We’re happy to reveal the cover of our forthcoming non-fiction book Light Love Rituals: Bulgarian Myths, Legends, and Folklore.
Bulgarian culture is rich in folklore and traditions surviving since the days of the ancient Thracians. As pagan and Christian religions collided, the celebrations merged into one. Light Love Rituals will take you on a journey to discover these unique festivals.Illuminated by the light of the full moon, a woman in a long, white robe holds an icon and dances in a trance on burning embers. The mystical music of a shepherd’s pipe plays in the background.
A colorful circle of people dances and ducks under a wreath made of healing herbs.
Girls with wild spring flowers in their hair go from house to house caroling and singing for health and prosperity. They hold baskets full of Easter eggs.
A man in a wild animal mask with “cow bells” wrapped around his waist jumps and yells to scare away evil spirits.
Handed down from generation to generation, traditions are part of our heritage. They promote respect for cultural diversity and human creativity and empower us to connect with the future.
With Love, Light and Rituals, we want to introduce you to these ancient customs, rituals, and traditions that have survived through the centuries.
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.
Exquisitely crafted gold, silver and bronze objects are on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, giving visitors a rare glimpse of the ancient Thracian culture that produced them.
Many stories still remain untold about this refined civilization whose citizens included Orpheus, the mythical son of a Thracian king, and the legendary gladiator Spartacus, who led an uprising against Rome.
“Ancient Thrace is most famous for its unique goldsmithing works,” Bulgarian exhibition commissioner Milena Tonkova told AFP ahead of the opening last week.
One of the exhibition highlights is the Panagyurishte ritual beverage set, the most prized possession of these ancient people who lived from the 2nd millennium B.C. to the 3rd century A.D in the Balkan Peninsula.
“The Saga of the Thracian Kings,” an exhibition now on view at the Louvre in Paris.
Who are the Thracians and where is the Thracian Empire?
We knew little about the Thracians when we started to work on Mystical Emona: Soul’s Journey. When people mention Thrace, the only heroes who readily come to mind are Hercules, Orpheus, and Spartacus – if even those. But Thrace has a vast history beyond its mythology or the conflict with Rome. We enthusiastically rolled up our sleeves and researched their culture, religion, and customs. Our efforts were reward with a delightful review: “I love that there is a little bit of historical elements in this book, namely the stuff set in ancient Thrace. A history buff myself, it isn’t often I get the chance to read things about Thrace that don’t involve Spartacus. Major props to the writer for creating this wonderful tale.”
Quite often now when we mention the book, people ask, “Where is Thrace?” or “Who were the Thracians? Is that a country?”
So, let’s start with the easy question: “Where is Thrace?” The Thracians lived in southeastern Europe along the Black Sea, in the region that is now modern-day Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey.
“Who were the Thracians?” poses a more difficult question. What we can tell you is that they have been around for a long time. Since the people themselves did not have a written language, everything that is known about them comes from other sources. The first historical reference to them was in Homer’s Iliad, where it was mentioned that they were allies to the Trojans. But evidence of them as a distinct people exists as far back as 1500 BC.
They were a warlike tribal nation, living in mountains and valleys. But they were also great artisans, finely crafting delicate golden objects and painting beautiful murals.
A polytheistic people, they worshiped the Sun and Moon. Bendis, called the Great Goddess, was one of their primary deities. Better known, however, is Dionysus, the god of wine, whom the Greeks incorporated into their mythology. It’s through the story of Orpheus (you remember him; he went to Hades to retrieve his wife Eurydice) that the tale of this drunken god is probably best known. The story didn’t end well for Orpheus. The Maenads, followers of Dionysus, tore his apart. Yup, gruesome.
Even today, Bulgaria is known for its wine. Many myths and legends mention Thracian wine. Homer says the most popular wine, one with the best aroma and body, came from the Thracian city of Maroneia. Odysseus also used Thracian wine to put the Cyclops Polyphemus to sleep before he struck the beast in the eye with his spear.
When Christianity crept into the region, the Dionysian cult faded away. But even today the feast of Saint Trifon is celebrated, and the festivities trace back to the cult of Dionysus (for example, pouring wine and electing a king). But, that could be the topic of another entire blog.
