Magical Healing Herbs. But when we publish it, the print book will be available EXCLUSIVELY through our Kickstarter campaign for six months, and the ebook will ONLY be available through Kickstarter. We have no plans to publish it through retailers due to the large file size.

What is Kickstarter? Isn’t that just like GoFundMe?

No, absolutely not. Kickstarter is a direct-sales platform that has the potential to reach millions of people. Supporters pledge various amounts to support an author, and in return, they receive products before anyone else. And, as I mentioned, sometimes this is the only way to get a product.

Kickstarter cuts out the retailer middle-man. There are fees, of course, but they are much smaller than the chunk retailers grab.

What Kickstarter is, besides a platform to sell a product, is a way to bundle rewards for supporters. It’s a way to directly interact with customers. There will be early-supporter perks for those pledging within the first 48 hours. And what they call “stretch goals,” bonuses if the campaign meets certain goals.

Are you game?

We’d love to have you check out our pre-launch page.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ronesa-aveela/77-1-2-magical-healing-herbs-the-secret-power-of-herbs

Simply click on the “Notify me on launch” button, and Kickstarter will send you an email immediately when the project officially launches.

kickstarter6a idea

When the campaign launches, it will also include a short video. You can get a sneak peek here and check out our awesome project in progress: https://youtu.be/cnqHZ6NGbdQ

We hope you’ll join us on the adventure and support our campaign. The book is chock full of fascinating information and fantastic images. An all-you-can-eat herbal buffet.

Hope to see you soon.

Nelly and Rebecca

Images stock photos from DepositPhotos.

Magical Healing Herbs

“On Eniovden (Midsummer’s Day), the stars fly down, infusing herbs and water with magical healing power.”

Every year on June 24, Eniovden, I remember these words spoken by my grandmother. She understood the power of herbs and used them to heal body and soul, protect the home and family, and bring fertility and prosperity to the household.

In Bulgaria and other Slavic countries like Ukraine, women and healers gather 77½ herbs. A popular belief is the herbs have magical and healing powers if picked on the eve of Eniovden. However, the women must remain silent as they pour water over the herbs, so the magic is not ruined by the human voice. The women cover the caldron of herbs with an apron and leave it under the stars overnight to make the herbs even more powerful.

“There is an herb for every illness, and the half for all unknown.”

I never fully understood the meaning of the “half” herb as a child—and not even as an adult. How can you have a half herb? Even if you break it in half, it’s still an herb. Nor did I completely comprehend the power of each of the Eniovden herbs.

From the 77½ herbs they gathered, the women weave a giant, sacred wreath. They don’t pick herbs at random. Each herb has magical or healing abilities and is specially chosen for the wreath. According to folk belief, these herbs can cure illnesses, break spells, and drive away dragons (zmeys) and other malicious entities. After the women weave the herbal wreath, they dress in colorful, traditional costumes and dance the horo before they step through the wreath to start the day’s celebrations.

“Is this a portal to another world? Is this a circle to protect you from black magic and evil spirits?”

These were questions in my mind when I looked at the colorful floral wreath on Eniovden many years ago. It was giant. I mean really giant… Woman, maidens, and girls easily stepped through the wreath. It felt like they were going to a different dimension.

It was a magical experience, one which I always wanted to learn more about.

Giant wreath

The Magic of Eniovden

June 24 is a special day filled with other magical rites that focus on herbs. In one ceremony, women and girls sing while they place herbs on each corner of a field. This ensures a bountiful harvest and prevents witches from stealing the fertility of the land, which is contained in the dew. Otherwise, witches would cast spells on the fields during the night, collect the dew in their aprons, and bring it to their own fields.

Eniovden is also a night when the boundaries between the spirit and human worlds merge, allowing creatures from heaven, earth, and the underworld to roam the land. Samodivi (woodland nymphs) and dragons celebrate on this day.

LLR promo

Birth of a Book

I was curious what herbs made up the 77½ in the wreath, so I researched old Bulgarian books and articles and finally discovered a list. That is how the idea of 77½ Magical Healing Herbs was born.

