Sunday, 17 March 2019

May horns

Penzance is the most westerly major town in Britain. Set out along the sweep of Mount's Bay, it boasts a tangle of authentic winding streets and a charming promenade, making it one of Cornwall's premier resort towns. 

One of Penzance's most popular attractions is the tidal island of St Michael's Mount. It is the home to an imposing castle and the beautiful chapel of St Michael.

On the first Sunday in May every year, people of Penzance celebrate the Mayday, the coming of summer and the end of winter with a traditional "May Horns procession".

The event starts just before sunset, when people dressed in green and white meet near the boundary between Penzance and Newlyn. As the sun begins to drop below the horizon, they start blowing horns and whistles, and banging drums. This comes from an old belief that the noise would "drive out the devil of winter" and help bring in the warmth of summer. The noise making continues all night. At daybreak the people who take part in the May Horns procession (known as "Mayers") walk out of town into to the country.

There they cut the "May", the young branches of any tree in blossom or fresh leaf (hawthorn, blackthorn, sycamore) to decorate the Maypole. From the young branches of the sycamore-trees (called May-trees) they make whistles.

These are made by gently loosening the bark around a stick of sycamore until it can be removed. A groove is made in the wood and a hole cut in the loose bark. The bark is then slid back on to the stick, making the whistle.

With these shrill musical instruments the people walk towards Penzance town centre, joined by Old Ned: a giant crow with a huge crown on his head. 

Old Ned, the crow, will "die" three times en route, overcome by "the devil of winter". To revive him everyone must blow their horns and whistles, even louder, until he leaps back to life.

I think this is very interesting. In my post "Wran or Wren" I wondered whether wren the "king of the birds" which was ceremonially hunted and killed in Ireland every St Stephen's day was actually originally wran, raven, crow...And here we have raven, crow with a crown which dies during the winter...Hmmm

It makes me whistle this great song by Snakefinger and Residents called "Kill the great raven". 

Kill the Great Raven 
Kill the Great Raven 

His tiny eyes, they search the skies 
He looks so alone, so he must die 
"Oh, does he really have to die?" 
"Oh yes, he really has to suffer" 

Kill the Great Raven 
Kill the Great Raven 

And when he dies, 
to his surprise 
The sun will set 
and he will rise
"Where will he go?" 
"He'll become the sun of course. 
We must have one you know...

Kill the Great Raven 

Kill the Great Raven 

You can hear the song here

On the way to town the procession visits farm houses where they are welcomed with some refreshment in the shape of rum and milk, junket, or something of that sort.

The day ends with a celebration in Penzance, with food, Cornish dancing and music.

The description of the events from 1881 was published by Robert Hunt in 'Popular Romances of the West of England". The custom of blowing May Horns on May Day was banned by the local council in the old town of Penzance in 1933 following complaints about the "abominable noise". The tradition was only revived several years ago.

This custom is described as "unique to Penzance"...

Well maybe Penzance is the only place where we find May Horns in Uk. But it is definitely not the only place where we find May Horns. 

In my post "Two crosses" I talked about the division of the solar year using solar cross (solstices and equinoxes) and earth cross (quarter days). The second solar year devision is at the core of the Celtic and Serbian calendar. 

In Celtic calendar the year is divided into two main parts (white and dark part of the year) by Bealtaine - the beginning of the summer and Samhain - the beginning of the winter.

In Serbian calendar the year is divided into two main parts (white and dark part of the year) by St George's day - the beginning of the summer and St Mitar's day - the beginning of the winter.

For sheep herders in Serbia these two dates had special meaning.

The beginning of the white part of the year, St George's day, was the time of the year when lambing season was officially over. Lambs were separated from their mothers and milking season began. This was also the time when sheep were driven to the highland pastures where they would spend summer and autumn.

The end of the white part of the year, St Mitar's day, was the time when the milking season ended and the sheep were driven back down into the valleys where they would spend the winter and spring.

Serbian customs and rituals related to the St George's day are mostly remnants of the old pagan religion which was replaced by Christianity. And in the old pagan religion, St George was known as Jarilo, the bright, burning, scorching one. Interestingly the Celtic counterpart of Jarilo's day, Beltane means "the day of the bright fire"...

