Thursday, 18 January 2018

The skilful one

In my post "Wratch" I talked about an interesting linguistic "coincidence":

In Cornish and Welsh the word "wrach" means old woman, hag, witch. Fraic as in the placename Leitir Fraic is said to be an old obsolete Irish word for a woman. In Serbian, the word "vrač" pronounced "vrach" means doctor, physician, shamanistic priest, witch doctor, magician, warlock. The verb "vračati" means to cast spells, to divinate, to perform any magical action. The word is found in all Slavic languages. 

In Serbian villages the role of "vrač" was usually performed by an old, wise, experienced, skilful woman who was then called "vračara", feminine form of "vrač". Vračara was the healer, midwife, amulet maker, spell caster, fortune teller, and basically keeper of "magical" and other ancient religious traditions and taboos. 

Basically "Vračara" performed the role of the good village Witch. 

Now what about the etymology of the word "witch"? 

On the Wiktionary page for "witch" we can read this about the etymology of this word:

"The word witch comes from Middle English wicche, from Old English wiċċe (“sorceress, witch”) f. and wicca (“witch, sorcerer, warlock”) m., deverbative from wiccian (“to practice sorcery”), from Proto-Germanic *wikkōną (compare West Frisian wikje, wikke (“to foretell, warn”), Low German wicken (“to soothsay”), Dutch wikken, wichelen (“to dowse, divine”)), from Proto-Indo-European *wik-néh₂-, derivation of *weyk- (“to consecrate; separate”); akin to Latin victima (“sacrificial victim”), Lithuanian viẽkas (“life-force”), Sanskrit विनक्ति (vinákti, “to set apart, separate out”)."

However on the Oxford University Press blog page "The Oxford Etymologist goes Trick-or-Treating"  written by Anatoly Liberman, we can read this about the etymology of the word "Witch"

"The etymology I find acceptable connects wicca with the verb wit “know” (as in to wit, the noun wit, witty, unwitting, and witless). Yet this derivation, arguably the best we have, is not flawless either. It presupposes the existence of witga (pronounced witya), the form that later developed into witch. The difficulty is that the combination tg (= ty) yielded (t)ch in extremely few words. However, the verb fetch was probably one of them. Old English had wita “wise man” and witega “wise man, prophet, soothsayer.” Witga, a third member of this family, would have meant approximately the same as witega, but with the accent on occult practices and knowledge of things hidden. If so, the negative meaning of witch developed later, under the influence of Christian teachings. Both wita and witega died out early, whereas witch has continued into the present. This reconstruction of the prehistory of witch has the support of Slavic: the Russian for witch is ved’ma “she who knows” (My comment: actually she who has knowledge ved + ima = knowledge + has). A similar form exists in several other Slavic languages like Polish where we find wiedźma.  Here ved– “know” being an easily recognizable cognate of wit."

Now here is something else which supports this etymology wit (knowledge) --> witch (knowledgable):

In Serbian (South Slavic languages) there are two words that mean skilful, knowledgable, adept: "Vičan" (pronounced "vitchan") and "Vešt" (pronounced "vesht"). The word "Vešt" is the root of the Serbian word for Witch: Veštica, which means skilful, knowledgable woman. Is it possible that the word "Vičan", which also comes from "ved" meaning "know", could be the root of the word Witch meaning skilful, knowledgable woman? 

After all that is exactly what witches used to be...

Monday, 15 January 2018


Indian archaeologists have discovered a very interesting drawing etched into the wall of an ancient dwelling place in Kashmir Burzahom archaeological site. 

Rock art is difficult to date with precision, but Vahia had a solid starting point. The rock was buried in a wall (though hidden from view of residents) of a house that had already been dated to around 2100 BC. This suggests that its importance had been lost to the people by then and the stone had been reused for another structure.

The oldest known settlement in the region was founded around 4100 BC. So the rock art is likely to have been made sometime between those two millennia—then inadvertently used to construct a new dwelling.

The drawing shows what at first glance appears to be hunters and animals beneath a sky with not one but two bright sun-like objects. Because the sun and the full moon never appear that close together in the sky,  Indian astrophysicist Mayank Vahia and his team at Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Fundamental Research have introduced a theory that the picture does not represent two suns, but instead a moon and a supernova, a star exploding some hundreds or thousands of light years away.

Based on data collected by astronomers, Vahia was able pinpoint one supernova from the time period, that matched the period during which the mysterious drawing was made. This is supernova HB9 which exploded around 3,600 BC. The supernova would have been large and bright enough to have been seen from earth and would have been comparable in brightness to the moon.