In this unique book, you’ll also learn about well-known healers from Bulgarian history. Baba Vanga is one whom many people these days have heard about. She’s a clairvoyant who’s been called the Nostradamus of the Balkans, and she has predicted many events that have happened in our lifetimes.

Did I get your attention? Would you love to learn more about herbs? Read on…

updated cover

Our Campaign

You can with our forthcoming book, 77½ Magical Healing Herbs. But when we publish it, the print book will be available EXCLUSIVELY through our Kickstarter campaign for six months, and the ebook will ONLY be available through Kickstarter. We have no plans to publish it through retailers due to the large file size.

What is Kickstarter? Isn’t that just like GoFundMe?

No, absolutely not. Kickstarter is a direct-sales platform that has the potential to reach millions of people. Supporters pledge various amounts to support an author, and in return, they receive products before anyone else. And, as I mentioned, sometimes this is the only way to get a product.

What Kickstarter is, besides a platform to sell a product, is a way to bundle rewards for supporters. It’s a way to directly interact with customers. There will be early-supporter perks for those pledging within the first 48 hours. And what they call “stretch goals,” bonuses if the campaign meets certain goals.

Are you game?

We’d love to have you check out our pre-launch page.

kickstarter6a idea

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ronesa-aveela/77-1-2-magical-healing-herbs-the-secret-power-of-herbs

Simply click on the “Notify me on launch” button, and Kickstarter will send you an email immediately when the project officially launches.

When the campaign launches, it will also include a short video. You can get a sneak peek here and check out our awesome project in progress: https://youtu.be/cnqHZ6NGbdQ

We hope you’ll join us on the adventure. The book is chock full of fascinating information and fantastic images. An all-you-can-eat herbal buffet.

Hope to see you soon.

Nelly and Rebecca

Exclusive Opportunity

updated coverOur book 77½ Magical Healing Herbs is nearing completion. It’s currently in the hands of a graphic designer to make the pages even more compelling. A little color to make the herb photographs and text really pop.

The book is 350 pages long! In 8 x 10 format. So, that’s a lot of herbal information.

However, the book won’t be available in any retail store any time soon.

Why?

We’re running a Kickstarter campaign, and the print book (both paperback and hardback) will be EXCLUSIVE to that platform for SIX months. And an ebook version is ONLY being offered through Kickstarter. Once the campaign is over, the opportunity to secure one will be lost.

Kickstarter Green logo

What is Kickstarter? Isn’t that just like GoFundMe?

No, absolutely not. Kickstarter is a direct-sales platform. Supporters pledge various amounts to support an author, and in return, they receive products before anyone else.

Kickstarter cuts out the retailer middle-man. There are fees, of course, but they are much smaller than the chunk retailers grab.

What Kickstarter is, besides a platform to sell a product, is a way to bundle rewards for supporters. It’s a way to directly interact with customers. There will be early-supporter perks for those pledging within the first 48 hours. And what they call “stretch goals,” bonuses if the campaign meets certain goals.

Are you game?

We’d love to have you check out our pre-launch page.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ronesa-aveela/77-1-2-magical-healing-herbs-the-secret-power-of-herbs

Simply click on the “Notify me on launch” button, so you’ll be notified immediately when the project officially launches.

kickstarter6a idea

When the campaign launches, it will also include a short video. You can see it in advance here and check out our awesome project in progress: https://youtu.be/cnqHZ6NGbdQ

We hope you’ll join us on the adventure. The book is chock full of fascinating information and fantastic images. An all-you-can-eat herbal buffet.

Hope to see you soon.

