Wednesday, 16 January 2019

New house

In the past in Serbia, during the building of a house people performed many rituals designed to insure success of the building process and subsequent survival of the house and happiness of the house inhabitants. 

A place for a new house was chosen carefully. In Central Serbia, it was believed that the best place to build the house on was the one which a flock of sheep chose as it's resting place. 

Before the new house was built, four rocks were placed on the ground where the house corners were supposed to stand in the evening. If in the morning bugs were found under the rocks, the house would stand in that place for a long time.

One more ritual performed to determine if the place for the house was chosen correctly involved placing a glass of water or wine in the middle of plot in the evening. If in the morning "something alive" was found drowned in the glass, the place was chosen correctly. 

Every new build required a blood sacrifice. Before the building started, a lamb or a cockerel was slaughtered on the foundation stone. The head of the animal was built into the wall, and the meat was roasted and eaten by the family and the workers.


People avoided walking by a building site of a new house, because it was believed that the builders would build person's shadow into the house walls, to create a protective house spirit. The owner of the shadow would then soon die and become the house spirit. 

This is probably a remnant of the old custom to build people alive into the house walls or foundations. Serbian epic poetry is full of stories about this ritual which was used "when fairies would not allow a town, bridge, church..." to be built. 

When the foundation was dug, a handful of grains, a few coins and a piece of frankincense were placed in each corner of the house, so that "the people in the house always had enough bread and money". Frankincense protected the house from vampires.


Moving into the new house was also full of special rituals. 

It was believed that the best time to move into the new house was on the days of the full moon. 

During the move, people made sure that a rooster was the first to cross the doorstep to drive the evils spirits out. He was then killed on the doorstep, his blood was sprinkled on the outside walls and his head was buried under the fireplace.


The fireplace was considered to be the heart of the house. If a family was moving from an old, still existing, house into a new house, a fire from the old fireplace had to be brought into the new fireplace, to ensure the continuation of the family.


If it was not possible to bring the fire from the old house, a brand new "live" fire (need fire) had to be kindled "in the old way", by "rubbing wood on wood", using fire drill or fire saw. These kind of fires were believed to have magical properties.


After the fire was lit, bread and salt, traditional welcome offerings, are the next things brought into the house. The members of the family break the bread and eat it dipped in salt. After that all the other things are brought in. 

The last thing the family needed to do to "put roots down" in the new house was to plant a fruit tree next to the house, which had to be done by the man of the house not later than one year after the family moved in.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Pagan games

It is really funny how sometimes things just happen to coincide in the most curious ways. Like me writing a series of articles about Hurling and it's influence on the development of all other European curved stick and ball games during the same week when Hurling was placed on UNESCO list of protected cultural activities...

In my first article "The cross between hockey and murder" I talked about mythological, historical and archaeological references to hurling which show that this Gaelic game could be over 3000 years old.

In my second article "The invasions of hurlers" I talked about the spread of hurling to other parts of North Western Europe and how this spread was facilitated by the Irish invasions of Scotland and Wales and the Irish settlement in Iceland. It looks like Hurling could be an origin of such games as  shinty in Scotland, cammag in Isle of Man, bando (bandi) in Wales, field hockey in England, choule in France, knattleikr in Iceland, Bandi in Scandinavia and in Russia and eventually ice hockey.

In my third article "The long puck" I talked about a version of Hurling which could be an origin of such games as kolf in Netherlands and golf in Scotland.

This is the last article from the series in which I will talk about the origin of Hurling :)

If you read a history of any stick and ball game, you will come across these three things:

1. A drawing from a tomb at Beni Hasan (circa 2140 to 1991 BC) in the valley of the Nile close to Minia in Egypt, depicts two men playing what looks like a game played with curved sticks. 

2. On this embossed marble panel found in Athens and dated to 600 BC, we can see two male figures playing ball with curved sticks on their hands and other players waiting on either side.

3. It is believed that the Romans imported this Greek game and that it later became their "Paganica" or "Paganicus" which was played with curved stick and a leather ball filled with the Roman Empire and the Romans expanded towards the North of Italy and Northern Europe, Paganica was also introduced to these Northern countries. It probably became the ancient root of several other sports played with sticks (or clubs) and balls found in North Western Europe such as Hurling, Hockey, Golf, Cricket...

There is a problem with this chronology.

Firstly, it is very difficult to establish the direct connection between the Egyptian and Greek images.
Second, as far as I know, Greek written sources have no mention of any Greek game played with a stick and a ball.
Thirdly, again as far as I know, Roman written sources have no mention of any Roman game played with a stick and a ball.

I don't speak old Greek or Latin, so I relied on secondary sources. For example the "English game of cricket; comprising a digest of its origin, character, history and progress; together with an exposition of its laws and language" published in 1877 by Box, Charles and A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities Published by John Murray, London, 1875 both list Greek and Roman ball games and neither mentions any game which involved stick.