Interestingly, the mysterious drawing seems to not only depict the moon and the supernova, but also the surrounding stars. The other figures aren’t part of a hunting scene, but instead represent the nearby constellations. This makes the whole painting, in effect, likely one of the earliest star charts.

“The whole hunting scene along with the Moon and the Supernova fits quite well into the pattern of stars in the sky,” wrote Vahia in a paper for the Indian Journal of History of Science. “The image of one of the hunters coincides with the Orion; the central stag is same as the Taurus. The hunter on the right may have been formed from stars of Cetus and other animal on the right may be Andromeda and Pegasus. The long, curved line in the carving, traditionally interpreted as spear, may well be an arc of bright stars.”

Well this is quite interesting. If this theory is correct, the rock art would also be the world’s oldest-known sky chat recording a particular event (a super nova explosion). It could, of course, be a coincidence.

One thing that I don't understand is it's hard to see why the ancients might have depicted the Moon in this self-evidently solar manner??? So I would say that the above drawing probably depicts two suns: our sun and another shining sun like object, like a very bright supernova, which would have turned the night into a day and was also visible during the day. We know that there are supernovae which can be so bright that they can be be seen during the day. Some of these ultra bright supernovae exploded in historical times and we have the records of them. For instance, supernova SN 1054 was was one such supernova. It was widely observed throughout the world, with Arab, Chinese, and Japanese astronomers recording the star's appearance in 1054 CE. There are also a lot of documents from Europe which are by some believed to be the records of the sighting of this supernova. It may also have been recorded by the Anasazi as a petroglyph. This explosion appeared in the constellation of Taurus, where it produced the Crab Nebula remnant. At its peak, the luminosity of SN 1054 may have been four times as bright as Venus, and it remained visible in daylight for 23 days and was visible in the night sky for 653 days.

So is it possible that what the artist in Burzahom wanted to depict is "two suns", one being our normal sun and the other being the supernova? Well I believe so. 

There is just one problem. Working with the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Vahia has studied many more pieces of rock art from the region, but couldn’t find any other sky charts. Though the rock art analyzed here fits quite well with what the sky might have looked like back then, it could also be just a big coincidence. To prove it’s not, Vahia would need a second example. If the people in the region drew a star chart once, they must have drawn it many more times for other kinds of celestial events (such as comets passing or meteor showers).

That is why, on its own, Vahia’s rock painting isn’t enough to definitively prove itself to be the oldest human-made star chart and supernova record. 

Well, there might not have be any more "two suns" drawings found in Kashmir, but there are a lot of almost identical "two suns" drawings found in Europe. And they also feature Orion and a deer!!!

The first thing that came to my mind when I saw the Burzahom drawing was Los Millares, more precisely the bowls from Los Millares with the two sun like objects which look very very much like the two sun eyes:

I wrote about the Los Millares artefacts in my post "Bowls from Los Millares". Interestingly, the bowls from Los Millares, apart from having the depictions of two suns, also have depiction of deer rut and constellation Orion...

Even more interestingly, Los Millares site was occupied between around 3200 BC and 1800 BC, which overlaps with the period when the Burzahom site in Kashmir was occupied. 

Now here is something interesting. 

In Sanskrit mṛgaśiraṣa, the 5th nakṣatra or lunar mansion as used in Hindu astronomy and astrology is the constellation Orion. Symbol is Antelope or Deer.  The term Mṛgaśira (मृगशिर) a composite of two Sanskrit words, mṛga (मृग) meaning deer/animal/beast and śira (शिर) meaning head or precisely, the top of the head.The Rigveda, the earliest known text written in Sanskrit refers to the Orion Constellation as Mriga (The Deer). 

Sanskrit is a member of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. Its closest ancient relatives are the Iranian languages Avestan and Old Persian.

In order to explain the common features shared by Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages, the Indo-Aryan migration theory states that the original speakers of what became Sanskrit arrived in the Indian subcontinent from the north-west some time during the early second millennium BCE. Evidence for such a theory includes the close relationship between the Indo-Iranian tongues and the Baltic and Slavic languages

And right there, in the "north-west" we find the Burzahom archaeological site and the stone with two suns and Orion hunting deer...

I ended my post about the Los Millares bowls with the question: Did the same people make Los Millares bowls and write Rigveda? Or did two different people, one in Europe and one in North India, who both lived at the time when Orion marked the period of the deer rut, independently marked this in their own way: the Los Millares people by drawing Orion constellation as part of the deer rutting scene, and the creators of Rigveda by naming Orion Mriga - Deer? 

