Tuesday 26 April 2016

Herb Friday

"БИЉАНИ ПЕТАК је испред Ђурђевдана. По веровању, многе биљке ноћу уочи овога дана стичу лековитост. Зато се биље почиње брати још у току ноћи. Убране биљке дају се стоци о Ђурђевдану и Спасовдану, а неке се суше и чувају за лек. У селу Дубокој, у пределу Звижду, на Биљани петак окупљао се народ пред сеоском пећином. Женскиње је доносило лековито пољско биље, а мушкарци су уносили у пећину дрва и ложили велику ватру. Пред пећином се обедовало, а у њој се проводио дан у општем весељу. "

"Herb Friday is the last Friday before St Georges day. People in Serbia believed that during the night before Herb Friday, the medicinal herbs acquire their medicinal properties. This is why people went out into meadows during that night to gather medicinal herbs which were then given to livestock on St Georges day to keep them healthy and fertile. Some of the herbs were also dried and kept for medicinal use for both animals and humans. 

In the village of Duboko, in the Zvižd region, people gathered on the Herb Friday in front of a "village cave". Women would bring medicinal herbs and men would bring wood. All that was placed inside the cave and a big fire was lit. While the fire was burning inside the cave, people had a feast in front of the cave, and would spend the rest of the day celebrating in front of the cave."

Source "Srbski mitoloski recnik, grupa autora"

This custom is the remnant of the belief in Mother Earth. Caves were seen as wombs of the Mother Earth, and lighting of the fire inside the cave symbolizes lighting of the reproductive fire. You know when we say that a girl is "hot". That kind of fire. The fire that burns inside women which are ready to mate. Who are "in heat"... The villagers in Duboko (which by the way means "deep, dept"), were just helping Mother Earth in her "hotting up", in her transformation from an old ugly cold hag Morana, the winter earth, into a young, pretty, hot chick, Vesna, the spring earth. As I said in my post about the flower girls, April is the month when Mother Earth, in her youthful incarnation of Vesna, is coming of age, is getting beautiful and "hot" again. She is opening all her flowers and is ready to mate. And her mate is Jarilo, the young hot sun, who arrives on the 6th of May, the first day of summer. 

Sunday 24 April 2016

Flower girls

Cvetonosnice, Lazarice - flower girls

Palm Sunday, the last Sunday before Easter, is in Serbia called "Cveti, Cvetna nedelja", meaning "Flower Sunday". Originally this was the last week before Jarilo day, the 6th of May, which was the last week of Spring. The week which ends with the Flower Sunday is in Serbia called "Cvetna Nedelja" meaning "flower Sunday" or "Lazareva nedelja" meaning "Lazarus sunday". 

During this week, young girls in Serbia, who came of age (got their first period), would undergo an initiation ceremony which would turn them from children into young women ready to be married. The girls taking part in this ceremony were called Lazarice. In Serbia it was believed that every girl had to take part in Lazarice ceremony or "some misfortune will befall her". It was also believed that every girl had to take part in Lazarice ceremony at least three times. This was probably the way to protect young girls from getting married too early. 

As part of this initiation ceremony, young girls would get up before dawn. They would form a group of at least 6 girls. The oldest, tallest and the most beautiful girl in the group was called Lazar. The second oldest was called Lazarica. The next two were called the front girls and the last two were called the back girls. Lazar and Lazarica were girls who were taking part in the ceremony for the third and the last time. The front girls were girls which were taking part in the ceremony for the second time. And the back girls were girls which were taking part in the ceremony for the first time. The girls would gather in the house of the oldest girl in the group, Lazar, where they would be dressed into their best clothes. In their preparation they would be helped by the Lazar's mother. They would then go to a spring where they would sing and dance and would then wish good morning to the spring water. Spring water is in Serbia called "živa voda" (live water, water of life) and is believed to have magic properties. Spring is seen as a place where fertile Mother Earth releases her "water of life" in the same way that a fertile woman releases her menstrual blood, female "water of life". In this way the spring water is magically linked with the menstrual blood. So no wonder that the spring is the first stop of the Lazarice group, the group of girls whose "water of life has started to run" (who got their period).  After this ritual, the girls would go to meadows to pick wild flowers. They would use these flowers to make wreaths which they would wear on their heads during their initiation procession through the village land and the village. They would first walk through the fields, forests, meadows belonging to the village, and would sing fertility songs wishing nature to be fertile and bountiful. After walking through all the village land, the Lazarice girls would return to the house of the oldest girl, Lazar. There, they would be greeted by the Lazar's mother, who would shower them with wheat, symbol of fertility and rebirth, in the same way a bride is showered with wheat as she enters the grooms house. The girls would then kiss Lazar's mother's hand and would enter the house, where they would have breakfast. Lazar's mother would then give them money and hard boiled eggs, another symbol of fertility and rebirth. After this Lazarice would go on a procession through the village. During the procession, they would sing fertility songs and dance. They would stop in front of every house, and would wish the people in the house fertile, bountiful and happy year. In return the hosts would give them small presents and food for gratitude. 