April 2015 to July 2015: Bulgaria To Exhibit Thracian Treasures In Paris’ Louvre – The exhibition “Antique Thrace – The Odrysian Kingdom” will feature the Panagyurishte golden treasure and 325 exhibits – mostly golden and silver items from various treasures. – The items in the exhibition were evaluated by insurers at EUR 165 M
Visit “Bulgraka,” a virtual place where Bulgarians around the world connect, laugh, engage, collaborate and buy unique goods. Their mission is to re-imagine the Bulgarian reality in a ways that build more fulfilling and lasting community.
Българка е списанието на българите по света. Тук се свързваме, смеем и сътрудничим.
Наша мисия е да си представяме, напомняме и възстановяваме българската реалност по начин, който изгражда едно по-пълноценно и здраво общество.
One of the main characters in rituals and folklore is the sun. The symbol of life, the sun wakes nature in the spring to begin a new cycle.
Love is an important aspect of human life. It’s the feeling that makes us different from animals. Love enchants us and makes us good.
Everyone incorporates some sort of rituals into their life and lifestyle. Rituals are an occasion for families to gather around the table and share a good meal, their memories, love, and traditions from generation to generation. Rituals connect the past with the present and help us embrace and understand our future.
There is no finer tradition than the making of Bulgarian cuisine, which is as rich as the soul of the Bulgarian people. Bulgarian 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 birth place of Orpheus, to the Thracian Valley, known for its roses, whether the dishes are light or hearty, they will always be savory.
“Light Love Rituals” describes many Bulgarian rituals that have survived through the centuries. The ones included within its pages follow the cycle of nature and of human lives. It is not meant to be a scholarly nor an exhaustive work. It is meant to provide readers with a glimpse into Bulgarian culture.
To enjoy an even greater taste of Bulgaria, try some of the recipes in the section called “Maria’s Kitchen,” where you can prepare popular Bulgarian dishes. Some of the recipes have a modern twist to make them easy and interesting to make.
Take the journey and experience the Magic of Bulgaria. On Amazon in February 2015.
In Mystical Emona: Soul’s Journey, you’ll discover samodivi (singular, samodiva), wild, wildalones beautiful nymphs, who have enchanted Bulgarians for centuries. They can be found in the woodlands and by water sources from spring until autumn. After that, they return to the palace of the Sun for the winter.
Numerous legends about them are still alive. In remote villages, people pay respect to them and are afraid of these creatures who can seduce men with their beautiful songs. One of the people I met in an online writers’ group (scribophile.com) lives in a secluded village in Bulgaria. I asked him what the people there believed about the samodivi. Here is his response.
“The common belief in this village is that since we started having electric all the time, the samodivi went away. Apparently they were real and people would see them all the time, but it all stopped after they were freed from Turkish rule. In our village during that time the water was taken from wells or from a spring in the woods, so if you didn’t have a well you’d have to go to the woods. It was quite often that they saw shapes in the trees and believed them to be samodivi. Now a lot of the younger adults, the mothers and the father instead of the grandparents, believe that it is all legends, too many drunk nights. The people here still believe in creatures that come down with the lightning and stay as energy and run around even after the storm has passed. My next door neighbour claimed to have seen one running up his house last summer. But as for samodivi, they believe that they all vanished. It’s funny because I have been told that it was normal practice to run through the forest naked in hope that you’d find a samodiva. But after a few drinks, you might bump into someone else running naked and think you found one.”
In Mystical Emona, we don’t have people running naked through the forest, but the following passage from the book is our interpretation of what you might see if you happen to run across samodivi in the forest.
A soft, slow music drifted toward him as he neared the cheshma. Several women held hands and danced in a circle around the ancient walnut tree, a blue light glowing at its base. Wreaths of flowers crowned their unbound hair, their locks gliding over their shoulders. Their long white robes fluttered like lustrous moths under the shimmering moon.
At the edge of the glade, a shadowy image, playing a long flute-like instrument, cast out eerie notes. They hung over the darkness like a delicate silk net, enfolding the women within its threads. The longer Stefan listened, the more the sound hypnotized him.
The tempo of the music quickened, and the women kept pace with it. Their feet danced through the dewy grass, while their bodies, bathed in silver and gold rays of moonlight, twirled closer together, narrowing the circle around the tree. Their dance became wild and erratic, their voices louder, filling the night with a chilling sound.
A final shrill note reverberated through the air. The women released hands, raised them to the sky, and began whirling in a frenzied torrent. The belts around their robes loosened and slid to the ground. As the note faded, the women lowered their hands. Their robes, too, slipped off and drifted away, leaving nothing on their gleaming bodies but the magical light of the moon. Stefan’s sharp intake of breath caught in his throat at their loveliness. Unable to tear his eyes from them, he envisioned the scene captured on canvas.