In my post about Los Millares bowls I proposed that the two suns were used to depict the link between the sun's light and the sight. But what if the reason why both Los Millares and Burzahom people drew two suns was less poetic and more prosaic: They depicted two suns in the sky because they saw two suns in the sky, our normal sun and something else that looked like a sun, like supernova. 

Well there is a problem with this prosaic explanation. HB9 supernova exploded around 3,600 BC. This is way too early for Los Millares.

Los Millares site was occupied between around 3200 BC and 1800 BC. So the second sun depicted on their ware can't be HB9. So what is it? Is the poetic explanation the only possible explanation for Los Millares two suns? And if so, it is entirely possible that the same symbolism was used in Burzahom and the two suns depicted on the deer hunting scene represent the sun god who sees all and who also allows us to see...


This is the Victory Stele of Naram-Sin currently kept in Louvre museum.

The stele dates to approximately 2254-2218 BC, in the time of the Akkadian Empire. The relief measures six feet in height and was carved in pink limestone. The official explanation for the scene says that it depicts the King Naram-Sin of Akkad leading the Akkadian army to victory over the mountain people, the Lullubi. 

The Wikipedia page about this artefact says that the stele is unique in two regards: 

1. Most conquest depictions are shown horizontally, with the King being at the top-center. This stele depicts the victory in a diagonal fashion with the King still being at the top-center but where everyone else can look up to him. 
2. King Naram-Sin is shown wearing a bull-horned helmet or shown as the face of lion. Helmets of this type at the time when this stele was commissioned were only worn by the Gods. This stele is in essence telling the viewer that Naram-Sin is a victorious conqueror as a result of his divine status. 

What the Wikipedia page about this artefact does not find unique or strange is the fact that at the top of the stele there is a depiction of two suns!!! The Wikipedia page interprets these two suns as "two stars" and says:

But it (the stele) also shows Naram-Sin gazing up toward two stars. Showing that although Naram-Sin is a god, a feat that was up to this point only achieved by deceased kings, he is still not the most powerful of gods.

However the page dedicated to the Victory Stele from Louvre - Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia, says this about the two suns:

...the conqueror's gaze is directed toward the top of the mountain.  Above Naram-Sin, solar disks seem to radiate their divine protection toward him, while he rises to meet them.  

So solar discs??? Two solar discs??? Two suns???

And no one finds this funny or strange? 

Well this is very very interesting. Were Akkadians poetic or prosaic? Did they use the same symbolic depiction of two "sun eyes" to depict the the link between the sun light and sight or did they depict what they saw in the sky: two suns?

What is amazing about the Victory stele is that it can be dated, more or less precisely to the period 2254-2218 BC

This dating actually fits rather well with the dating for the Burzahom dwelling whose wall contained the drawing of the two suns (2100 BC). It is possible that the Burzahom carving was also done during the period 2254-2218 BC. If the bow-carrying hunter from the Burzahom drawing is interpreted as Orion, then the bow carrying Naram-Sin can also be interpreted as Orion. Both figures are orientated in relation to the two suns in a very similar way. Is this a coincidence? 

And on top of this, the period 2254-2218 BC falls right in the middle of the period during which the Los Millares site was occupied (3100-1800 BC). 

But here is the problem. There are no recorded super bright supernova explosions during the period 2254-2218 BC. So if these two suns are not a poetic representation of the link between the sun's light and sight, but instead a prosaic depiction of the actual two suns shining in the sky during the period 2254-2218 BC, what is this second sun? And is this mysterious second sun in any way linked to the sudden collapse of Bronze Age civilizations from around the world which happened around 2200 BC and which has lately been linked to a sudden catastrophic climate change? 

Saturday, 30 December 2017


48 superimposed photos of the sun, taken during a year, one per week, in the same place and time, in the Cathedral of Burgos. The highest point is the summer solstice and the lowest is the winter solstice.

Understanding this phenomenon is the key to designing accurate sun dials.

Interestingly, the pattern, called analemma, which the sun traces in the sky is in mathematics known as the symbol of infinity. How very fitting that it is this pattern that emerges as a result of the never ending spinning of the solar wheel...

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

First footer

In Scottish and Northern English folklore, the first-foot, also known in Manx Gaelic as "quaaltagh" or "qualtagh", is the first person to enter the home of a household on New Year's Day and a bringer of good fortune for the coming year.

However in "Christmas in Ritual and Tradition" we can read that in Yorkshire first footer used to come on Christmas morning as well as New Year's day.