This ceremony is the celebration of Vesna, the young Earth, one of the three heads of Troglava, Dajbaba, Mother Earth, the other two being Mokoš and Morana. Vesna, young Earth is in April "coming of age". The snow and ice has melted and the springs are gushing with fresh spring water of life. The meadows are blooming and the earth is decorated with flowers. It is getting ready for marriage with young sun, Jarilo, who arrives on the 6th of May, Jarilo day, which is today known as St Georges day. On that day, the Young Earth, Vesna, and the Young Sun, Jarilo, are married. Just like a girl, a young woman, a bride, is deflowered on her wedding night by her husband, and becomes a woman, a mother, so is Vesna, the Young Earth, the Girl Earth, the Young Woman Earth, deflowered at the end of Spring by her husband Jarilo, the Young Sun and she becomes Mokoš, the Woman Earth, the Mother Earth and the summer, the fertile part of the year begins....

Documentary showing the reenactment of the Lazarice ceremony in Serbia.

Sunday 17 April 2016

Majka Božja Krasanska

Holy Mary chapel on Krasno hill

This is the Church of the Ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary which stands on Krasanski brijeg (Krasno hill) near the village of Krasno in the area of the North Velebit. There is a local legend which tells the story about how and why the church was built where it was built. This legend is very interesting and I believe very important because it is an allegory which contains, in one paragraph, the history of Christianization of Velebit population. 

This is the full text of the legend:

"Where the church stands today, there once used to be a thick old (oak) forest. In this forest local shepherds used to shelter from the heat of the summer. One day they saw a rose growing out of an old tree stump and in this rose they saw the image of Virgin Mary. The shepherds picked the rose and brought it to Krasno village. As there was still no Catholic church in Krasno, they took the rose to the "Greek" chapel in Krasno field. But the rose didn't want to stay in the "Greek" chapel. The next time the shepherds came to the oak forest, the rose was back growing from the same old stump. Then shepherds took the rose to another church in Kosinj, but the rose didn't want to stay there either. The next time the shepherds came to the oak forest, the rose was back growing from the same old stump. So shepherds realized that the Virgin Mary wants to stay in the Oak forest. So they built a stone altar over the old tree stump and the rose and then they built a stone chapel around it. "

Now here is what I believe this story actually means:

Where the church stands today, there once was a holly (oak?) grove where local pagan population worshiped the Mother Earth. Then during the early Medieval time, the Christian missionaries, which belonged to the "Greek" church tried to convert the pagans into Christianity. These "Greeks" were either pre Schism Roman Christians or post Schism Eastern Orthodox Christians which were by Catholics called  "Grko-istocnjački šizmatici (Greek eastern schismatics).  So these "Greeks" built a church in Krasno and for a while people may have even (probably just nominally) accepted Christianity. Anyway this first conversion ultimately failed and the local people returned to their old ways, and worshiping of the old gods in the holy (oak?) grove. The return to paganism probably happened because of the disintegration of the Roman power in the Balkans during the Arrival of the Slavs and the creation of the Slavic Early Medieval states. Another attempt to Chrisitanize the local highland population was made, this time by the Catholic church, probably during the Hungarian rule, but that also failed. People again returned to their old ways. This probably happened because of the Turkish invasion and occupation. Finally after the Turks were expelled from the area, the Catholic church which moved in made another final attempt to Christianize the local population. This time they realized that in order to "Christianize" the local population, they had to Christianize the old pagan temple and the old pagan god(s) to which the temple was dedicated. And this is exactly what they did. Basically the old goddess (Baba, Mother Earth) was converted into the new equivalent Christian character (Virgin Mary, The mother of god) and the chapel of the Virgin Mary was built on top of the old temple. Why do I think that the original temple was dedicated to Baba, Mother Earth? In my post "Shepherd's chapels from Velebit" I already described how old temples dedicated to Baba, Mother Earth in South Velebit were converted to the churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Because the same shepherd population lived everywhere on Velebit, I believe that the people in the North Velebit also worshiped Baba, Mother Earth and that the same thing happened with her temple here in Krasno. 

