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. 

Sunday 27 January 2019


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

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

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

In my article "Pagan games" I talked about the origin of Hurling. 

This is the last article about the European "stick and ball" games. 

There is a whole series of folk stick and (loosely speaking) ball games recorded across Europe which can be described with these three sentences:

1. One person is throwing the ball towards another person who is trying to bat it away
2. One person is batting the ball away from himself, while the other person is trying to catch it
3. One person is defending the target (a stump of a tree) with a bat while another person is trying to hit the target with a ball

These folk games differed over time, place, and culture, resulting in similar yet variant forms. They had no standard documented rules and instead were played according to historical customs. They tended to be played by working classes, peasants, and children. These games were often associated with earlier religious ceremonies and worship rituals and became discouraged and even altogether prohibited by subsequent governing states and religious authorities.

I will here list the known variants of these games:


Stoolball is attested by name as early as 1450. Nearly all medieval references describe it as a game played during Easter celebrations.

In stoolball, one player throws the ball at a target while another player defends the target. Originally, the target was defended with a bare hand. Later, a bat of some kind was used (in modern stoolball, a bat like a very heavy table tennis paddle is used). "Stob-ball" and "stow-ball" were regional games similar to stoolball. What the target originally was in stoolball is not certain; it was possibly a tree stump, since "stob" and "stow" all mean stump in some local dialects.

There were several versions of stoolball. In the earliest versions, the object was primarily to defend the stool. Successfully defending the stool counted for one point, and the batter was out if the ball hit the stool. There was no running involved. Another version of stoolball involved running between two stools, and scoring was similar to the scoring in cricket. In perhaps yet another version there were several stools, and points were scored by running around them as in baseball.

When Englishmen came to America, they brought stoolball with them. William Bradford in his diary for Christmas Day, 1621, noted (with disapproval) how the men of Plymouth were "frolicking in þe street, at play openly; some pitching þe barre, some at stoole-ball and shuch-like sport". Because of the different versions of stoolball, and because it was played not only in England, but also in colonial America, stoolball is considered by many to have been the basis of not only cricket, but both baseball and rounders as well.


The history of cricket prior to 1650 is something of a mystery. Games believed to have been similar to cricket had developed by the 13th century. There was a game called "creag", and another game, "Handyn and Handoute" (Hands In and Hands Out), which was made illegal in 1477 by King Edward IV, who considered the game childish, and a distraction from compulsory archery practice.

References to a game actually called "cricket" appeared around 1550. It is believed that the word cricket is based either on the word cric, meaning a crooked stick possibly a shepherd's crook (early forms of cricket used a curved bat somewhat like a hockey stick)

Trap ball

In trap ball, played in England since the 14th century, a ball was thrown in the air, to be hit by a batsman and fielded. In some variants a member of the fielding team threw the ball in the air; in some, the batter tossed it himself as in fungo; in others, the batsman caused the ball to be tossed in the air by a simple lever mechanism: versions of this, called bat and trap and Knurr and spell, are still played in some English pubs. In trap-ball there was no running, instead the fielders attempted to throw the ball back to within a certain distance of the batter's station. Trap-ball may be the origin of the concept of foul lines; in most variants the ball had to be hit between two posts to count.


Lapta is a stick and ball game which has been played in Russia since at least early medieval time. Lapta accessories, such as wooden bats and felt balls dated back to the 14th century were found by archeologists in Veliky Novgorod. No festival or holiday in Russia could pass without Lapta.

Lapta is played by two teams of 5 to 12 players each on a level ground about 30 to 70 m long.  One team is considered to be “batsmen” and another stands for “taggers”.  One of the taggers throws the ball at the batsmen. A batsman tries to hit the ball as far as possible. While the taggers are trying to get the ball, the batsman runs across the field to the opposite side of the field and then back again. Once the taggers get the ball, they try to hit the running batsman who tries to avoid being hit.  Each successful run earns points points to the batsmen team. A team wins by either getting more points during the scheduled time or by having all its players complete runs.