These rituals start on the day before St George's day. I wrote about the St George's day customs and rituals related to sheep in my post "Aries must die". 

But there are other St George's rituals which I didn't mention in that article. One of them being the May Horns. 

In Croatia and Serbia, but most of all in Bosnia, the night before St George's was the time when people blew the May Horns. The night echoed with the sounds of horns and whistles made from willow bark. These musical instruments had various names: rukaljka, duduk, bušen, ćurlik, truba...

They were made by men and boys, particularly shepherds, during several days before St George's day. On the eve of St George's day, a procession is formed consisting of at least one male member of each household. They gather at the end of the village. The person with the biggest trumpet (horn) is selected to be the leader of the procession. The leader then leads the procession. He blows his horn first, and all the members of the procession reply blowing into their horns and whistles.  

You can hear the sound of these horns in this video made by Stojan Gajić from the Serbian village of Goleši, Banja Luka, Bosnia. 

The procession is followed by small children who join in with screeching and shouting. They go through the whole village, visiting every household in turn. Once inside the yard, they are welcomed by the whole family and in response all the procession members blast their horns as loudly as possible. Then they continue on to the next house and the next until they visit all the houses in the village.

After visiting every house in the village, the procession goes back to the original gathering place. Everyone gathers around the leader holding their horns above their heads like cudgels. The leader strikes the first blow with his horn making sure it breaks in as many small bits as possible. This is a signal for all the other members of the procession to join the "fight". They smash their horn on each-other's heads and bodies, laughing and joking. They don't stop until every horn is broken into bits. Once all the horns are broken, they all go to their homes happy. 

The May Horn ritual is Pre-Christian Slavic tradition, which can be seen from the fact that it is practiced by all Slavs regardless whether they are Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Muslims. 

As I already said, in the Serbian calendar, just like in the Celtic calendar, the year is divided into two main parts (white and dark part of the year) by St George's day (Beltane)  marking the beginning of the white part of the year (summer) and St Mitar's day (Samhain) marking the the beginning of the dark part of the year (winter). 

The blowing of the St George's (Beltane, Mayday) Horns mark the end of the winter and announces the beginning of the summer and the return of the Young Sun God Jarilo from the land of the dead. 

In my post "Irij" I talked about Jarilo (who was turned into St George) and his feast day Jarilo/Jurjevo (which was turned into St George's day)

Jarilo was a son of the supreme Slavic god of thunder, Perun, his lost, missing, tenth son, born on the last night of February, the festival of Velja Noć (Great Night), the pagan Slavic celebration of the New Year. On the same night, however, Jarilo was stolen from his father and taken to the world of the dead, where he was adopted and raised by Veles, Perun's enemy, Slavic god of the underworld and cattle. The Slavs believed the underworld to be an ever-green world of eternal spring and wet, grassy plains, where Jarilo grew up guarding the cattle of his stepfather. In the mythical geography of ancient Slavs, the land of the dead was assumed to lie across the sea, where migrating birds would fly every winter. This land of the dead was by Slavs known as Iriy, Irij or Vyriy (Russian: ирий, ирей, вырий).

And when do the migrating birds leave the land of the living? By the beginning of the winter, which is marked by Samhain (St Mitar's day). And when do migratory birds return from the land of the dead? By the beginning of summer, which is marked by Beltane (Djurdjevdan, St George's day). 

The return of the migratory birds announces the return of Jarilo, the return of the hot summer sun. I wrote more about it in my post "Leto". Is this why we have a bird which dies (goes to the land of the dead) and gets resurrected (returns from the land of the dead) in the May Horns procession in Penzance? hmmm again

Anyway, I think all of this is very very interesting. I believe that the original May Horns tradition was preserved in the Balkans. I believe that in Penzance once they also made willow horns and whistles, but eventually they replaced them with tin ones...

I am wondering now how did this tradition end up in Penzance if indeed it is the only place in British Isles where it is found??? Is this a Slavic tradition? Is this Celtic tradition preserved by the Balkan Slavs?

Does anyone know of any other place where people blow May Horns?

Sunday, 10 March 2019


Ah I just found something really interesting. Ancient Greek word προδότης (prodótis) meaning "traitor" has perfect etymology in Serbian: prodo (prodao) (sold) + tis (masculine agent) = the one who sold us, traitor.

