Our Kickstarter Campaign Is LIVE

We’re so excited. Our book is finally available for pre-order through our Kickstarter project! If you’ve followed the campaign, then you’ll have already received your email notification from Kickstarter the moment the campaign went live.

Here’s a little bit about what the book is all about.

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Venture into the magical, healing world of herbs and embrace the power of nature.

  • Have you ever wondered what use you can make of all those “weeds” in your yard?
  • Do you prefer a natural way of cleansing the body and soul?
  • Are you looking for creative ways to add magic to games or novels?

If this sounds like you, then 77½ Magical Healing Herbs is the perfect solution. The book is an introduction to herbs found in a special Midsummer’s wreath. This is an especially enchanting time of year. Among the Bulgarians, the day is called Eniovden.

You may think herbs are only for spicing up food and healing the body and mind, but they have other uses, as well.

Herbs can:

  • Help prevent hair loss.
  • Eliminate turkey neck.
  • Repel insects.

And did you know herbs have magical properties?

Here are a few:

  • Attract love or repel it.
  • Provide protection from curses and unseen forces.
  • Help an individual find favor in court or success with money matters.
  • And so much more.

This unique herbal book is an essential guide for tapping into the power of herbs. It highlights centuries of lore and historical facts about healing and magical uses of herbs from Slavic and other traditions.

Plus, it includes rituals, herbal remedies, and simple recipes. Not only that, you’ll learn about several renowned Bulgarian healers throughout history—from St. Ivan Rilski to Baba Vanga.

One or two high-quality color photos, as well as a full-page botanical illustration, accompany each plant, so anyone can use the book as a field guide in their backyard or when they go foraging.

An index identifies some of the more interesting medical and magical abilities and the herbs that fall under them.

With more than 200 color images and fascinating information, 77½ Magical Healing Herbs is certain to entertain and enlighten you. 

***

Don’t forget to pledge early, so you get the EARLY-BIRD PERKS. You can find them at the top of our campaign page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ronesa-aveela/77-1-2-magical-healing-herbs-the-secret-power-of-herbs. But, they’ll be gone after 9 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow (Wednesday, May 11).

Herbal Prints

The botanical prints are available on merchandise on our Redbubble store. Keep checking back as we add new ones to the list.

Our Store: https://www.redbubble.com/people/ronesaaveela/shop

Rose image: https://www.redbubble.com/i/art-board-print/Rose-Botanical-by-RonesaAveela/105192854.NVL2T

Rose Print on Redbubble

 

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

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.

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.

The Uniting Power of Wine

That cool May evening, Chorbadji Marko, without his hat in a warm robe, was having dinner with his family in the yard.

The table was set, as usual, under the grape vine (asma) between the clear and cold spout of the cheshma, which sang like a swallow, day and night, and between the tall, bushy boxwoods, which darkened by the wall, always green in winter and summer. The lantern shone on the branch of a lilac tree, which hung amiably over its fragrant lilacs over the heads of the children.

The above is an excerpt from the novel Under the Yoke by the great Bulgarian author and patriot Ivan Vazov. It is no wonder this chapter begins with an idyllic warm family dinner under the vine or as we Bulgarians call it “asma.”

An asma is a wooden or metal structure like a pergola to support a climbing grapevine.

asma1

Whenever you go to a Bulgarian house in Bulgaria or even here in America, you’ll find a grapevine and a vegetable garden. The gardens are small, but you’ll be amazed at the variety they produce. Bulgarians are well-known gardeners, and this is true here as well. In some gardens, you can find nettle and other rare, exciting varieties known for their curative power. Another plant that is famous and beloved is the Bulgarian geranium called zdravets, an herb spoken about for centuries in songs and poems.

Let me explain why an asma and grapevines are so important to us. An asma is where friendship is offered around the table or just a place to take a break from work to sit in the shade. Under the grapevine and in the vineyard are where we celebrate wine and love every year on February 14. This day is not only St. Valentine’s Day, it’s also Trifonovden, St. Trifon’s Day, one noted for festivities surrounding grapes and wine.