Palant is a Polish stick and ball game which dates back to the Middle Ages  Palant is played by two teams of 8-15 players, for 10 or 15 minutes twice. The players select priority to start the game by, for instance, throwing coins. The playing field is a rectangle, 50 metres by 25 metres. Players of one team take their places behind the nest line, while the players of the other team stand in the field and behind it. Points are scored only by the team inside the nest. One by one, the team members hit the ball from the nest with the palant (a wooden bat) aiming to strike it as far as possible into the field and then run, ideally to come back to the nest to score. The striker gains points if he can do this before the “field players” (catchers) catch the ball and throw it back behind the nest line. The player can do it in four parts reaching particular bases (points A, B or C) and stopping if necessary, or at a time. If the ball hasn't left the field yet, the striker can do it at a time. The higher scorer is the winner.


The game "šore" (batting) was once played all over Banat region of Serbia. The game is played in the same way as Russian Lapta. It was originally only played for Easter...


Oină is a Romanian traditional sport, similar in many ways to baseball and lapta. The oldest mentions  of the game come from the 14th century.

The game begins with the team at bat, with one of the players throwing the ball while another player of the same team has to hit it with a wooden bat ("bâtă") and send it as far as he can towards the opponents field. After that, if the ball is caught by the opponents, the player has to run along the marked lanes on the field to reach the end line without being hit by the opponents.

What is very interesting is the etymology of the name "oină". It was originally "hoina", and is derived from the Cuman word oyn "game" (a cognate of Turkish oyun). Why is this interesting will become obvious soon. 


This game, otherwise unknown, was described in an unpublished 17th-century monograph on games by Francis Willoughby, which included rules for over 130 pastimes including stool-ball and stow-ball. It is significant in that it involved both a bat and base-running, although it was played with a wooden cat rather than a ball and the multiple "bases" were holes in the ground: the batter reached safety by putting the end of his bat in a hole before the fielders could put the cat in it. This has echoes in cricket's manner of scoring runs by touching the bat to the ground across the crease before the fielders can hit the nearby wicket with the ball.

Finally there is a game which is played from England to India under various names: Tip cat (England),  Tchizh/Siskin (Russia), Gulli Danda (India), Klis (Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia)... All these games are played with two sticks: a small one 10 to 15 cm long pointed on both ends, and a stick 60 to 80 cm long.

This is the most primitive stick and "ball" game inasmuch that it is played with a sharpened stick and not a ball. 

Tip cat

This is an English game, also called cat, cat and dog, one-a-cat, pussy, or piggy. 

Using the stick, the player shouts "Catty" and shoots the catty (short pointy stick) as far as possible from the base. The base is a small hole over which the catty had been placed. The stick placed under the catty helps shoot it forwards.

The fielders try to catch the catty as it flies through the air. If the fielders catch the catty the player is out and the fielder who makes the catch then becomes the player.

If a clean catch is not made, the stick is laid across the "catty hole" and the fielder who retrieves the catty throws it from the spot where it landed to try and hit the stick. If the catty hits the stick the player is out and the fielder becomes the player.

If the catty does not hit the stick the player then strikes the catty on one of its pointed ends with the stick. This causes the catty to shoot up in the air - when it is up in the air the player tries to strike it with the stick and drive it forward.

This is repeated three times - if skilfully done the catty should be sent forward 20-30 yards. Fielders again try to catch the catty.

The stick is then laid across the catty hole and the player estimates how many strides are needed to get from the catty hole to the stick.

One of the fielders tries to cover the distance in this number of strides. If he succeeds the player is out. If he fails the estimate is added to the players score. The player tries to make his estimate large enough to gain a good score, but not so large that he will be out.