Macedonian coins:

The official etymology for the above word says "from προδίδωμι (prodídōmi) meaning "to betray". In Serbian "prodo dom" means "sold home" :) 

"Traitor", painting by Serbian painter Paja Jovanović painted 1885-1890.

In Serbian the expression "prodana duša" meaning "traitor" literally means "sold soul". 

"The Kiss of Judas", Scenes from the Life of Christ (mosaic) by Byzantine School, (6th century); Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy. 

Friday, 1 March 2019

Horn of Wismar

This is "Horn of Wismar". It was discovered more than 100 years ago near Wismar, Pomerania, Germany. It was made in the first half or the second millennium BC.

The bronze metal fittings on the Horn of Wismar are richly engraved with complex decorations. 

The decorations on the Horn of Wismar consist of geometric motifs such as circles and spirals as well as with depictions of boats and soldiers carrying spears and shields

This is the enlarged version of a warrior depiction from the Horn of Wismar. 

Wismar is located in Pomerania the same region where we find Tollense river valley, where the biggest Bronze Age battleground so far was discovered few years ago. 

The warriors depicted on the Horn of Wismar could be the same warriors who fought around Tollense river bridge. You can read more about this battle in my post "Tollense battle".

Wismar is located in in a deep bay, protected from the Baltic storms. It is a perfect harbour. 

It's location at the entrance into the Baltic Sea makes it a perfect place to locate a fleet which could control the access to the amber coast further east.

The boats depicted on the Wismar horn are the same boats depicted on Late Bronze Age rock carvings across the Baltic Sea. Like these ones from Bohuslän, western Sweden.

Who were the people who sailed (rowed) these "dragon boats"? Were they local or foreign? Were they the people who brought amber to Ireland during the late Bronze Age? Like this necklace found in Tooradoo, Co. Limerick.

Were they the people who brought bronze and Bronze Age into Scandinavia? Were they the same people who brought Bronze Age into Ireland, and who, the ancient Irish Annals claim, came from Mediterranean? You can read more about the arrival of Bronze Age into Ireland from Mediterranean in the series of posts entitled "Montenegrian tumuluses".  

Saturday, 16 February 2019


Šar Mountain mountain is a mountain range which lies on the border between Serbia (Kosovo), Makedonija and Albanija.

Sometimes the range is called Carska planina ("Tsar's mountain"), as a reference to the old capitals (Prizren and Skopje), courts (Nerodimlje, Pauni, Svrčin, etc.) and monasteries (Monastery of the Holy Archangels) of the Old Medieval Serbian Empire which are located in the region surrounding the mountain.

The mountain range is 85 kilometers long and has a total area of 1600 square km. It has 21 peaks which are over 2000 meter high, the highest reaching 2707 meters. This is Ljuboten peak, which is 2,498 m high.

Vegetation on the mountain includes crops up to around 1,000 m (3,281 ft), forests up to 1,700 m (5,577 ft), and above that lie high pastures which encompass around 550 km2 (212 sq mi). The Šar Mountain is the largest compact area covered with pastures on the European continent.


Because of this the Šar Mountain highland is an ideal grazing ground for sheep. Huge flocks of sheep are brought up the mountain every spring to the highland grazing grounds, where they stay until the late autumn. Up on the mountains the sheep are minded by shepherds and their dogs, famous Šarplaninac (Šar mountain) shepherd dog.

The Šarplaninac is a robust, well proportioned dog with plenty of bone, of a size that is well above the average. The coat is long and dense, with an abundant dense undercoat, making it weatherproof and suited for an outside life.

The temperament of the breed is described as independent, reliable, protective but not snappy, incorruptible and devoted to its master. The breed is aloof with outsiders, and calm until a threat to the flock presents itself. The breed has an extremely protective nature. In the absence of a flock of sheep, the Šarplaninac will often treat its humans as sheep - herding them away from danger or undesirable areas. They are serene and majestic, gentle with children and smaller dogs. They are also highly intelligent and bred to work without human supervision while guarding the flocks in the high pastures. The Šarplaninac has been known to fight or chase off wolves, lynxes and even bears.