How important this old Pagan center was, can be seen from the fact that the newly built Church of the Ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary became the most important center of the Marian cult in Croatia. Basically the local people continued flocking to the old (new) temple, to pray to the old (new) Goddess...

Well this is what I think. What do you think?


"Usmena predaja o gradnji crkve svete Marije u Krasnu" by Ante Glavičić

Saturday 16 April 2016

Tree of life

I have been thinking about something today. 

Is a father's sperm part of the father when it is inside of his body? What about when the sperm leaves his body? Does it stop being part of the father? Is mother's egg part of the mother when it is inside of the mother's body? What about the baby that develops from the father's sperm and the mother's egg? Is it part of the father and the mother? After all it is just an outgrowth of their cells. Is this baby part of the mother when it is inside of the mother's body? What about when it leaves the mother's body? Does it stop being part of the mother?

Our own body cells change completely every 7 years or so. Yet we are still calling ourselves ourselves. Why? Well one of the reasons is that the genetic material in the new cells is the same as in our old cells. And that we have a continuation of the awareness of ourselves, the continuous experience of ourselves.

The genes of our children are the same as our genes, a combination of the mother's and father's genes. They are the continuation of the development of our genes. Basically our children are the physical, genetic continuation of us. Also, our children, through life with us, through the fact that they are being molded by the life with us, become through their awareness of us a continuation of our own awareness of ourselves. We pass onto our children our own experience, our memories, our knowledge, in the same way our parents passed their experience, their memories, their knowledge onto us. So where do we stop and our children start? Every new generation is just a next branch of the same family, clan, tribe, race, species tree. Our children are like new buds of the same ancient family tree. And as long as new children are being born this family tree continues to live.

But if we go even further back in time we realize that we are just part of an even older tree of life whose root is buried somewhere even deeper in the past and whose branches we all, all living beings, are.

Our ancestors actually knew all this, or at least had some kind of awareness of this.

This is where ancestor worship in general comes from. And this is where the worship of the mother earth and the father sky, the ultimate expression of this ancestor worship, comes from.

This is where our inbuilt need to procreate, to insure the continuation of ourselves, but ultimately to insure the continuous growth of the tree of life comes from.

This is where our belief in karma comes from too. Every new generation is a new incarnation of the same family tree. Every new generation gets a chance to develop into something new and beautiful. But every generation is constricted by the fact that it is growing on the branches, which grow on the trunk, whose roots reach deep deep into the past. And the energy used for the growth of the new buds is drawn through these roots. Every new generation is in effect a new manifestation of the accumulation of the experiences of all the previous generations. And each new generation or incarnation,  adds new experiences to the ever growing collection of the experiences of the living family tree. Experiences which are then passed onto the next generation or incarnation... 

The latest genetic and epigenetic research has shown that this cumulative experience, the things we do or are done to us, thing we feel, we think. actually affect our genes and all this experience is recorded in our genes. These changes are passed on to our children and will greatly affect their lives. The more bad epigenetic changes we accumulate, the sicker our family tree will get. Our children will suffer, but this is basically our own suffering. Equally the more good epigenetic changes we accumulate, the healthier our family tree will get. Our children will prosper, but this is basically our own prosperity.  Because our children are just our next incarnation, the next incarnation of the family tree which is part of the great tree of life...

Finally this is also where the belief that we are all one comes from too. Because ultimately we are all part of one tree of life, on huge growing, ever changing ancient living organism. 

Doing good to yourself, your fellow human beings and the world in general makes a lot more sense now, don't you think?

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Shepherd's chapels from Velebit

In my post about the Indian Summer, which is in Central Europe called Babje Leto (Grandmother's summer), I showed that the beliefs related to Babje Leto (Grandmother's summer), show that the old Mother Goddess, Mother Earth, Baba, was with the arrival of Christianity replaced with Mary, the Holy Mother of Christianity. 