Among the Romans the game at ball was played at in various ways. Pila was used in a general sense for any kind of ball: but the balls among the Romans seem to have been of three kinds; the pila in its narrower sense, a small ball; the follis, a great ball filled with air, and the paganica, of which we know scarcely anything, as it is only mentioned in two passages by Martial (VII.32.7, XIV.43), but from the latter of which we may conclude that it was smaller than the follis and larger than the pila. 

I would love if someone pointed me to an original source that talks about Greek and Roman stick and ball games, but until then I would have to disregard the proposal that Hurling (and other stick and ball games that descended from it) actually descended from Roman Paganica...

However the whole story about Paganica is very interesting from linguistic point of view.

In Wiktionary we can find this translation of the Latin "pāgānus"

Of or pertaining to the countryside, rural, rustic.
(by extension) rustic, unlearned
(substantive) villager, countryman
(substantive) civilian
(substantive, Ecclesiastical Latin) heathen, pagan

In "English game of cricket; comprising a digest of its origin, character, history and progress; together with an exposition of its laws and language" we read that:

"Every scholar knows that pagus means " a village, a tribe, or division of country and people, a canton, or district." Pagamis, a country man, a peasant ; anyone not a soldier. It has been conjectured that the Christians called the Gentiles Pagani, or Pagans, because they did not come under the banner of Christ. The word Paganicus, taken as an adjective, signifies " of or belonging to the country ; pertaining to the peasantry as contra-distinguished from the soldiery." The game of ball, therefore, in which the Paganica pila was used may originally have had some foreign rural characteristics, while the others were more of an inborn kind. "

This is very interesting. I believe that during both Ancient Greek and Roman time there was, in the Balkans (and probably through out Celtic Europe) a barbarian, peasant, shepherd stick and ball game, actually games, which were widely played in the countryside. But being of barbarian peasant origin these games were not worthy of the Greek and Roman citizens and soldiers and this is why they were never mentioned in any Greek or Roman texts.

These "pagan" peasant, shepherd games were still played in the Balkans but also in all the other Slavic lands up until very recently...

Traditional Russian stick and ball game "Kotel" (Cauldron) also known as (Russian hockey, zagon, pogonya, svinka, sharenie, kotyol, kozii rog, klyushki...):

A big circle, 4-5 meters in diameter is drawn on the ground (or on the snow). In it's center a hole with the diameter of around 0.3-0.4 meters is dug. One player is a guard. He guards the cauldron. He is not allowed to go outside of the circle. The remaining players are on the outside of the circle. They are attackers. They can't go insid the circle. If any player steps over the circle line, he leaves the game. The attackers pass the ball to each other using curved sticks, trying to bypass the guard and get the ball into the cauldron. The guard tries to protects the cauldron, beating the ball back to the the attackers. The attacker who manages to drive the ball into the cauldron, becomes the guard.

There is also an opposite variant. In it there is one attacker and all the other players are guards guarding the cauldron. The attacker is outside of the circle trying to hit the ball into the cauldron while the guards try to prevent him from doing so. 

There is also variant without the circle in which attackers can move freely around the cauldron. 

Additionally, each attacker can have his own, smaller hole (base). All the bases are dug the same distance from the main central hole, and the attacker has to protect his base from the guard of the main central hole. If while attacking, the guard places the curved tip of his stick into one of the attacker base holes, before the attacker puts the ball into the central hole, the attacker who lost his hole becomes the guard of the central hole. 

This game is also played in the Balkans, although it has almost completely died out.

This video shows an old man talking about his childhood spent minding sheep and playing this and other stick and ball games.

This game could also be the mysterious "hole game" described in the Táin Bó Cúalnge.

"Conchobar went to the playing field (arin faidchi) and saw something that astonished him; thrice fifty boys at one end of the field and a single boy at the other end, and the single boy winning victory in taking the goal and in hurling (‘immána’, driving) from the thrice fifty youths. When they played the hole-game.. and when it was their turn to cast the ball and his to defend, he would catch the thrice fifty ball outside the hole and none would go past him into the hole. When it was their turn to keep goal and his to hurl, he would put the thrice fifty balls unerringly into the hole..."

This game is still puzzling the Irish historians:

"There is possibly an implication here that the ‘hole game’ is different than other field-sports. Cú Chulainn defends a ‘goal’, each boy appears to use his own ball. Angela Gleason suggests that the existence of a distinct game known as the ‘hole-game’ is also implied by the law-tract Bretha Éitgid describing injuries sustained during it. The terms used are balls (liathroide), sticks (lorg), holes (poll) and pis (long)"

This is not the only stick and ball game played in the Balkans.