Although it is acceptable in many places for the first-footer to be a resident of the house, they must not be in the house at the stroke of midnight in order to first-foot (thus going out of the house after midnight and then coming back into the same house is not considered to be first-footing). It is said to be desirable for the first-foot to be a tall, dark-haired male; a female or fair-haired male are in some places regarded as unlucky. In Worcestershire, luck is ensured by stopping the first carol singer who appears and leading him through the house. In Yorkshire it must always be a male who enters the house first, but his fairness is no objection.

On entering, the first-footer would sometimes remain silent until he had poked the fire, or had placed coal on it, and several references maintain that he should enter by the front and leave by the back door.

The first-foot usually brings several gifts, including perhaps a coin (silver is considered good luck), bread, salt, coal, evergreen, and/or a drink (usually whisky), which represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth, long-life, and good cheer respectively. In Scotland, first-footing has traditionally been more elaborate than in England, and involving subsequent entertainment.

In some parts of England the first footer was also called "the lucky bird".

In almost all cases the first-footer was rewarded with food, drink, and/or money, and people who fitted the local idea for first-footer often made a substantial sum by going from house to house (by arrangement) early on New Year's Day. 

This is an illustration from the article "The First Foot" - A Scottish Custom on New Year's Eve, published in "The Illustrated London News" on the 30th Dec 1882

What most people in England and Scotland don't know, is that a very similar custom also exists in Greece and Georgia

In Greece the first footer is known as "pothariko" or "podariko" (from pod - foot), it is believed that the first person to enter the house on New Year's Eve brings either good luck or bad luck. Many households to this day keep this tradition and specially select who enters first into the house.

The person entering the house must do so with their right foot first so that everything will go "right" for the household the whole year. Upon entering the house he or she throws with force a pomegranate to the floor and as it splatters all over the place s/he wishes that the house will have such an abundance of health, joy and goods all year long!

After the ceremony the lady of the house serves the guests with Christmas treats or gives them an amount of money to ensure that good luck will come in the New Year.

In Georgia the first footer is called "mekvle" (from "kvali" - footstep, footprint, trace). During the New Year party, at midnight, people pause their celebration and wait for Mekvle to arrive. This is the person who is the first to congratulate the New Year. He may be from the family or he may be a friend that has had good fortune, health, wealth, has parents or children, or is not in mourning. Everyone eagerly waits for this person to come through the door. When he arrives, he throws candy and sweets at everyone. It means that all that year will be sweet and spent in harmony and peace.

What most people in England, Scotland, Greece and Georgia don't know is that similar although much more elaborate and archaic ritual, was once performed in all Slavic lands of Central Europe, from Balkans to Baltic. This ritual was an integral part, and one of the most important parts of the Christmas celebration. In the 20th century, this ritual was best preserved by Serbs living in the Balkans (Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania).

In his work "´Polaznik´ u južnych slavjan, majar, slovakov, poljakov i ukrajincev" Petr Bogatyrev postulated that this custom originated with South Slavs. I would be more than grateful if someone has this book in digital format or even better if someone has a link to the book on the web. 

I don't have description of these rituals from Slovakia, Czech Republic, Ukraine and Hungary, but here is the description of the ritual which was recorded in Poland.  

In Poland, the first footer could have been called "polazy" but I am not sure. V. Čajkanović in his article: "Tri božićna običaja" (Three christmas customs), which was later published in "Mit i religija Srba" (Myth and religion of the Serbs) talks about a catholic church report from the 15th century, which used to be kept in St Petersburg library, which says that in some parts of Poland, people have these three Christmas customs: 

1. They never give fire from their fire place to anyone on Christmas eve and day
2. They select especially lucky people to be the first to visit their homes on Christmas day
3. They ask wolves to come and dine with them

The reason why Petr Bogatyrev thought that the Slavic first footer custom originated in the Balkans, is because the most elaborate and the most archaic version of this custom was preserved by South Slavs (mostly Serbs and Bulgarians) until today:

In Bulgaria, the first footer ceremony is performed on the 20th of December. This day is in the Orthodox church celebrated as the feast of St. Ignatius (Ignazhden). Bulgarians believe that Virgin Mary went into labor on that day and that the labor took 5 days. Remember the 5 dead days from Serbian folklore, the five days which are left over between the end of the 12 months of 30 days and the beginning of the new solar year? Bulgarians call 20th of December "Nov Dan" (New Day) and all the rituals performed on this day are the rituals related to the beginning of the new year, the birth of new sun. It is interesting that the root of the name Ignatius is Latin "ignis"meaning fire, which comes from the same PIE root which gives us Slavic "oganj" meaning fire and Sanskrit Agni. December 20 is also called Polazovden because on this day polaznik (first footer) visits homes. According to the old Bulgarian tradition, this first visitor is charged with bringing luck to the house. His luck, his diligence or laziness, his ability to say kind words or on the contrary, bitter ones, will be transferred onto the house whose first visitor he or she is. The luck of the family will be the same as the luck of this first visitor on Polazovden.