Tchizh (Siskin)

This Russian game is played with “tchizh/siskin”, i.e. round stick 10 to 15 cm long and 2 to 3 cm over, pointed on both ends, and “lapta” – a stick 60 to 80 cm long, with one end squared to make it more convenient to hold in hand. A square (“home”) up to 1 m large is drawn on a playground and put tchiz in the middle. One player is a batsman and others are catchers that stand in line at the edge of the playground. The batsman strikes tchizh to go up in the air, and with the second blow tries to beat it off far away. A catcher tries to catch it. If he is success with that, he gains one score and the right to replace the batsman, who stands in line of catchers. If the catcher fails to get the flying “siskin”, he has to throw it from its falling place into “home”, whereas the batsman beats it off with lapta. In Ukraine the game is known as chizhik (чижик)

Gulli Danda

This Indian game is played with two sticks: a large one called a danda, which is used to hit a smaller one, the gilli. Gilli Danda is known by various other names in India. Standing in a small circle, the player balances the gilli on a stone in an inclined manner (somewhat like a see-saw) with one end of the gilli touching the ground while the other end is in the air. The player then uses the danda to hit the gilli at the raised end, which flips it into the air. While it is in the air, the player strikes the gilli, hitting it as far as possible. Having struck the gilli, the player is required to run and touch a pre-agreed point outside the circle before the gilli is retrieved by an opponent. This aspect of the game is similar to runs in cricket or home-runs in baseball.

In Azerbaijan, a similar game is called Çilingağac (Chilingaghaj).
In Galicia (Spain), a similar game is called billarda.
In Catalonia and the Valencian Community, a similar game is called bòlit.
In Italy a similar game known as "Lippa", "Lipe", "Tirolo"
In Poland a similar game is known, called Klipa
In Slovenia a similar game is known as pandolo

In Serbia this game is known as "Klis".

This game has been played all over Balkans specifically in areas inhabited by Serbs. 

To define which team starts first, two players (one per team) stack their hands up one after another, bottom-up on a vertically positioned stick. The team whose player’s hand covers top of the stick begins the game. This exact same rule exists in Lapta, Šore and Oină.

The game starts by batter tipping "klis" (a tip-cat) up into the air with "pala" (a stick, bat), while the opponent tries to catch it before it hits the ground. If the opponent succeeds, the roles are changed. If not, the attacker defends the trunk with his stick from the opponent who throws the tip-cat from where it fell on the ground at the trunk. If the opponent hits the target, the attacker who tipped the tip-cat is out and his teammates have the right to throw the tip-cat.

If the tip-cat falls close to the trunk (up to the length of the stick), the game continues and the player who was throwing the tip-cat, throws again. If the tip-cat falls on the ground farther than the length of the stick, then the player who was defending the trunk measures the distance from the trunk to the tip-cat in stick lengths. The number of stick lengths represents the awarded score. The team whose player manages to defend the trunk and hit the tip-cat gets points and the right to throw the tip-cat again.

The game is played till one of the teams reaches the agreed number of points.

Now here is, to me, the most interesting bit about this game. In Serbian parts of Balkans this game is called "klis". This word has no meaning or etymology in Slavic languages. 


In the Irish-English Dictionary - University College Cork we find this:

cleas, -a, pl. id. and -anna, and clis, m., a play, a game, sport; a feat, device, trick; craft; art,
science; cleas do dhéanadh, cleas d'imirt ar, to play a trick on; an cleas céadna do
dhéanamh leis, to do the same thing with it, to treat it in the same manner.
cleasach, -aighe, a., tricky, wily, playful; ingenious.
cleasacht, -a, f., sport, pastime.
cleasaidheacht, -a, f., playing, pastime, illusion, sleight-of-hand, frolic, subtility, trick.
cleasradh, -aidh, m., device; sport, game, amusement, sleight; acting. juggling
cleasuidhe, g. id., pl. -dhthe, m., an artful man, an actor, a juggler, a quack, a mountebank; a
tugger (Om.).
cleasuighim, -ughadh, v. tr. and intr., I sport, play, gambol, perform feats.

And in Focloir gaeilge bearla O Donaill we find that: 

clis is the plural of cleas

Now remember how Romanian game "oină" was originally "hoina", a word derived from the Cuman word "oyn" meaning "game"? 

It seems that the Serbian word "klis" is of Gaelic origin and literally means "games, sports, feats, tricks". 

How old is this word? According to official history, Celtic languages were last time spoken in the Balkans in the 4th and 3rd century BC when Celts invaded Balkans on their way to Galatia. Did they bring this game with them and somehow both the game and the name survived in the mountain of the Balkans until this day? Preserved by the descendant of the Scordisci? 