In this post I will talk about the shepherd's chapels from Mount Velebit in Croatia. They offer us even more direct proof of the replacement of the Mother Goddess, Mother Earth, Baba with Mary, the Holy Mother.

Alpine transhumance is a seasonal droving of grazing livestock between the valleys in winter and the high mountain pastures in summer. Transhumance is a traditional practice that has shaped much of the landscape in the Alps, as without it, most areas below 2,000 m would be forests. The exactly the same type of practice existed once on Dinaric Alps

This is the highland pasture area called Jezera (Lakes) on mountain Velebit in Croatia. This is the area where in the past people living around the mountain used to bring flocks of sheep and goats and herds of  cows to spend the hot summers grazing on a good green highland grass. 

Jezera plateau
Jezera plateau
Each large grazing area had pre Christian shepherd's temples with sacrificial altar. These pagan temples were later turned into Christian churches, locally known as "stočarske kapelice" (shepherd's chapels). The oldest one is the shepherd's chapel in Jezera (Lakes) plateau grazing area. There on top of the "Goli hrbat" (Naked back), at the height of 1470 m above the sea level, lie in complete isolation ruins of an ancient sacral building with dimension 10 x 5 meters. The stone walls, which were built using dry wall building technique, were 1.3 meters thick. The most unusual thing about this chapel is the altar stone. The altar is actually bedrock, which existed there before the church was built. Bedrock is in the Balkans known as "kamen živac, živi kamen, živa stena" (living stone, living rock) and is venerated as sacred. They are called so, because they are believed to be still part of the living body of the Mother Earth. These types of stones are also known as "baba" stones. The fact that the altar stone was carved out of bedrock shows that this was an ancient pre Christian altar stone which was later encased inside of the Christian church, surrounded by the thick church walls in order to have it's "evil" power contained.

Remains of the old shepherd's chapel

There is something very interesting about this church though. In his article: "Nekateri topografski vidiki obrednih mest [Some Topographic Aspects of Ritual Places ]" Andrej Pleterski says:
"One of the diagonals of the church is aligned exactly to the east west line. The longitudinal axis of the church has azimuth of 123,5° (angle from geographic north). This means that the church is oriented towards the local point of the Christmas sunrise. Therefore, it is very likely that the original orientation of the pagan temple which was replaced with the church, was towards the winter solstice sunrise."

Was this an ancient solar observatory used for determining the beginning of the solar year? In order to carve the shepherd's solar year calendars that I wrote about in this post....

The church which is now the only visible structure in the area was once surrounded by a large summer shepherd's settlement which is in the Balkans called "stan" or "katun" or "tor". This settlement even had an artificial lake made from a converted sink hole. The bottom of the sink hole was paved with large stone plates and a stone wall was built along the perimeter, turning the sink hole into a giant cistern. This is why the area was known as Jezera (Lakes). Every year on the 15th of August, on the day of the Assumption of Mary, shepherd's had a large festival with a fair which was organized in the area around the holy Baba stone and later the church dedicated to Holy Mary. On that day, all the sheep, goats and cattle had to be gathered and brought to the pens and corals before 10 am in the morning, because that was the time when the holy mass started. After the mass, a special meal was prepared. Every family would kill (sacrifice) a lamb or a young goat, which was then cooked in a broth. This soup was then brought to the church where a communal meal would take place.

The shepherd's chapel in Jezera (Lakes) area is not the only Christian chapel built around an ancient bedrock altar stone. There used to be another one on "Veliko Rujno" (Big Rujno) plateau.

Veliko Rujno
But today the only thing left is the original bedrock altar - Baba. The stones from the old church which once encased this old pagan altar were used to build a new church dedicated to Holy Mary in 1930 and which stands 50 meters away from the old altar stone.

Veliko Rujno chapel
Next to old bedrock altar lies a large stone slab. The locals say that this slab marks "the grave of an innocent child". Every year on the 15th of August, on the day of the Assumption of Mary the shepherd's used to drive their flocks over this slab in order to cleanse them from decease and evil.

Near by is another highland plateau called "Malo Rujno" (Little Rujno).

