Mom’s Favorite Reads eMagazine December 2018

Hannah Howe

Earlier this year, in partnership with authors Ronesa Aveela and Denise McCabe, I created Mom’s Favorite Reads, one of the highlights of my publishing year.

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What is Mom’s Favorite Reads?

*It’s a community of book lovers

* A monthly magazine featuring some of the biggest names in the entertainment world alongside the best in modern publishing

*A book catalogue containing over 400 books, including many bestsellers and award-winners

*A website with dedicated author pages

*A reading group where readers can discover new authors

*A partner to major businessness including The Fussy Librarian and chess.com

* A fun way to promote books with items like our Advent Calendar and nominations to the Apple News Channel

* A community to support literacy amongst adults and children

This weekend, we published our December magazine. The magazine is available from all major retail platforms, including Amazon. You can also read the magazine, for free…

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Santa’s Name Day

December 14, 2018

Did you know St. Nick (more formerly known as Saint Nicholas or Saint Nikolas) had a name day? This is not the Santa Claus version you are familiar with, but the saint from long ago.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “name day,” it’s a festivity like a birthday, but is more popular than a birthday. Each day of the year has several related names assigned to it.

The name day in his honor, Nikulden (Никулден, St. Nicholas’ Day), is celebrated on December 6. What many people know him for is his reputation for giving gifts. The most famous story about this was that he secretly threw three purses of gold coins through the window of the house of a poor man who had three unmarried daughters. In those days, women needed a dowry to marry. Without one and with not much hope of obtaining employment sufficient to live on, most poor women ended up as prostitutes. Thus, from this generous act, Santa Claus came into existence.

Less known is the fact that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of fishermen and sailors. Since the eastern side of Bulgaria borders the Black Sea, this is an important holiday for Bulgarians. As a sign of respect to the saint, men don’t go out on the sea.

A fish — in particular the carp — is an important part of celebrations in his honor. It is called the servant of St. Nicholas and is considered sacred because a bone inside its head is shaped like a cross. The bone is often used as an amulet, sewn inside the hat of a newborn, to protect the infant.

Bread is the center of the Christmas feast. It has a coin or fortunes hidden inside. Whoever finds the coin inside his bread is certain to have luck throughout the year.

The_Christmas_Thief_CoverThis tradition is incorporated into my children’s short story and coloring/activity book, The Christmas Thief, where a seven-year-old boy named Christopher is determined he’s going to catch the Winter Monster who steals food from his family’s porch every Christmas. What he discovers instead is the meaning of sharing.

Go to The Christmas Thief page to find more information about the book.

Seventy-seven and a half herbs for healing

June 17, 2017

On June 24th people wake early in the morning to try to catch a glimpse of the flickering sun as it turns three times. Any water that the sun has touched, including dew on grass, acquires healing power. If people see the sun dance, they then bathe in bodies of the healing water or roll in the dew to ensure they will have good health for the coming year.

Also, when the sun rises, people face it, then look over their shoulders at their shadows. If it is well-defined, the person will be healthy. If it is unclear or the head is not distinct, he will be sick.

Bulgarian Mythology and Traditions

Besides the solstice and immortality rites, Eniovden celebrations center around herbs and marriage. First a little about herbs. Saint Enio was called the “Herb Gatherer.” On the eve of Eniovden, people (mainly women) pick herbs because they have magical and healing powers that night. But it is also a night when fairies and dragons celebrate, so they wear red threads on their wrists to ward off the evil ones.
Women collect seventy-seven and a half herbs. These represent seventy-seven known illnesses and half an herb for any unknown ones. Water is poured over the herbs silently so their magic is not ruined by the human voice. Then the herbs are left overnight under the stars to make them even more powerful. Afterwards, people place herbs on the four corners of a field to prevent evil spirits from stealing the fertility of the land and livestock. People sing while performing this task to ensure a bountiful harvest.

An alternative to leaving only herbs in water overnight is a ritual performed by women. They tie together seven, nine, or twelve wildflowers with a red thread. To this bouquet, they attach a ring and let it sit overnight in the water.

Kukeri

January 1, 2017

The kukeri celebration is one of the oldest surviving traditions that can be traced back to Dionysian rites, symbolizing life, death, and rebirth. Men initiated rituals when spirits threatened the Sun’s rebirth. The kukeri continued the practices into the spring, before the sowing of the harvest, when the earth was awakening after a long winter. Thracian warriors believed if they dressed in animal skins, they could battle against these spirits and either scare them away or capture their powers. With them, the kukeri performed rituals to renew nature’s strength. Only men, who carried the seed of life in their bodies, had the ability to rouse and nurture the female Mother Earth.

