Sunday 31 March 2019

Umm ali

How easy or difficult is it for a single person to change people's culture? 

Umm Ali

Umm Ali is a famous Egyptian dessert. When well prepared, is one of the best - and more calorific - desserts you will ever feast on. Puff pastry, pistachios, almonds, pine nuts, condensed milk (or just full fat milk with cream) all cooked to a golden crisp in the oven. When the golden crisp is broken, it reveals lots of other melt-in-your-mouth yummy stuff added inside that forms a sweet bread-pudding-like milky mush. 

The name "Umm Ali" means "Mother of Ali" in Arabic. The true origin of the Umm Ali dessert is unknown. In Cairo, you may hear it is from Upper Egypt, while in Upper Egypt you may here that it is from Cairo. 

But believe it or not, the origin of this dessert could actually be Ireland. 

One of the legends relating the origin of this dessert says that the name Umm Ali comes from O'Malley. Mss O'Malley was an Irish nurse. She was in Egypt and caught the eye of the ruler, Khedive Ismail (Isma'il Pasha), who was the ruller of Egypt in the 19th century. 

Ismail was in love with all things European. So he fell in love with Mss O'Malley too. She became his mistress and made a bread and butter pudding for him, which he loved so much, that it became his favourite dessert. He asked his cooks to learn how to make it and told them that the name was O'Malley dessert. The dessert was served at the court, and from there spread through Egyptian upper classes who as it is always the case tried to imitate the court. The poor people then tried to imitate the rich people and soon everyone in Egypt was eating O'Malley dessert. 

The Egyptian people quickly transliterated the name into the closest Arabic thing that made sense to them, which was Umm Ali - the mother of Ali. They also then invented stories which served the purpose of explaining the strange name of the dessert. 

The first sory tells us that the first Mameluke (mercenary) to be made a Sultan of Egypt was al-Muizz Izz-ad-Din Aybak. Mamelukes were slaves bought as children and trained to be loyal soldiers. It was a practice started by the Abassid Caliphate (the third caliphate in the Islamic empire following the death of the Prophet Mohammad). He was married to an unnamed woman with whom he had a son called Ali, hence her name: Mother of Ali. He also had another wife and son. Women at the time were not allowed to rule the country, but in the absence of a Sultan, a mother could be the guardian to her son until he came of age to take over the Sultan title. In this case, Aybak died leaving the two women to fight out whose son would rule. Umm Ali hatched a plan with the handmaid of the second wife, and had her killed. To celebrate her victory, she made this sweet dessert (akin to sweet revenge) to share with everyone.

The second legend is a bit more believable. A Sultan was down in the Nile Valley hunting with some people when he suddenly became very hungry. He stopped into a small village asking for food. The villagers asked Umm Ali to prepare something for him, as she was known to be the best cook in the village. She whipped up this dessert and the Sultan loved it so much, he came back for seconds.

This is a great example how cultures and languages can be greatly affected by a small number of well-placed people. It also shows that historical linguistics has to be a multidisciplinary study if it wants to be successful in discovering root meanings of words. It also gives a great example of linguistic absorption by closest transliteration. This is a process in which foreign names, particularly toponimes, hidronimes, get transliterated to the closest thing that makes sense in the language of the population living in the area. What happened in Ireland with Gaelic toponyms and hydronyms after the arrival of the English is a great example of this process. The same goes for Serbian toponyms and hydronyms in Kosovo and Albania after Albanians took over old Serbian territories.  

Anyway, enough science, back to sweets. 

The popularity of the O'Malley dish in Egypt is partially due to its fanciness, partially due to its deliciousness, and partially due to the fact that the recipe is extremely simple and that making of this dessert is very cheap. The main ingredients for this dessert with bread or filo pastry, milk, dates or other dried fruit and nuts, which are all staple Egyptian that can be afforded to anyone. 

Here is one way to make O'Malley (Umm Ali) bread and butter pudding:

* 6 sheets of filo (or puff pastry, pancakes, or bread)

* 6-8 tablespoons of butter, melted

* 2/3 cup black or golden raisins

* 1 cup mixed whole or slivered blanched almonds, chopped hazelnuts and chopped pistachios

* 5 cups whole milk

* 1 cups heavy cream

* - 2/3 cup sugar

* 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon (optional)

Keep the sheets of filo in a pile, covered with a damp towel to keep them from drying out. Brush each one with melted butter and place them on top of each other on a buttered baking sheet.