On the night before Polazovden or Ignazhden the housewife arranges the table with vegan dishes and a big ring-shaped bun. This bun is for the first guest who comes to the house on the day of the feast, and he or she should break the bun above the hearth. She also takes a spoonful from the boiled grains, tries its taste and sprinkles the rest over the hearth so as to bless chickens and the wheat in the fields. Throwing the grain she should chant as follows, “as many the embers in the fire, as rich the harvest during the year”. 

On Polazovden (Ignazhden) the housewife goes out in the yard and makes a circle using the waistband of her husband. She feeds the chickens within this circle and takes care that they will lay eggs in their own lay-place, because the egg laid on Polazovden should be kept at home. She also has to clean soot from chimney to make the fire place ready to meet the first visitor bringing with him or her the future. The polaznik (the first guest on that day) enters the house with the greeting, Glorify the Young God. He or she sits by the fire, takes a twig and stirs the fire blessing the house to have as many chickens as the sparkles in the fire. 

The first footer is in Serbia called "polaznik", "polažajnik", "položajnik", "polaženik", "položar", "položnjak" or "radovan". He is the first person who visits the family on Christmas Day. This visit may be fortuitous or pre-arranged. People expect that it will summon prosperity and well-being for their household in the ensuing year. A family often picks in advance a lucky and happy man or a boy, and arranges that he visit them on Christmas morning. If this proves to be lucky for the family, he is invited again next year to be the položajnik. If not, they send word to him not to come any more in that capacity. In some areas of Serbia women with lots of children can also play the role of the first footer.

Položajnik is not allowed to eat anything in his own house. The first bit of food that he put in his mouth on the Christmas Day has to be eaten in the house he visits as položajnik. Položajnik brings with him an oak branch, a plum branch and a handful of grain, and sometimes silver coin. When he arrives to the house he is visiting, položajnik steps into the house with his right foot first, greeting the gathered family, "Christ is Born, Happy Christmas." He then throws the grain out before the threshold, or throws it at the family members. They respond with "Truly He is Born," and throw grain at the položajnik  He then approaches the fireplace, takes a poker or a branch, and strikes repeatedly the burning badnjak (Yule log) to make sparks fly from it. At the same time he utters these words (or similar):

Koliko varnica, toliko sreće u ovoj kući.
Koliko varnica, toliko u domaćinskom džepu novaca.
Koliko varnica, toliko u toru ovaca.
Koliko varnica, toliko prasadi i jaganjaca.
Koliko varnica, toliko gusaka i piladi,
a najviše zdravlja i veselja.

How many sparks, that much happiness in this house.
How many sparks, that much money in the household head's pocket.
How many sparks, that many sheep in the pen.
How many sparks, that many pigs and lambs.
How many sparks, that many geese and chickens,
and most of all, health and joy.

Having said that, he moves the log a little forward and throws a coin into the fire. The woman of the house puts a woolen blanket on the položajnik back or even better a sheepskin coat. The položajnik is then offered to seat on a low stool by the fireplace. In some places a cushion filled with feathers is placed on the stool, so that chicken will lay many eggs in the next year. In the moment when he sits down, people from the house try to pull away the stool beneath him, as if to make him fall on the floor. This is done "to make raptor birds die". The položajnik goes out into the yard, and throws grain inside a circle made with the rope with which Christmas wheat straw sheaf was tied before the straw was strewn on the house floor, all the way calling chickens to come. When they gather in the circle he catches a rooster, whose head is then cut off by him or the head of the household on the house doorstep. The rooster is roasted on a wooden spit as part of Christmas dinner. The položajnik usually stays for dinner with the family. He receives a gift in the form of a round cake with an embedded coin, and a towel, shirt, socks, or some other useful thing.

We can see what the Položajnik ceremony looks like in this excellent documentary video entitled "Božićni običaji u Gornjem Račniku" (Christmas customs in the village Upper Račnik).