Then, the flutist played a soft melody. The women lifted their faces to the moon and sang strange words. Stefan listened in awe to the splendor of their voices, as their bodies, like exotic flowers gliding back and forth in the breeze, swayed to the rhythm of the trees. Their words encircled him, as if the women themselves surrounded him. He glanced around, but the night revealed nobody except the dancing women before him.
Behold the silent beauties ruffling winds,
spelling purity of a love so bold,
goddesses of water, woods and land,
swish their dresses upon your pool.
Vedra’s hands could raise the seas, bring upon you draught or prosperity, oh heaven behold, she was blessed, with silky dresses and a voice so sleek.
Sweet Carina is ladened with lands, to hold the minds of all mankind, her thoughts dance upon the sands, meaning to show a man his heart.
Dear Morena burdened the most, to see the loss of those she loves, always hunted by the future, she’s to ever be your seer and guard.
Nymphs so pure, embrace the world, call with golden songs to the skies, listen as they guide you home, listen as they hold your hand.
Travel to the world of the Balkans with Mystical Emona: Soul’s Journey and discover the secret lives of Samodivi (Veelas, Samovili) or Wildalones. You’ve met these wondrous, mythological creatures or as some people called them “forest witches” in different books. Now let Mystical Emona introduce you to Samodivi or “wildalones” as legend portrays them. Discover the Magic of Bulgaria and the mystical spell of Emona.
Nestinarstvo (Bulgarian: нестинарство) is a ritual where people, predominantly women, dance on embers with their bare feet as a means to purify themselves with the fire’s healing powers. The Thracian word “nestia” means “fire.” Like so many Bulgarian customs, fire dancing incorporates both Orthodox and pagan beliefs.
It originated in remote villages in the Strandzha Mountains area, in southeastern Bulgaria. The celebration occurs on the Day of Saints Constantine and Helena, originally June 3, but now May 21. The ritual also celebrates the cults of the sun, fire, and water in order to bring fertility and health. Fire had protective powers and increased the sun’s divine power, and water had healing powers. Emperor Constantine I himself worshiped fire, and so he allowed the nestinari to perform their dance even after he legalized Christianity.
The celebration begins in the morning when people gather outside the home of the oldest dancer. They light candles and bow to the icons on the saints at the chapel that has been set up near the woman’s house. The dancer leaves her house when she hears the sound of kettle drums and bagpipes. She is pale and is already in a trance. Next, everyone goes to an ayazmo, a sacred spring, where they drink its healing water. The gathering continues to a meadow near the forest. Singing and dancing take place, and a fire is built.
When evening arrives and the fire has turned to embers, those present form three or nine circles, which is associated with the Sun, the “Fire of Heaven.” They perform a chain dance, a horo, around the fire and kiss the icons of the saints that they hold. The dancers raise the icons above their heads as they enter the fire so they can dance on the embers without injuring themselves. The music begins to speed up and so does the dancing. Fire opens a door to the spirit world, the oldest of the nestinari sees the future of the village while she dances in her trance-like state.
The following in an excerpt about the Nestinarstvo from Mystical Emona: Soul’s Journey.
As the fire died down to coals, people quieted. The smell of charcoal mingled with the salty air. Angelina looked at Kalyna, then put on a CD of bagpipes and kettle drum music. A heavy, slow folk song rose in the darkness. Everyone stood and encircled the coals. Then a man on the other side played a long flute-like instrument.
Stefan started. “What’s that instrument? I think I-I heard that music in my dreams once.”
“It’s called a kaval. Shepherds often play them.” She wrapped her arm around his waist and nestled into his side. “The nestinarstvo, or fire dance, is fascinating. It’s a famous tourist attraction. Not too many people can do it, but it fills those who can with energy. Watch.”
Angelina loosened her hair and took off her sandals. With her eyes closed and her arms stretched out to the sky, she stepped onto the live coals. She danced to the slow rhythm of the music, her long white dress flowing around her.
“Mystical Emona” was highlighted on October 9 at Boston University during an event called “Bulgarian Voices: Love, Light and Rituals.” It is also available on Amazon US and UK. In addition, we are working on a non-fiction book that will describe many of these Bulgarian customs and others in more detail, as well as their Thracian origins. Look for it in December.