Kukeri

Kukeri and Witch’s Magic

An unmarried ruler named Dobrodor, the maker of good, spurned the love of Zliyana, the daughter of a king of the northern lands. Because a kind, beautiful woman had captured his heart, he returned tokens of love Zliyana had sent to him.

Living up to her name, Zliyana sought to bring evil on Dobrodor and his people. She cast a spell to make all unmarried men die if they tilled the fields. Since it was springtime, some disregarded the warning and ploughed the earth, consequently dying.

To prevent any more deaths, Dobrodor told all the unmarried men to disguise themselves. Some donned women’s clothing, while others wore masks from the skins of animals and tied bells around their waists. The men dressed as women harnessed the ones clothed as animals and drove the ploughs through the fields. The witch’s magic was fooled, seeing not men, but only women and animals in the field.

Did you know…?

Kukeri have scared away more than spirits. Turkish soldiers surrounded a rebel leader his followers. To terrify the soldiers, they put on masks, bells around their waists, and made torches of hemp soaked in tar. At dusk they crept out to where the soldiers camped. The soldiers scattered upon seeing devils carrying long forks and breathing fire.

Bulgarian Magical Healers: Don’t Call Me a Witch!

September 25, 2016

Is healing outside of modern medicine miraculous or perhaps even magical?

Do you know where Bulgaria is? It’s nestled along the western side of the Black Sea, just north of Greece. The country is perhaps best known to the Western world for the city of Varna, the place where Dracula set sail on the Demeter. But the country has so much more to its acclaim—Thracian tombs, rose oil, yogurt, honey, and herbs. Not to mention all the creatures who call it home—vampires, witches, dragons, and nymphs. You’ve most likely heard of Veelas from Harry Potter stories. In Bulgaria these nymphs, or fairies, who can charm men are called Samodivi and inhabit forests. Their sisters the Rusalki thrive in water bodies. You’d probably call them mermaids.

Bulgarians are steeped in superstitions, with numerous ways to ward off illness and curses caused by the “evil eye,” but they are also believers in the divine. Orthodox and pagan practices combine into unique perspectives on every aspect of life from birth to death. Folk medicine is widespread—in cities as well as in tiny, remote villages. Herbs play an important role in these cures. A popular saying is that an herb exists for every ache. Even during the time of the Roman Empire, Thrace (modern Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey) was known for its vast richness of medicinal plants.

No day is more important for healers than Midsummer, or Eniovden, a celebration of the summer solstice. Beginning at dusk on the previous evening, women and healers collect herbs because they’re most potent on this day. Although it may sound strange, they collect seventy-seven and a half herbs. It’s said this is the number of illnesses that exist, with the half herb designated for unknown ailments. (No, I don’t know how they determine a half herb. Perhaps they break one in half. Like so many other rituals, it’s secretive.)

Eniovden Wreath

Eniovden Wreath

Women who gather the herbs use some to create a giant wreath that young girls pass through. This protects them from being captured by a zmey, a male dragon who easily falls in love with a maiden and desires to have her for a bride. (Lest you think this might be quite the adventure, believe me it’s not. Those marriages always end in disaster for the poor girl who gives in to the zmey’s pleas and promises of wealth.)

Mostly, however, healers use herbs to cure illnesses, especially those caused by spirits or through curses. In ancient times in Bulgaria, during the time of the Thracians, the summer solstice was associated with spirits crossing from one realm to the next. And so, it was a day when people, livestock, and fields required protection. Only those versed in magical rites could perform these sacred rituals. They used herbs that had the power to contact invisible beings in order to help them cure the afflicted person.

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.

Baba Vanga

Baba Vanga: Wikipedia Commons

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.

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.

A Znahar’s Herbal Remedies

A znahar is said to be able to diagnose the origin of an ailment. If it’s caused by black magic, she not only uses herbs, but also recites an incantation to remove the spell. However, the spell must never be spoken without the use of the herbs, or both will lose their potency. And the spells must be uttered only when she fully understands the magic of each herb. Reciting spells over herbs before this point will harm both the woman and the person she attempts to heal.

The healing ceremony begins with a prayer to beings in the spiritual realm so they’ll bless the sick person. In one ritual, the healer leads the patient to the front door. There, he bows, touching his forehead against the threshold. He rises and proceeds to the hearth, where he again bows. The healer places embers in a bowl of water. Using the designated herb, she sprinkles the ill person’s head with the water. She holds bread and wine over his head and asks the illness to depart.