Ethnographers believe that originally položajnik was embodiment of a divine being. Knowing that in the past the main god of the Serbs was Dabog, the Giving god, it is possible that this divine being which people expected to visit heir homes was in fact Dabog. In Serbian mythology, Dabog, was at the same time the Sun god and the god of the Underworld. This can at the first glance seem contradictory. But Serbs believed that every morning, sun leaves his palace through its eastern gate, drives across the sky in his chariot, and goes back into his palace through its western gate. His palace is under ground, in the Underworld. Hence Dabog, the sun god, is also the god of the Underworld. Dabog, who was also known as Djed (grandfather), was by Serbs considered to be their progenitor.  In the past, Serbs believed that the ancestors come back to visit their descendants on the day of the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. When the Winter Solstice was replaced with Christmas, the day when the ancestors come to visit became Christmas Eve. And on the Christmas Day, Dabog, the ancestor of all Serbs, would come to visit some houses, taking the shape of an unexpected visitor. A visit from a Giving God, if people of the house he visited treated him well, would certainly ensure prosperity of the family. But visits from Dabog were rare. And in his absence, people invented položajnik as the replacement for the Divine visitor.

In Some parts of Serbia, položajnik arrives to the house carrying a round bread stuck to his hat.

This type of bread is called "kolač" (from "kolo" meaning "spinning circle, wheel") or  "kovrtanj", "kovrtač" (from "kolo vrti", meaning "spinning wheel" or from "koje vrti" meaning "which spins, which is spun"). These types of breads are associated with winter solstice magical rituals performed to ensure grain fertility. I wrote about these types of breads in my post "Bogovo gumno - God's threshing floor". They symbolise the solar year, never ending solar cycle. I wonder if the bread was carried to symbolically indicate that položajnik was indeed the sun god Dabog in human form...

Until the first half of the 20th century, in some parts of Serbia položajnik also took with them a domestic animal, sheep, ox, swine, or calf, into the house. In the west Serbian region of Rađevina, centered on the town of Krupanj, the head of household would place a sheep between himself and the fireplace, and pronounce the aforementioned words while striking the badnjak with a branch cut from it. In the region of Bihor, north-eastern Montenegro, a round loaf of bread with a hole in its center was prepared; four grooves were impressed into its surface along two mutually perpendicular diameters of the loaf. After an ox was led into the house, the loaf was put on his horn, and some grain was thrown on the ox. Yanking his head, the ox would throw off the loaf; having fallen down, the loaf would break into four pieces along the grooves. The pieces were picked up and distributed among the family members. This custom was preserved up to the 1950s even in some Muslim families of the region. 

In some parts of Lika, the animal which is brought into the house by položajnik was a rooster. Položajnik, would first go to the chicken coop and would catch a rooster. He would then throw a rooster over the house roof from east to west. He would then catch the rooster again and would bring it into the house. Once inside, položajnik would sit at the table holding the rooster on his laps. Both položajnik and rooster would be given bread and vine until rooster was drunk :) When the time came for položajnik to leave the house, the woman of the house would throw the grain on the rooster. 

And in some parts of Eastern Serbia položajnik came on St. Ignatius day (20th of December), just like in Bulgaria. But in Eastern Serbia this day was called "Chicken Christmas" and položajnik that  came on that day was called "kokošiji položajnik" (chicken first footer)...

I think that all these association of the first footer custom among Serbs with the chicken is very interesting, considering the fact that in some parts of England, the first footer was called "the lucky bird"???

Ethnologists consider that the ritual involving animal is the most ancient version of the položajnik ritual. It is believed that the animals that položajnik brings with them into the house were originally sacrificial animals which were after the ceremony sacrificed. The sheepskin coat or woollen blanket which is today used to cover human položajnik was probably once a skin of the animal which was sacrificed the previous year.  

Interestingly, in some parts of Serbia položajnik visits homes twice. Once on Christmas Day and once on New Year Day, which is in Serbia called Little Christmas. This is very important, as it shows that originally the ceremony was performed on New Year Day, which was originally Winter Solstice day, the day when new sun is born...

Excellent sources of information about this custom:

"Polaznik, polaženik: Prvi božićni gost čestitar" by Branko Đakovic
"Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Paganby Miles, Clement A. 
"Mit i religija Srba" by Veselin Čajkanović

Now it is amazing that while in England, Scotland, Greece and Georgia the first footer is a relatively simple ritual, in Serbia we find this elaborate archaic ritual role play. How are these rituals related? Do they all have the same ancient root, or is it possible that the root of all these rituals is the Slavic one which somehow got transplanted to England, Scotland, Greece and Georgia?

In Greece this custom originated in Peloponnesus. We know that South Slavs settled in Peloponnesus in 7th century. By 700 AD most of the Peloponneus was a large "Sklavenia". Before the Byzantine reconquista, only Thessaloniki and its hinterland and most of the eastern coast of continental Hellas and Peloponnese along with isolated coastal cities remained under Byzantine political Authority. 