Malo Rujno

On it there is a similar stone block which local shepherd's called "Baba". On the arrival, shepherd women used to bring food offerings and leave them on the stone. They also used to lite candles on the stone on various holy days. The stone was also known as "the altar".

According to the local informer Dara Babac :) , who was 80 years old when she was interviewed, Baba stone on Malo Rujno was blessed by a priest from Lika region, and this is why this stone is also called Babin kuk (Baba's stone, kuk being another word for rock, boulder) or Popov kuk (Priest's stone). Women who couldn't have children were praying to the Baba stone to help them to stay pregnant and give birth to a healthy child. During this prayer they were kissing the stone. After the second world war, the stone lost it's cultic importance, but the act of kissing the Baba stone was transferred to kissing any old woman. Young girls which were earlier urged to kiss the Baba stone "for their own good" were urged to kiss any old woman that they see, also "for their own good". The kissing ritual was also transferred from the Baba stone to its Christian replacement, the statue of the Holy Mary. During the prayer in the chapel on Veliko Rujno, women circled the altar on their knees. At the end of the prayer they would kiss the feet and the dress of the statue. They were also kissing the picture of the Holy Mary during the procession which circled the church.

Another ancient shepherd's chapel on Velebit mountain lies at the end of the "Grabov dol" (hornbeam valley) on the edge of the "Mala Paklenica" (Small hell) gorge.

Mala Paklenica

The chapel was dedicated to the shepherd's saint, Saint Jacob. Today the chapel lies in ruins. Please note the statue of Mary placed inside the church ruins.

Saint Jacob chapel

Another shepherd's chapel used to stand in the near by Libinje plateau, under Sveto brdo (Holy hill).

Libinje plateau
The chapel was dedicated to st Antun, but about 20 years ago the last trace of this chapel have disappeared. This is another place where shepherd's used to have their gathering, mass and fair immediately after the arrival on the mountain in the spring. The chapel was surrounded with stone sheep pens where the flocks were kept during the ceremonies. The sheep pens were made using the same dry wall building technique used to build the chapel.

I actually believe that both of these last two chapels, the one dedicated to St Jacob and the other one dedicated to St Antun, were originally dedicated to Holy Mary and were only later "rechristened". The same was done with the chapel on Jezera, which is today called the chapel of St Antun, even though it is known from interviews with the locals, that the church was originally dedicated to the Holy Mary...Is this being done to remove the link between the original Baba worship and its Christian replacement, the worship of the Holy Mary? I believe so. 

The fact that Baba (stone, mountain, earth) was specially venerated on Velebit can be seen from a large number of toponyms with the root Baba which are found in immediate vicinity (20 km radius)

Babin kuk (Baba's hip or baba's rock), Bobički kuk (Baba's hip or baba's rock), Babin kamen (žrtvenik), Babino jezero (Baba's lake), 3 mountain tops called Babin vrh (Baba's peak), Babino brdo (Baba's hill), Babin dolac (Baba's valley), Babino vrelo (Baba's well), Babac, Babica,

So what happened after the local population was Christianized? The same area became the most important center of the Marian cult. Coincidence?


It seems that the shepherd's from south Velebit, both Orthodox and Catholic, preserved many pre-Christian traditions, customs and ceremonies until the mid 20th century. The most important set of these pagan rituals is linked to the veneration of the Mother Goddess, the female symbol of fertility and wealth - Baba, Mother Earth. These rituals were performed on and around protruding amorphous lumps of bedrock which are in this region, as well as in many other parts of the Balkans, known as Baba stones, like this one.  

The fact that the same type of veneration was directed towards these stones by both Catholics on Veliko Rujno plateau and by Orthodox Christians and Muslims on Malo Rujno plateau, shows that this custom predates the arrival of Christianity and Islam.

What is interesting is that with the arrival of Christianity, the veneration of Baba, Mother Goddess, Mother Earth was replaced with the veneration of the Holy Mary...


"Mitske predaje i legende južnovelebitskog Podgorja" by Mirjana Trošelj

"Nekateri topografski vidiki obrednih mest [Some Topographic Aspects of Ritual Places" by  Pleterski, Andrej

"Deruralizacija južnog Velebita – aspekti života velebitskih Podgoraca u prvoj polovini XX. stoljeća" by Anita Bušljeta