While during the summer the upper highlands of the Šar Mountain are covered in lush green grass, during the winter they turn into a white desert covered in meters of snow.

The official etymology of the name "Šar Mountain" says that it comes from the Old Slavic word "šar" meaning pattern. The explanation is that the mountain looks patterned due to its layers of different vegetation. On this picture of the Šar Mountain you can clearly see the white layer of snow covered highlands over the black layer of forests.

This is indeed a good etymology. But there is another possible etymology.

In Antiquity, the Šar Mountain was known as Scardus, Scodrus, or Scordus (το Σκάρδον ὂρος in Polybius and Ptolemy) mountain; This name means the mountain of Scordisci. The same Celtic Scordisci who ruled what is today Serbian part of the Balkans for centuries, and whose capital was Singidun, today's Serbian capital Belgrade. The same Scordisci who, I believe, still live in Serbian genes, culture and language.

It is said that their tribal name may be connected to the Scordus, the Šar mountain. Are Scordisci the people from Scordus, or is Scordus the mountain of Scordisci? This is not really that important. But what is important is that if Celtic Scordisci lived on Scordus Mountain, then they would have given the mountain a Celtic name.

The mountain was known to the Greeks as Scordus Mountain, the mountain of Scordisci, but what did Scordisci call their mountain? Is it possible that they they called it Šar mountain?

And this is why I believe that this could be so:

If you look at the above panoramic picture of the Šar Mountain, you will see that it dwarfs the surrounding lowlands. It is a great, big, high mountain. It is also as I already said, the biggest and one of the best highland pastures in Europe. So if the Celts called this mountain anything, they must have called it something like high, big, great...

I already said in many of my posts that Scordisci must have spoken some variant of Gaelic, because there are so many common words in Gaelic and Serbian. So is there a Gaelic word which sounds like "Šar" and which means something like high, big, great? Yes there is.

In Gaelic there is a word "sáir", "sár", which is used as augmentative prefix meaning very, exceeding, excessive, great, most, excellent, the one above all... This word is found in both Old Irish and Early Irish.

For instance the Irish word "mhaith" means good, goodness. With prefix "sár" it becomes "sármhaith"  (pronounced "sarwai", "sorwa" depending on the dialect) which means Excellent (most, very good).

Here is a list of Irish constructs which use sáir- (sár-). I will here just list few most interesting ones:

sáire, excess, excellence.
sáir-bheannach, having lofty peaks or mountains.
sáir-bhinneálta, a., exquisitely handsome.
sáir-bhrígh, great strength.
sáir-bhríoghach, very powerful, very substantial.
sár-aibéil, very quick, extremely fast.
sár-chaoin, very gentle.
sár-mhaith, excellent, surpassing good.
sár-oilte, well-educated skilful.


Here you can hear how the word sáir- (sár-) is pronounced in three different Irish dialects. It is currently pronounces as "sar", "ser", "saor" and "sor". It is quite possible that the word was once also pronounced as "Shar" or "Šar".

Sár Mountain would then mean Great, High Mountain. Or Great Highlands, Excellent, Superior, The best highland pasture...Which is exact description of the Šar Mountain, the bigest and the best highland pasture in Europe.

Well this is just a possibility...

The south western slopes of the Šar Mountain are known as Gora. I believe that this name could have once been applied to the whole mountain, as Gora in Serbian simply means mountain or forest or forested mountain, or highland. This fits perfectly with the meaning of the potential Gaelic name for the mountain Sár (Great, High, Excelent) mountain. People who live in this region call themselves Gorani, Goranci which literally means mountain people, highlanders or Našinci, which literally means "our people, our ones".

Goranci are Muslim Slavic people who today consider themselves to be a separate ethnic group. 
However, the Ottoman census from 1591 (TKGM, TD № 55 (412), Defter sandžaka Prizren iz 1591. godine) says that Šar Mountain was inhabited exclusively by Serbs, so it is possible that they were originally Serbs who later converted to Islam and eventually developed their own new identity. 

It is important to know that the Islamisation of the Gorani people only happened in the 18th and 19th century. The Ottoman abolition of the Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid and Serbian Patriarchate of Peć in 1766/1767 is thought to have prompted the Islamization of Gora as was the trend of many Balkan communities. The last Christian Gorani, Božana (God given in Serbian), died in the 19th century...