In "Geographi graeci minores" published by Karl Müller in 1855 we can read:

The 10th century Byzantine anonymous epitomizer of Strabo wrote:

«Καὶ νῦν δὲ πᾶσαν Ἤπειρον καὶ Ἑλλάδα σχεδὸν καὶ Πελοπόννησον καὶ Μακεδονίαν Σκύθαι Σκλάβοι νέμονται»

"And now most of Epirus and Hellas and Peloponnesus and Macedonia are inhabited by 'Scythian' (=uncivilized) Slavs" 

In the late 11th century, the Patriarch Nicholas Grammatikos describes the Slavic colonization of the Peloponnese in a letter to emperor Alexios Komnenos with the words:

«Έπί διακοσίοις δεκαοκτώ χρόνοις όλοις κατεσχόντων την Πελοπόννησον, και της Ρωμαϊκής αρχής αποτεμομένων, ως μηδέ πόδα βαλείν όλως δύνασθαι εν αυτή Ρωμαίον άνδρα»

"For 218 years that the Slavs have held Peloponnesus cut off from the Roman empire so that no Roman could set his foot in the region"

A lot of Slavic population was later resettled in Asia Minor. But even today, according to the latest genetic data, in some parts of Peloponnesus local population still has up to 14% Slavic genes...

So I would say that there is a fair chance that the first footer custom from Peloponnesus could have a Slavic origin. 

For Georgia the data is a bit thin. We know that large number of South Slavs was settled by Byzantium in Asia Minor during early medieval time. They were elite soldiers who settled in border areas with their families, where they protected the Byzantine borders from Muslim attacks. But later a lot of these Slavs joined the Muslim armies and we know that they settled in among other places, Georgia. So it is possible that this custom originated with these Slavic settlers. 

But what about the Scottish and English tradition? Well it is very possible that they are an early medieval import from Slavic lands of south Baltic. 

"The origin of Anglo - Saxon race", is a book published in 1906 by Thomas William Shore, author of 'a history of Hampshire,' etc, Honorary secretary London and Middlesex archaeological society; honorary Organizing secretary of the Hampshire field club and Archaeological society. According to him, south Baltic Slavs were part of the Angle confederation during the Anglo - Saxon invasions of Britain. And they settled in North England, right where we find the first footer custom. 

We also know that south Baltic Slavs were a major part of the Danish Viking confederation which invaded Britain and Scotland. Armies lead by Harald Bluetooth, who was married to an Obodrite Slavic princess, and his descendants, all the way to Cnut the Great, whose mother was a Polish princess, had large number of Slavic soldiers in their ranks. These Slavic Vikings probably settled in Britain and Scotland with their Danish comrades, right in places where we find first footer custom. 

So it is possible that this custom arrived indeed arrived to England and Scotland with these Slavic immigrants.

So as you can see, the first footer custom from England, Scotland, Greece and Georgia may indeed have originated in the above Slavic custom.

Or maybe not :) Maybe Serbs, who were once described as the most conservative people in Europe, just preserved more of the original old pan European ritual...

What do you think of all this?

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Stilicho's sarcophagus

Solar and agricultural cult imagery on the Nativity scene depicted on the side of the so-called "Sarcofago di Stilicone" ("Stilicho's sarcophagus"), an Ancient Roman christian sarcophagus dating from the 4th century. It is preserved beneath the pulpit of Sant'Ambrogio basilica in Milan, Italy. Picture by Giovanni Dall'Orto.

Let's start with the base of the nativity scene:

Swastika is the symbol of fire, solar fire. In Sanskrit, one of the names for the swastika is arani, which refers to a process of kindling fire with a fire drill. A related Sanskrit term is pramantha, literally an instrument for kindling fire, manth meaning rotary motion, manthami meaning to kindle fire. 

Germanic tradition of burning of the Yule log, and its Slavic counterpart burning of "Badnjak" is the main part of Christmas. It represents rekindling of the fire of the sun, the birth of the new sun. So it is not surprising that swastika, the instrument for kindling fire is on this relief representing the birth of the son of god, or more precisely sun the god. Plus swastika was in Ancient Greece associated with the sun god Apollo, the young sun. So again we have the link between the sun, the fire and the birth of the son of god...

Are the symbols between Swastikas flowers or solar wheels with solar crosses, which divide the solar year in four parts with solstices and equinoxes?