Nelly and Rebecca

The Healing Bogomils

This is an excerpt from our forthcoming 77½ Magical Healing Herbs book.

~~~

Bogomilism is a unique moment in Bulgarian history, originating during the tenth century, although the period of the sect’s history is shrouded in darkness by both the Church and the Communists. Bogomil (singular) is a word that means “dear to God,” from the Slavic Bog (God) and mil (dear). The sect believed in personal spiritual knowledge rather than adherence to Orthodox teachings. Many of the written works of the Bogomili (plural) were destroyed as heretical and controversial, because of their views about both Satan and Christ, among other things. New studies and publications about Bogomilism, however, have emerged in recent years.

There is more to Bogomili than their suppressed viewpoints. They were famous anti-feudal reformers and freedom-loving preachers. They believed in self-government, common ownership of goods, and equality of all community members. They brought literacy to people by writing books in native languages, rather than the Latin prescribed for Church documents. And they encouraged their followers to think and interpret everything they heard or read. All these ideals made the Bogomili dangerous to the feudal society they lived in, and they were persecuted and burned at the stake as witches.

Bogomilimarked

Bogomili – Illustration copyright Keazim Issinov (used with permission of the artist)

More important to the topic of this book, Bogomili were great healers. Vasiliy Vrach, a medieval physician and Bogomil leader, is credited with being the creator of the Bogomil healing practice. The people lived in harmony with nature and used herbs and natural remedies to cure diseases. They believed that diseases had a bad origin, from Satan and other dark, supernatural forces like vampires, Rusalki (water spirits, often called a mermaid), and Samodivi. These beliefs are preserved today in various Bulgarian rituals.

Bogomili were averse to alcohol. According to them, it was an open door to all other sins and betrayals, the devil’s work created to corrupt and kill the spirit. They preached the avoidance of meat, and the higher officials in the group gave up animal products altogether. The people led a life that embraced the natural rhythm and healing properties of foods and herbs. According to them, this way of life prepared them for a spiritual rebirth.

In recent times, a Bulgarian healer called Emil Elmazov discovered a Bogomil recipe book called Zeleinik (Зелейник), which describes natural healing procedures, summarized into five practices: prognosis, herbal treatment, fluid treatment with four liquids, narichania (old Bulgarian rituals in which the ill person participates), and magical rites. The treatments include using herbs, milk, honey, wine, and other ingredients. Even today, honey is a popular homeopathic remedy in Bulgaria and has its roots with the Thracians.

But the cures didn’t stop there. Prayers and invocations were also essential. In addition, it was important for the healer to hold back all emotions, both those of excitement and anguish, in order to maintain his life energy for healing. This simple but important rule must have been difficult to achieve for people who choose medicine for a career. As we say, no one can drink from an empty cup.

March, the Moody Month

March will be here before we know it. March 1 is Baba Marta Day, one of the most popular holidays among Bulgarians. It’s a time to show friendship and wish each other health throughout the year. People make martenitisi, a charm bracelet, from red and white thread to give to others. The day is in honor of Baba Marta, Grandmother March. She’s the only female month, and her mood is reflected in the changeable weather those of us in the northern hemisphere experience as spring attempts to arrive.

This month, I’d like to share a memory about Martenitsa from my memoir, The Wanderer – A Tear and A Smile.

~~~

Sometimes, we need a sign or a miracle to encourage and empower us. As Oprah Winfrey likes to say, “Life is whispering to us; we need to listen.” It’s important to understand the signs and follow our intuition.

Years ago, on a gloomy, rainy spring day, I was dragging my feet with a bowed head, absorbed in personal and work-related problems that stifled my soul. I was in Boston Public Garden; I didn’t see or hear anything because I was so closed off inside my world. Anger tightened my throat, and my coat weighed me down like iron.

Then, in the distance, I saw a flower perched on the bare branches of a tree. It danced like a butterfly. When I came closer, I noticed that it wasn’t a flower; it was the traditional Bulgarian amulet called martenitsa. I knew for certain because it wasn’t any random martenitsa, but Pijo and Penda, the boy and the girl made with red and white threads.

penda-and-pijo

For the people passing by, this amulet meant nothing. But for me, it was a ray of light penetrating the clouds. I felt that somewhere near me, someone shared my cultural beliefs. Someone had put the martenitsa on the branch hoping for health and good omens. People going by were walking their dogs, chatting, and taking pictures. I stopped to look at their faces, hoping to spot the person who might have put the amulet there. I was looking for a sign. Perhaps the person would come back and touch the martenitsa.

People smiled at me, and a group of cheerful girls stopped to touch the martenitsa, but they didn’t know about it. They didn’t even know where Bulgaria was, but I expected that. I proudly described what it meant and the history of the amulet. They looked puzzled. One of them said she thought it was the Kabala Amulet or a sacral ritual. They took some pictures and went back to their own world. A little birdie was singing its song at the top of the tree; I felt it was talking to me to cheer me up and help me embrace the day.