That Gorani are Islamised Serbs or at least closely related to Serbs can be seen from their language, which they call Našinski, which literally means "our language". This is a dialect of Serbian which is part of the Torlakian dialect group which is officially called "the transitional dialect between Eastern and Western South Slavic languages" but I believe is the root dialect from which both  Eastern and Western South Slavic languages evolved. The Gorani speech is also classified as an Old-Shtokavian dialect of Serbian (Old Medieval Serbian). You can see from this map showing the distribution of the Torlakian dialects, that they are mostly spoken by Serbs in Serbia. The areas in Northern Makedonija, Western Bulgaria and Kosovo (including the Šar Mountain), are all regions where either there still is, or until recently was a large Serbian population:

As you can see from the below map, based on the census from the 2011, today the Šar Mountain is, except for the urbanised low lying valley around Prizren which is mostly populated by Albanians, still an island of Slavic culture and language in Albanian dominated Kosovo. Three Slavic ethnic groups now live on the mountain. Orthodox Christian Slavic population which declares themselves a Serbs and two groups of Muslim Slavic population which declare themselves as either Bosniaks or Goran, where these "Bosniaks" are Goran people who have recently been converted to "Bosniaks"...

Regardless of what the people from Šar Mountain call themselves, Serbs, Gorani, Bosniaks, Slavic population of Šar Mountain is at the moment under huge economic, political and cultural pressure. More and more people are leaving as they see no future for themselves in Albanian dominated Kosovo where they are treated as undesirable. They feel abandoned by everyone, left to themselves and their destiny. The mountain of Scordisci might soon be empty...

This is a poem written by Sadik Idrizi Aljabak (1954), a Goran poet. The poem is written in Goran dialect and it describes perfectly the struggle of any ethnic group anywhere which is trying to survive religious, political and economic oppression and preserve its culture and languge....I tried to translate it into English as best as I could, but my Gorani is not the best :)


If you all leave
(and I can see you are getting ready)
who is going to speak our language
the golden coin given to us by our forefathers to take care of
but which was thinned during many difficult years

If you all run away
who is going to carry the dead to the cemeteries
cemeteries which are already overgrown and unkempt
who is going to give names to the flowers
which grow in the meadows along the rivers

If you all leave
(and I can see you are getting ready)
the streets of our villages will become quiet
our houses will stay empty
and there will be no one left to sing our songs...


Ako idete svi
(a viđim ste trnalje)
koj će zborne jezik naš
dukat istenčen
ot babovci začuvan
vo godine mlogo poteške

Ako izbegate svi
dženazina koj će isprati
du grobišta parosane
koj će dava ime cvećinam
vo ljivade pokraj reka

Svi ako idete
(ka što ste rnalje)
sokaci će se zagajljujet
kuće prazne će ostanet
pesne naše za nikogo

I know some people are going to say: there is no way that the present Serbian (and Gorani) people who live on the Mountain of Scordisci have anything to do with the Celtic Scordisci. Scordisci lived in Serbia in the 4th and 3rd century BC and Serbs only arrived to Serbia (and Gora) in the 7th century AD. These two people are in no way connected. 

The people who say things like this still believe in now completely destroyed population replacement theory, which states that as new people moved into the Balkans, they exterminated and replaced the old population that they found there. Hence Romans replaced Celts, Goths replaced Romans, Slavs replaced Goths...

Genetic analysis of the current Balkan population shows that actually newcomers just merged into the existing population. Today Balkan population is one of the most genetically diverse populations in the world. Basically anyone who ever lived in the Balkans have left its genetic mark on the current population, which in Serbia (and Gora) today calls themselves Serbs (and Gorani). 

Genetic data just confirms what archaeological, ethnographic and linguistic data have been hinting to already: that today's Serbs (and Gorani) are the genetic, cultural and linguistic amalgam of all the previous people who lived in the Balkans, probably since Mesolithic...