Wine has an important place in the life of Bulgarians. Each region in Bulgaria is known for a specific type of wine, and they all have their unique tastes and quality. Bulgaria was one of the largest wine producers, but lost its place after the government changed in 1989. The glory of Bulgarian wine has been written about around the world and has been raved about by many connoisseurs of fine wines.

Based on historical facts, Winston Churchill was one of those known connoisseurs. Every year, he ordered wine from Melnik, a small town in Bulgaria famous for its red wines. The climate and soil produce heavy, full-bodied wine with a unique taste. In the town, which has no more than 300 inhabitants, there is a wine museum, and almost every house has a cellar carved into the rocks where the sparkling red liquid is stored. The mastery of making wine is passed from generation to generation.

Like everyone in rural Bulgaria, my grandparents produced wine. My mother still keeps this tradition alive in her small vineyard. It’s a ritual she performs the entire year, starting with paying respect to the god of wine in February. After months of hard work, she harvests the grapes in late fall when they’ve turned into red, holy juice and puts it into wooden barrels that have been in use for many generations. An important part of the process is to clean the barrels with warm water and other special ingredients inside and out to make sure everything is clean, pristine, and ready for the young wine. She also puts a cotton bag containing herbs into the barrels to make the taste of the wine unique and bring out its healing power. Each household has their own recipe. One popular ingredient is St. John’s Wort, an herb used by healers. It is believed to increase the hormone of happiness. Combine this with the wine and you definable have a great cure for stress and anxiety.

My grandmother was poor and she used wine, honey, and herbs to cure coughs and everything else. She mixed wine and black pepper, wine and honey, and boiled wine with different herbs. My grandfather drank the wine and the rakia produced from the wine to heal his soul and forget what was stolen from him by the Communist party until he left this world early.

It’s no wonder why wine is so important to Bulgarians. It has an old history going back to the Thracians, who used to live in the area which is now modern Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, and at one time even extended farther. Thracians were fine craftsmen; they believed in immortality and had beautiful horses. Some scholars speculate that when the Thracians populated the area, they were the first to bring viticulture to the region. They brought grape vines, cultivated them, and began wine production.

wine symbolism

In the past, Trifon Zarezan was a popular event in February. Groups of men, young and old, went to the nearby vineyards, bringing food and wine to celebrate the day. After setting their bags of food, baklitsi (wooden vessels for wine), and tools down, they walked around the outside of the vineyard, holding up icons of Saint Trifon. When they returned to the starting point, they faced east and made the sign of the cross three times. The oldest in the group would kneel by a strong grapevine root and pour red wine around it three times. He also broke a crust of bread and put four pieces into the hole, equal distances apart, saying, “How many drops in the wine that many grapes in the vineyard this year.”

They also scattered “magical” ashes around the vines to ensure a good harvest. The ashes came from a budnik, a log burned on Budni vecher, Christmas Eve. Sometimes a priest went to the vineyard, but since he was old, I don’t remember seeing him as part of the festivities. In some villages, people also selected a “King of the vineyard.” His success during the year ensured everyone else would have bountiful harvests.

They used shoots from the grapevine to make a wreath to decorate their baklitsa or to wear as crowns. They’d also cut more shoots to take home to place by the family’s icons. My grandmother kept the wreath and used it in the fall when she made sauerkraut. She placed it into a barrel to cover the cabbage and make sure the juice stayed steady and didn’t get too sour. In my books, you can read and learn a lot about the rich traditions and rituals.

We also use wine and bread in rituals to welcome people to this world and send them on their way to eternity.

In northern Bulgaria, it’s a custom on souls’ day to pour wine over your loved one’s grave and when you leave, to pour a drop at the cemetery gate. Some soul always sits there at the invisible doorstep. Wine is poured as a symbol of remembrance for all souls—for those you know and those you’ve never met. Baba used to carry home-baked bread, boiled wheat with sugar and nuts, and wine when she visited the cemetery to honor all the dead.

No Bulgarian table (trapeza) lacks wine; it’s part of weddings, name days, and bereavements. It’s part of life. Nowadays, people continue to congregate in the vineyards, sing songs, and celebrate. The tradition has its own followers here as well. Whoever has a name day that day opens the doors of his home for relatives and friends. Wreaths are also made from vine rods, like the wreath of Dionysus.