The wind blew away the clouds, and the sun bloomed over the branches covering them and the martenitsa with gold. A few sparkling drops of water trickled down from the branch onto my hair and face. I wiped my cheeks with my palm and felt refreshed from their cold touch. The sun shone and tickled my face. Although I wore several layers of winter clothes and held my laptop bag, I felt as light as a feather, ready to fly in the breeze. I left the garden, turned a few times and still saw the boy and the girl dancing on the branch.

On my way home on the train, I looked out the window and kept my eyes glued to the last sun rays. The day was gone, but I had hope that tomorrow would be better. The martenitsa for me was a sign, a sign to embrace the positive in anticipation of a new beginning from the universe. As Byron says, “O, wind, If winter comes can spring be far behind.”

In Bulgarian folklore and traditions, the martenitsa is a symbol of the coming of spring and of new life and new beginnings. Several legends describe the origins of this amulet. I’ll tell you one that’s in my book Light Love Rituals: Bulgarian Myths, Legends, and Folklore. The tale is about Penda and Pijo, the girl and boy I found dancing in the wind.

Penda and Pijo Story

A long time ago, a Tsar named Pijo loved a woman named Penda. When Pijo found out she had been kidnapped, he wanted to search for her, but he couldn’t leave his kingdom. He sent carrier pigeons with messages asking his loyal subjects if they’d seen Penda. He also asked a brave, trusted soldier to look for her. The man left on a hot summer day and searched for her well into winter.

Far from his homeland, he met an old woman and eleven old men sitting on the cold ground by a well. The old woman struggled to rise, so the soldier helped her, then lifted the bucket of water from the well to give her a drink.

She said, “I’m Baba Marta (Grandmother March), and these are my brothers, the other eleven months of the year. Because you’ve been kind to me, you’ll find what you’re looking for.”

Soon the soldier discovered the house where Penda was held prisoner. He untied her and was going to take her home, when the man who kidnapped her returned. They fought for many hours. The soldier tired and feared his strength would fail. He jabbed once more and killed the bad man, then collapsed. Penda gave him a drink of water.

“Our journey back will take a long time,” she said. “I must let Pijo know I’m safe.” She wrote a note and placed it inside a tube. With a white thread, she tied it to the leg of a carrier pigeon Pijo had sent, then released the bird.

Along the way, the bird scraped its leg on a branch. Blood had stained the thread by the time the bird finally reached Pijo. When he read the note, he was so happy. He tied the blood-stained thread to his shirt until Penda returned safely.

~~~

That’s one story about why we use red and white to make martenitsi even today. There are many others.

Those Pesky Insects

Spring also means the arrival of insects. In our current work in progress, 77 ½ Magical, Healing Herbs, we’ve discovered several plants that are insect repellents.

Herbs that repel bugs

But more than that, there’s also a plant that kills mosquitoes and their larva. It’s called Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris). Its seeds are sticky. A way to get rid of mosquitoes is to toss seeds into the water where mosquitoes breed. The seeds not only emit a substance toxic to the larvae, but they also attract mosquitoes. The sticky, gummy substance binds the mouths of the mosquitoes to the seed.

Happy Baba Marta Day! Blessings and happiness to you all.

Magical Herbs of Love in Bulgarian Folklore

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

Herbs for love

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

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

Common ivy, English ivy (Hedera helix)

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

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

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

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

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

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

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

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

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

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

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

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

Dill (Anethum graveolens)

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

Melilot (Melilotus officinalis)

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

Lentil (Lens culinaris or Lens esculenta)

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

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

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

Yellow Avens or Common Avens (Geum)

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

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

Iris (Iris germanica)

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

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

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

An Old Love Charm

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

“St. Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me,

In dreams let me my true-love see.”

(From Botanical.com, “Wormwoods”).

European wild ginger (Asarum europaeum)

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

***

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

Herbs Cover

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

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Epiphany – St. Jordan’s Day

Jordan’s Day is celebrated on January 6.

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

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

Divination and magical rituals are also performed on this day.

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

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

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

A Magical Wand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Koledari_book

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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