Now have a look at this:

In Kosovo, there are 21 Gorani-inhabited villages: Baćka, Brod, Vranište, Globočica, Gornja Rapča, Gornji Krstac, Dikance, Donja Rapča, Donje Ljubinje, Gornje Ljubinje, Donji Krstac, Dragaš, Zli Potok, Kruševo, Kukuljane, Lještane, Ljubošte, Mlike, Orčuša, Radeša and Restelica.

In Albania, there are 10 Gorani-inhabited villages: Zapod, Pakisht, Orçikël, Kosharisht, Cernalevë, Orgjost, Orshekë, Borje, Novosej and Shishtavec.

In the Republic of Macedonia, there are 2 Goranci-inhabited villages: Jelovjane and Urvič.

In several of the Gorani villages in Kosovo, Donje Ljubinje, Gornje Ljubinje, brides paint their faces in stunning patterns and embellish them with sequins for their wedding day. 

The face decorations always contain three circles, one on each cheek and one on the chin. 

It is said that the three golden circles drawn on the bride's face represent the three phases of life, which are bound to each other with golden paths, while the red ones represents fertility and the remaining blue spots represent a happy and healthy family.

The makeup is also said to ward off bad luck and has been a part of the wedding celebration since the time immemorial. This unusual custom has attracted the attention of local and foreign ethnologists. 

The same wedding custom is only found in the remote village of Draginovo, Bulgaria, inhabited by Slavic Muslim minority called Pomaks. The face painting ritual is in Bulgaria called gelina, and is performed to mark girls transition into married life. 

During the gelina, Pomak brides are painted over with a thick cosmetic creme mask called "belilo" (whitening). 

The face decorations always contain three circles, one on each cheek and one on the chin. 

The face is then painted with elaborate floral patterns and further decorated with sequins. 

After receiving the wedding blessing, the bride is escorted by her family members out of her childhood home and to her groom’s house, where her husband will take off her makeup.

This elaborate tradition is on the verge of extinction.

Now this is 13th century BC Mycenaean plaster head, currently in National Archaeological Museum Athens. 

Mycenaean civilisation was the last phase of the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece, spanning the period from approximately 1600–1100 BC. It is the period into which the Trojan war is now placed by the Archaeologists. 

This is the recreation of Helen of Troy's maquillage based on the above plaster head.

Looks familiar?

How is it possible that two tiny enclaves of the Islamised Slavs in the Balkans have preserved this at least 3000 years old wedding custom? This is extremely rare custom and I believe that the only explanation for its survival is that has been passed from generation to generation within related families, clans, tribes. The tribes which today call themselves Gorani and Pomak... 

But maybe this was a cultural acquisition, something that Slavs borrowed from Greeks or Romans or someone else. In that case we should have a record of this custom within Balkan population of the last 2000 years. Does anyone knows of any such records?

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Rooster day

In Bulgaria, the 2nd of February is known as Petlovden (Rooster Day). On this day a special ritual is performed that is intended to insure fertility and health of young boys. 

The day before Rooster Day, the house is cleaned, washed and whitewashed. 

In the morning the oldest woman in the house would catch a healthy and virile bright coloured (in some areas black) rooster specifically grown or purchased to be sacrificed on this day. 

She would slaughter the rooster on the house threshold (sometimes on the house compound gate) and would make sure to splatter its blood on the door (gate) as well. 

Young boys were then invited to touch the knife or the axe with which the rooster was killed. The rooster's head was then used to draw a bloody sign of a cross on the house wall. 

Blood mark (cross) was also smeared on the foreheads of the young boys. 

The rooster's body was roasted and eaten at the evening feast. The rooster's head was stuck on the house gate or the yard fence with the beak pointing outwords.

In some parts of Bulgaria (the villages of Golitsa, Kozichino, Solnik, Dobri dol...) Petlovden is directly linked with Babinden (The midwife day) the celebration of birth givers. In the village of Kozichino ethnographers were told that "Petlovden is like Babinden, except that you kill a cock". In this part of Bulgaria, in the evening of the Rooster day, women of the village would gather in the house of the oldest woman and have a party. No married woman without kids was allowed to attend the party. At the beginning of the party, the oldest woman would take the burning candle from the feast cake and puts it under young women's skirts "so that they will have male children". The rest of the evening the women would spend eating and drinking and singing lewd songs.