Food and wine unite people no matter what their nationality or language is.

~~~

Note: This article contains excerpts from The Wanderer and Light Love Rituals.

The Wanderer - A Tear and A Smile       Aveela_Light-Love-Rituals-thumbnail

Healing Flowers, Midnight Magic, and Mystical Dancers

Spassovden is a time, in Bulgaria, when Rusalki return from their winter home in Zmeykovo (Dragon Village). They spread life-giving dew on the fields. This dew has an added benefit besides fertility for crops: it can heal diseases, especially the dreaded Rusalka disease, which the spirits themselves bring on people who disobey rules against working.

The night before Spassovden is a time for “impossible wishes” to come true with the help of Rusalki and their favorite flower, rosen (Dictamnus albus or burning bush), which means “dew.” It grows in various places across Bulgaria and blossoms for only a short time in June. According to folklore, it blooms only on the night before Spassovden, when the flower is at its most powerful state for curing people.

The spirits are known to pick the white, pink, or red blossoms this night to make wreaths for their hair. On the Sunday morning after Spassovden, Rusalki use these wreaths to sprinkle the fields with dew. Intoxicated by the fragrance of the flowers, Rusalki become merciful to people.

Rusalii – Dancing for Health

During this week Rusalli perform their mystical dance to heal people and chase away evil spirits. Diseases Rusalki cause are not to be trifled with. To rid a person of this type of illness requires various means to scare away the spirits and drive out the illness: incantations and loud noises, such as rattling cans, ringing bells, whistling, and singing. The best solution, though, is to pay the Rusalii to heal you, and you’ll get all those methods at once.

Who or what are the Rusalii?

The word refers to a group of men who travel from village to village, healing those inflicted with Rusalka disease and possessed of unclean forces. The name is associated with the rituals or festivities celebrated as well. The rituals have mostly died out today, but are still performed for show.

Rusalii

These rusalia or rusalii celebrations, as they were called, have been recorded as far back as the late Middle Ages. In the twelfth century, legal scholar Theodoros Balsamon wrote about popular fairs called “rousalia” that occurred after Easter. And in the thirteenth century, a Bulgarian archbishop mentioned the name in a homily.

Rusalii festivals take place three times a year: around the spring equinox (Rusalka Week), the summer solstice (Midsummer’s Day or St. John’s Day), which is celebrated in northern Bulgaria, and the winter solstice (the “Dirty Days,” the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany), which is celebrated in southern Bulgaria. During the cold months, the men drive away karakondjuli (night spirits), talasumi (evil spirits), and zmeyove (dragons). In the warmer months, it’s Rusalki and Samodivi (woodland nymphs) they focus on. The spring rusalii, which has “a military flavor,” is performed to cure the sick and drive away disease; the ceremonies also are dedicated to fertility and Rusalki, who bring that fertility. The spring rusalii is when Rusalki begin “to dance their way out of the wild into the world of farmer and shepherd.”

Midnight Magic

In a ritual called “visiting the rosen” or “walking on the dewy rosen grass,” sick people go to a field where this plant grows, or their relatives bring them there if they’re too ill to venture out on their own. Most often, however, people go there in secret, not allowing anyone to see them arrive.

They choose a location that’s close to a holy spring where a church or chapel has also been built. Magic wells with water that cures all diseases are often found in locations where Rusalki live. It’s possible that the springs found near rosen fields in these sacred places are ones that connect with these magic wells. One famous place you can go to is the village of Resen, which gets its name from the flower. Or perhaps you’d rather go to Krustova Gora, Holy Trinity Cross Forest, in the Rhodope Mountains. You can also travel to the Bulgarian Lourdes, a plain near the foot of the Stara-Planina mountains, where rosen grows in abundance.

Ill people, clothed in white, wash with the sacred water, then prepare for the night ahead. They spread a white sheet on the ground to sleep on. Near where their head will lie, they place a bowl of water, a twig from a rosen bush, a lit candle or oil lamp, and a white handkerchief on which they place gifts for the spirits: a cup of honey and rolls spread with honey, shirts, towels, stockings. Before they go to sleep, the people eat a meal they’ve brought: bread, cake, roasted chicken, wine, rakia (Bulgarian brandy).

Magical Healing Night

They must keep a strict silence during the night. At midnight, Rusalki arrive, bearing their queen on a chariot of human bones. They cause a whirlwind to blow over the sleeping humans, carrying with it the soft, whispered words, laughter, or songs of the spirit maidens.

As the Rusalki gather flowers, they strew leaves, twigs, sand, insects, and petals over the sleeping people. Tales have been told of people feigning sleep, those who have lost a limb, hearing Rusalki say, “Restore (person’s name) leg (or hand or fingers).” All who hear the spirits speak their name are destined to be cured.

In the morning before sunrise, people who could sleep through the turmoil awake and check their surroundings. The sight before them displays the fact that the spirit maidens have been present during the night. One person in the village of Lyaskovets said that when he took his father to the rosen field for treatment, in the evening the flowers of the dew were whole, and the next morning most of the flowers were broken, as if cut with scissors.

Everyone examines the water and handkerchiefs to determine their fate. If nothing has fallen onto the cloth or into the water, it means Rusalki have chosen not to heal the person. Others are fortunate if green leaves and live insects have dropped onto the items they set out. This means they will recover. If the leaves and insects are dead, or the water and handkerchief are covered with twigs, the people will remain ill and possibly even die from their malady. Dirt left on a handkerchief is a certain sign the person will die from his disease.