Gudža (traditional stick and ball game from Polimlje, Montenegro)

This photo taken in the summer of 1948 in Polimlje region of Montenegro shows kids playing stick and ball game called "Gudža". The game was played like this: a hole, 20 cm deep and 60 cm in diameter, was dug in a field. This was the central hole. Players used alder sticks which were naturally curved at one end to hit a ball made from alder root. Players were divided into two teams. One tried to put the ball into the central hole while the other team tried to prevent them from doing it.

The picture captured a moment from a game between the kids from two clans, Pečići i Bučići, which was played on St Peter's day on Turija field.

Kuturanje (traditional stick and ball game from Podravske Sesvete, Croatia)

The game is played by two teams. The field is divided into two halves and each team defends their half. Each player uses a naturally curved stick called "kuturača" which looks like a hockey stick.  They play with a small ball or disc called gluntak. The game starts by one player throwing the ball (gluntak) across the mid field line into the opponents half. From that moment on the players are supposed to return the ball (gluntak) to the opponents' half by hitting it with the stick (kuturača). The team scores a point when the ball (gluntak) stops moving (dies) in the opponents' half. The team which lost the point then restarts the game by throwing the ball (gluntak) across the mid field line into the opponents half.

These games look like they could have been the games played by the Bronze and Iron Age shepherd warriors from Irish legends. The games from which Hurling and all the other European curved stick and ball games developed, such as hockey, shinty, bandy...True cultural relics. 

I believe that these games have been played in Central and Eastern Europe since the the Time of the Celts. And probably even earlier. Since Early Bronze Age. I believe that these games are traditional games of the R1b people. As they spread from their homeland in Black Sea steppe (today southern Russia and Ukraine) through Eurasia and North Africa, they brought their games with them. Which is why we find the curved stick and ball games in Egypt. R1b population still living in upper Egypt has been there since at least Early Bronze. I wrote about this in my post "The woman with blue eyes". And this is why we find the curved stick and ball games in all the Eurasian lands reached by this Bronze Age R1b people, from Ireland to China. 

The proof for the link between R1b population and the stick and ball games can actually be found in Serbian parts of the Balkans. 

But more about this in my next post.

Sunday, 6 January 2019


A young oak covered in golden leaves is the traditional Christmas tree in Serbia. Felling, bringing in, and burning of "badnjak" (as Christmas tree is called in Serbian) are surrounded by elaborate rituals and are the central part of the Serbian Christmas

The cutting of "badnjak", young oak tree used as a Christmas tree in Serbia, was accompanied by elaborate rituals which directly linked the oak with the sun and fertility and identify the oak tree as the earthly seat of the sky god.

"Good morning and happy Christmas Eve to you, o Holy Badnjak. I have come to take you to my home, to be my faithful helper to every progress and improvement, in the house, in the pen, in the field, and in every place" Part of the Oak cutting ceremony.

Series of pictures showing the ritual cutting of Badnjak in Leskovac, southern Serbia. Source Youtube video

1. Finding young oak

2. Saying prayer

3. Sharing bread with the oak

4. Sharing brandy with the oak

5. Addressing oak: "O Badnjak, Dadnjak our happy (lucky) cousin"

6. Kissing of the oak

7. Cutting of the oak

 8. Carrying

Once in the home, the badnjak (Serbian Yule log) is leaned vertically against the house where it spends the night. In parts of eastern Serbia and Kosovo the badnjak is wrapped in a man's or a boy's shirt swaddled like a baby. 

The Badnjak (Serbian Yule log) is brought into the house after dark on Christmas Eve.

Generally each family cuts only one Badnjak (Yule log). But in some areas one Badnjak is cut per male member of the family and in some areas one Badnjak is cut for men one for women and one for children..

Immediately after the badnjak has been brought in, or immediately before in some places, an armful of straw is spread over the floor. A handful of nuts and dried fruit is strewn over the straw for the children and one nut is put in every corner for the dead.


At the same time, all sharp metal objects are removed from the house, probably because they attract lightning. Bringing oak into the house probably means that Perun the thunder god is also invited into the house, oak being the holy tree of the thunder good Perun.

The Christmas eve dinner in Serbia was in the past always eaten on the floor. It was not a meal eaten only by the living members of the family, but by all the dead ancestors as well.

The culmination of the Badnjak (Yule log) ceremonies is its ceremonial placing on the fireplace and its burning. 

After the Badnjak (Serbian Yule log, usually a young oak log) is placed on the fireplace, it is kissed and offered various food sacrifices

The head of the household pours some wine and throws some wheat grains on the burning Badnjak (Serbian Yule log) while saying "Hail Badnjak! I give you wheat and wine, and you give me every good thing and peace!" 

The Badnjak (Serbian Yule log) ceremonies finish on the Christmas Morning, when "Položajnik" (The first footer) visits the house and performs fire striking divination ritual. 

 You can read more about the first footer tradition in Serbia (and other parts of Europe) in my post "First footer".