Wednesday 16 January 2019

New house

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

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

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

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

Finally, the testing of whether a location was good for building a house included the rolling of  bread. In Levač and Temnić, if the rolled bread fell on “its head”, it was considered that the location was advantageous for building a new house...

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


It was believed that someone from the family will soon die after they move into the new house, because every house wants to have its protective spirit, which is the spirit of the first person to die in the house.  

To prevent this from happening, during the move, people made sure that a rooster was the first to cross the doorstep of the new house. This was done so that the rooster would "drive the evils spirits out". 


But straight after the rooster entered the house, he caught and was then killed on the doorstep, (the seat of the dead) by the man of the house...

Cockerel's blood was then sprinkled on the outside walls and into all four corners of the house, and his head was buried under the fireplace, the seat of the domestic cult.

What is very interesting here is that there are many indications that sacrificing a cockerel was among serbs a replacement for a human sacrifice...I talked about this in my post "Cock bashing" and "The third death"...

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


The sourdough starter, was by Serbs possibly associated with the (protective) ancestor (spirit). Maybe because the starter was passed from generation to generation...This could be why Serbs believe that when moving from an old house to a new house, the starter in the old house should be destroyed and a new starter should be made for the new house...

After the fire was lit, new bread was made. This new bread was then broken and eaten by the members of the family dipped into salt, a traditional welcome offering. After that all the other things are brought in. 

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

Sunday 13 January 2019

Pagan games

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

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

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

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

In this article I will talk about the origin of Hurling :)

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

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

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

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

There is a problem with this chronology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This game is still puzzling the Irish historians:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But more about this in my next post.

Sunday 6 January 2019


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

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

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

According to the old tradition, Badnjak (Yule log) is cut early on Christmas Eve, before sunrise. When the head of the household finds a suitable tree, a young straight oak full of golden leaves, he stands in front of it facing east. This shows that the Badnjak oak is directly connected with the sun and the solar cult. The head of the household then throws some wheat at the Badnjak as a sacrifice. This shows that the Badnjak oak is also directly linked to the grain agriculture which is directly dependent on the sun...After throwing grain at the tree, the head of the household greets it with the words "Good morning and happy Christmas Eve to you". He then says the prayer, makes the sign of the cross and kisses the tree. The tree is sometimes addressed as "Holy Badnjak". The head of the household may also explain to the tree why it will be cut: "I have come to you to take you to my home, to be my faithful helper to every progress and improvement, in the house, i the pen, in the field, and in every place". The fact that the Badnjak Oak is directly addressed, and it is addressed as a being of power, shows that the oak tree was itself regarded as sacred or even as a deity in its own right. The head of the household then cuts the tree slantwise on its eastern side, using an axe. Some men put their gloves on before they cut the tree, and from that moment on, never touch Badnjak with their bare hands. The tree once cut should fall to the east, unhindered by surrounding trees. It must not be left half-cut as then it will curse the house and the man who cut it. In some regions, if the tree is not cut down after the third blow of the axe, then it must be pulled and twisted until its trunk breaks. The resulting Badnjak has a so called "beard", the part of the trunk at which it broke off from the base of the tree. This is considered a good luck. In Šumadija, half of the circular loaf of bread, which is especially made for this purpose, is left on the stump, the other half being eaten on the way home...This is the second wheat sacrifice made to the Badnjak, and another indication of the direct link between Badnjak and grain agriculture...In some regions, the stump is covered with moss and dry leaves, and it is visited again in the spring. The stump sprouting through the cover is an omen of good luck and prosperity...

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

1. Finding young oak

2. Saying prayer

3. Sharing bread with the oak

4. Sharing brandy with the oak

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

6. Kissing of the oak

7. Cutting of the oak

 8. Carrying

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Once placed on the fireplace, it is imperative that Yule logs burn all through the Christmas Night, or bad luck would befall the family. Watching over Yule logs (Badnjaks), 1937 village Stragari, Jasenica, Central Serbia.

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

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