~~~

A Study of Rusalki thumbnailThe above is an excerpt from our book about Rusalki. You can get a copy at all major retailers if you’d like to learn more about these lovely maidens and beliefs about them: A Study of Rusalki – Slavic Mermaids of Eastern Europe.

 

Roses, June’s Liquid Gold

As summer in the northern hemisphere approaches, life begins to return to normal. Stores and restaurants are re-opening, and those fully vaccinated are told they don’t have to wear masks. Many of us who paused our vacation and travel plans are now eager to explore the world once again. Bulgaria, as I’ve mentioned in books and blog posts, is my native country. I’d like to take you on a virtual trip there.

Bulgaria is a small country known for its good wine, Nina Dobrev, colorful pottery, and organic yogurt. Besides the different creatures found in folklore and mythology, Bulgaria is also rich in rituals and traditions, some dating back thousands of years to the ancient Greek and Thracians.

Roses play an important role in the Bulgarian culture and economy. June is National Rose Month, since the weather is ideal for growing the flower. More than 150 varieties grow across the Northern Hemisphere and even more around the globe. Roses remain a popular flower for the ever-popular June weddings.

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In Bulgaria, the oil from roses has been called “liquid gold” because of its unique properties and high price. Many perfumes contain Bulgarian rose oil.

Rose oil is also a natural elixir with innumerable benefits. It contains minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, which have calming, anti-inflammatory and nourishing effects.  I use rose water to moisturize my skin, because it helps maintain high levels of hydration, while making it soft to the touch.  In addition, aromatherapy with rose oil reduces levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and has a positive effect on depressive states.

But this isn’t a wellness article. Instead, I want to share the importance of special roses called Rosa Damascena. The flower traveled from India and Persia, through many countries, to find the perfect conditions in a new home in the mild climate of central Bulgaria, in a region known as the Rose Valley. Production of rose oil here dates back to the 16th century, while in the 19th century, Bulgaria became the world leader in its manufacturing. This area is also well-known for the Valley of the Thracians, a name popularized by archaeologist Georgi Kitov. It’s here in the Kazanluk Valley that you’ll find a high concentration of monuments from Thracian culture. It’s believed there are more than 1,500 funeral mounds in the region, with only 300 having being researched so far.

The Rose Festival in Bulgaria is one of the most exciting festivals of roses around the world. Thousands of visitors travel to the Rose Valley every summer to discover the hidden mystery behind the celebration of the rose. The festival of the roses includes authentic rituals and events such as rose-picking, a rose parade, and a rose queen ceremony. You can also attend a kukeri show and explore local cuisine and dances.