Magical herbs grow in valleys or high in the mountains. Using them is reported to enable the znahar to contact spirits to help with the magic. A few of these herbs follow:

  • One mysterious herb is bile, used to expel demons causing illnesses.
  • Angelica protects against spells and demonic attacks.
  • Pink iris root provides happiness, success, strength, and energy for those who are depressed.
  • Basil is used for cleansing and healing.
  • Vervain enhances magical powers and prevents attacks against the mind.
  • Lilac brings peace and tranquility.
  • Nettle breaks spells and exorcises demons.
  • Wormwood keeps dragons away.
ENIOVDEN by Albena Markova

ENIOVDEN by Albena Markova

Ronesa Aveela writes fiction and non-fiction dealing with Bulgarian mythology. Mystical Emona: Soul’s Journey, her first book, is a romantic fantasy about a Samodiva (Bulgarian woodland nymph) and a Boston artist. Light Love Rituals: Bulgarian Myths, Legends, and Folklore takes the reader through the season, identifying popular Bulgarian holidays and the rituals associated with them, as well as information about their origins. It even includes several recipes. She has also written short stories for children called “Baba Treasure Chest stories.” “Born From the Ashes” uses much of the information about and describes this transfer of power from a magical healer to her granddaughter.

References:

Konstantinova, Daniela Prayer (trans.). “Prayer blessing, vow: the secret lore of the Bulgarian healers and sorceresses.” Sept. 27, 2012. http://bnr.bg/en/post/100170254/prayer-blessing-vow-the-secret-lore-of-the-bulgarian-healers-and-sorceresses.

Mag, Selena. “Secrets of magic herbs” (translated from Bulgarian). Mar. 13, 2009. http://www.selenabg.com/index.php/2008-07-29-07-51-40/1616-2009-03-13-06-32-15.html.

Mishev, Georgi. Thracian Magic past and present. Sept. 2013. (BM Avalonia: London).

Prokopi Pchelar (Procopius the Beekeeper)

July 7, 2016

Prokopi Pchelar

A well-known Bulgarian livelihood is beekeeping. It’s no wonder the country has a day, actually two, honoring beekeepers. On July 8, Prokopi Pchelar (pro-copy pchee-lar) or Procopius the Beekeeper, beekeepers perform rituals to entice bees to produce an abundance of honey. They also give away jars of honey and bread coated with the sticky substance as a way to protect family and friends since they believe honey has magical and curative powers.

Aristaeus, Ancient Beekeeper

The first Thracian beekeeper was Aristaeus. He was indirectly responsible for the death of Eurydice, wife of Orpheus, the renowned lyre-player. Aristaeus became enamored with Eurydice and chased her. As she fled, she stepped on a snake, which bit her and she died. Thereafter, her companions, the nymphs, caused the bees of Aristaeus to die as his punishment. With the help of his mother, the water-nymph Cyrene, Aristaeus was able to bind the prophet Proteus, who then told him what to do to regain his bees.

“You have to appease their [the nymphs] anger, and thus it must be done: Select four bulls, of perfect form and size, and four cows of equal beauty, build four altars to the nymphs, and sacrifice the animals, leaving their carcasses in the leafy grove. To Orpheus and Eurydice you shall pay such funeral honors as may allay their resentment. Returning after nine days, you will examine the bodies of the cattle slain and see what will befall.”

Upon returning to the location, Aristaeus discovered a swarm of bees in the carcass of one of the slaughtered cattle. This led the ancient people to believe that bees were born from decaying flesh.

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To learn more about this ritual and other Bulgarian and Thracian Rituals get a copy of our book: Light Love Rituals: Bulgarian Myths, Legends, and Folklore.

Eniovden (Еньовден)

July 7, 2016

Eniovden (Еньовден) is an old Bulgarian holiday, celebrated annually on June 24. It is believed that its roots lie in the Thracian tradition. There are many legends and beliefs about the mystical power of this day.

A proverb states that an herbal remedy exists for every malady, injury or ailment. In folklore 77 and a half illnesses exist. Herbs are more powerful when picked and gathered at dawn on Midsummer.

It was believed that water acquired healing power after the sun had bathed in it. People wake up early on this day to see how the sun “turns three times” and whoever manages to “bathe” in the dew will be safe from illnesses until next Midsummer Day.

Light Love Rituals book
Light Love Rituals

Eniovden is one of many wonderful rituals and celebrations surviving today.

As humans we grow, learn and discover ourselves by maintaining family traditions and collecting memories to understand the present and connect to the future.

Image by Nelinda: facebook.com/NelindaArt