You can read more about solar crosses in my post "Two crosses":

Now, what about the two baskets of seeds and two birds? 

Well as I already explained in my post "Leto", birds, specifically migrating birds, are symbol of the solar year, specifically the part of the year dominated by the Father Sun. Their arrival announces the end of winter and their departure announces the beginning of the winter, the part of the year dominated by the Mother Earth.

But why do we have the two grain baskets framing the scene? And why is the left one spilling the seeds and the right one collecting them? Does this represent the time, between the sowing and reaping? Which is the life time of grain? Is Christ, the bread of life, actually in some way seen as grain? 

After all grain, just like Christ, and the Sun, dies and gets reborn every year....

So why was all this solar and agricultural imagery placed around the nativity scene? Maybe the author tried to tell us something?

Anyway, what do you think about all this?

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Mask from Belo Brdo

This is one of the most amazing figurines I have ever seen. The official description says: "Anthropomorphic figurine, terracotta, Vinča culture, Neolithic period, around 5000 - 4500 BC, excavated at depth of 5.7 meters at Vinča - Belo brdo archaeological site, near Belgrade, capital of Serbia. Dimensions - height 9.6 cm. Archaeological collection of Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade." That's it? That's it? Are people blind? Don't they see that the figurine represents a man wearing a MASK!!! How many Neolithic figurines of people wearing masks do you know? Well, this was the end of my original post :) Then my friend Adela Kovacs from Botosani County Museum posted this comment: "There are several masked figurines in Vinča culture. The Vinčan masks are pentagonal and rounded. There is not a very common iconography, but the ones presenting masks are made intentionally in the manner of representing big eyes and the rims of the object."

The possibility that these stylized faces are masks is discussed in this article (in Romanian) by Cristian. Roman from university Lucian Blaga, Sibiu entitled "TlPOLOGIA MĂŞTII ŞI A OCHILOR iN PLASTICA ANTROPOMORFĂ VINCIANĂ". It it he defines different types of mask shapes and postulates that the shape changed through time possibly reflecting change in beliefs or in religious fashion:

Basically this means that the common consensus is that any triangular and pentagonal face on Vinča figurines is a mask. Like these ones?

This is of course possible. There are many Vinca figurines where the face can be interpreted as a mask. And they probably were masks. Archaeologists have been proposing this for decades. But I still couldn't see any other figurine where there is an obvious distinction between the surface of the head and the surface of the mask. How do we know that these were indeed masks?

Well here is a figurine head with what is undoubtedly a "horned mask" and not a human face. It was found in Pločnik, Serbia and was dated to 5th millennium BC.

But again, was this a mask or a depiction of some deity or demon head? 

Well, thanks to my friend Adela Kovacs, now I know that this indeed could have been a mask.

"There is a full size mask made of clay found at Uivar site..."

And here it is:

The mask from Uivar site from "Uivar: a late Neolithic-early Eneolithic fortified tell site western Romania"  by Wolfram Schier

The mask from Uivar site in situ and reconstructed from "BUCRANIUL – SIMBOL ŞI SEMN (PARTEA A II-A)" by Cornelia-Magda Lazarovici, Gheorghe-Corneliu Lazarovici

And then my friend Stefan Bogdanovic told me to have a look at this figurine, which was found on the same Belo Brdo Vinča site as the above figurine with the mask:

This is the so called "Vidovdanka", one of the most beautiful anthropomorphic figurines of Vinča culture, also one of the biggest - 30.6 cm high. 

It was named Vidovdanka because it was discovered on Vidovdan (the day of Svetovid), 1930. It is made of polished clay it represents female figurine, with emphasized eyes and nose on the face, and on the body gluteus and rounded belly with the navel. Neolithic period, around 5000 BC, excavated at depth of 6.2 meters at Vinča - Belo brdo site, near Belgrade, capital of Serbia. This figurine is also kept at the archaeological collection of Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade. 

I have only ever seen the picture taken from the front. From this picture it is impossible to see whether the figure has a stylised facial features or if it's wearing a mask. But if you look at this figurine from the side you can clearly see that this is a woman wearing a mask.

So now we have two figurines from the same Vinča site which have been designed in such a way to obviously show a person wearing a mask.

And the best bit:

"Also there is a statuette from Liubcova site taking the mask off the face, holding it in a hand..."

Carved figure with mask from Liubcova site. In the left hand, the figure is holding a mask. In the right hand, it's holding a jug (of water, perhaps?). From "Figurines as multiple art - Studying the shape and forms of Neolithic Statuettes" by Adele Änggård.

This is incredible...

Now big question: Why masks?