Isn’t that amazing?

This year the festival was held on June 4 to 7.

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An article from our friends at Bulgarian National Radio talks about the festival this year and who was chosen for the new Rose Queen: https://bnr.bg/en/post/101479069/rose-festival-in-kazanlak-ends-with-parade-of-aroma-and-beauty

The New England Bulgarian community of Kazanluk started a similar tradition to celebrate their heritage and the beauty of the roses. Around 10 years ago, they established an Annual Bulgarian Rose Festival.

The event takes place in early June as a celebration of this long-standing tradition from the Balkan rose valley, where not only Bulgarians but everyone is welcome to enjoy traditional music and dancing food and roses.

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We hope you enjoy the warm weather, stay safe, and surround yourself with happiness, good summer books, and roses.

Summer Reading – A Magical, Cultural Trip to Bulgaria

Learning about your heritage and preserving your traditions in your own family is a great way to teach your children about the family’s cultural and religious history and to add to their personal identity. Observing, preserving, and creating new traditions are ways of honoring your ancestors and also welcoming new members in.

This is the reason a few years ago I started writing books inspired by Bulgarian mythology and folklore, and tales learned from my grandparents in Bulgaria. What better way for the whole family to read, do activities and learn more about their heritage, or learn about another culture?

My Dragon Village series is not an exception. It’s inspired by the mythological village called Zmeykovo (Dragon Village) where all mystical creatures live. It’s a perfect summer read. As soon as book one was published, it became an Amazon #1 New Release in Children’s Multicultural Literature. In book two, readers will meet new exciting creatures and learn more legends while taking a journey of a lifetime. Book three will be available later this year.

I didn’t forget about summer reading for parents. My novel Mystical Emona, set in Bulgaria, is an inspiring story about love. It takes place in Emona, a small village on the coast of the Black Sea. It’s a place where wild horses have roamed the land since of the time of King Rez and the Thracians. In the novel, Stefan is a widowed artist from Boston, Mass, with a young daughter. He hopes moving to a secluded village on the Black Sea coast will ease his pain, and the wild, untamed beauty of this surrounding will inspire him to take up his art once again. He meets a mysterious woman and his life changes. He is drawn to her by some unknown bond, but cannot give his heart to her fully because his memories refuse to release their hold on him. Then the dreams begin. Some delightful. Others terrifying.

Bulgarian culture is rich in folklore and traditions surviving since the days of the ancient Thracians. As pagan and Christian religions collided, many celebrations merged into one. Light Love Rituals will take you on a journey to discover these unique festivals.

Light Love Rituals not only describes the rituals, but also makes them interesting and understandable to people of all ages. The book is divided into four seasons, beginning with winter. It includes activities where you can learn how to make martenitsi, survachka, and Easter eggs dyed with natural colors.

A short quiz after each season lets you test your knowledge of what you’ve read. To help you engage in the traditions in the book, you’ll meet Maria and her family. They’ll open the doors of their home so you can participate in these celebrations along with them. For an added taste of Bulgaria, try some of the traditional recipes at the end.

Everyone loves food. It brings friends and family together around the table. Even during the pandemic, cooking and family have become more important.  I grow up in Bulgaria and let me tell you, no finer tradition exists than making Bulgarian cuisine, which is as rich as the soul of the people. The meals, like the colors woven into the nation’s rugs, represent the hospitality and rich spirituality of its people. From the mystical Rhodope Mountains, the birthplace of Orpheus, to the Thracian Valley, known for its roses, whether the dishes are light or hearty, they will always be savory. Learn about the queen of the Bulgarian cuisine “banitsa.” Traditionally, lucky charms are put into the pastry on certain occasions, particularly on New Year’s Eve. These charms may be coins or small symbolic objects (e.g., a small piece of a dogwood branch with a bud, symbolizing health or longevity). More recently, people have started writing happy wishes on small pieces of paper and wrapping them in tin foil. Wishes may include happiness, health, or success throughout the New Year.

Happy reading and enjoy your summer fun!

You can discover all of our books here and the various retailers who sell them: Ronesa’s Books.

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