But the buttered filo sheets in a preheated 3500F oven for about 10 minutes, until they are crisp and the top ones are slightly colored.

When cool enough to handle, crush the pastry with your hands into pieces into a baking dish, sprinkling the nuts and raisins between the layers.

Bring the milk and cream to a boil in a pan with the sugar and pour over the pastry. Sprinkle, if you like, with the cinnamon and return to the oven. Raise the heat to 4250F and bake for about 20-30 minutes, until slightly golden.

Serve hot. Serves 8.

Enjoy your Umm Ali, or to be more precise O’Malley :)


Ah this is brilliant. Another linguistic mystery...In my article "Aries must die" I talked about St George's day rituals from Serbia of which the most important one is sacrificing of a male lamb to St George

Animals sacrificed as part of the religious rituals in Serbia are not picked at random and seem to be in sync with the sequence of animals on zodiac solar wheel. I talked about this in my post "Sacrificial animals".

Animals were in Serbia not just sacrificed during religious celebrations. Every new build required a blood sacrifice. A lamb or a cockerel was slaughtered on the foundation stone as well as on the walls just before the roof was put up. I talked about this in my posts "New house" and "Mountain Serbs from Montenegro".

This blood sacrifice is known as "krvavljenje" (blood spilling), Serbian "krv" (blood). The word "okrvaviti" means to "spill blood on something", to "stain with blood", like in this ritual performed on Rooster  day in Bulgaria when house walls are smeared with cockerel blood for protection.

These blood spilling sacrificial rituals are in the Balkans also known as "kurban", which means "victim, sacrifice". Official etymology: from Ottoman Turkish "kurban", from Arabic قُرْبَان (qurbān).

Arabic "qurbān" (sacrifice to God, sacrificial animal, victim) comes from Aramaic "qurbānā" (offering, oblation, sacrifice, Eucharist, gift).

This is an Aramaic amulet depicting Abraham’s Sacrifice of Issac

Aramaic "qurbānā" is related to Hebrew "qorbān (ritual sacrifice, as of an animal, victim). Etymology: from Proto-Semitic.

This is a four-horned altar, 9th-8th centuries B.C.E. Beersheba, southern Israel. Interestingly it looks very much like Minoan altar...

The proposed Semitic root is "qrb" (Hebrew: קרב) meaning "be near". It produces Hebrew "qorbān" (sacrifice), "qarov" (close), "qerovim" (relatives) and Akkadian "aqribtu" (act of offering)


Slavic word "krv" comes from Proto-Indo-European "kréwh₂" meaning blood outside the body (as of a wound).

The descendants are found in most Indoeuropean languages where they mean "blood, dead body, meet, raw, gore" 

Sanskrit क्रविस् (kravis) - raw, fresh, carrion 
Ancient Greek: κρέας (kréas) -  flesh, meet, carcass, body 
Germanic: hrawaz - raw, uncooked
Italic: *krowoðos - blood, gore, murder 
Balto-Slavic: *krowjos - blood 
Celtic: krowos - blood

Now what is very interesting is that the only Indoeuropeand languages which have preserved the original root "KRV" meaning blood are Serbian, Croatian and Macedonian. 

All the other Indoeuropean languages have altered the root because they could not pronounce it. I see this happening today when foreigners try to pronounce Serbian words which consist of only hard consonants. 

So they inserted vowel to separate KR and V. So KRV became KRAV or KROV or KRUV. They also replaced difficult to pronounce V with W and then with U and I. So KRV became KROW, KRU, KRI. Or they replaced difficult to pronounce K with H so KRV became HRAW, RAW. 

Sanskrit क्रविस् (kravis) - raw, fresh, carrion (krv -> kr(a)v + is)
Ancient Greek: κρέας (kréas) -  flesh, meet, carcass, body (krv -> kr(ea)w -> kre + s)
Germanic: hrawaz - raw, uncooked (krv -> kr(a)w -> hr(a)w -> raw)
Italic: *krowoðos - blood, gore, murder (krv -> kr(o)w -> kru)
Balto-Slavic: *krowjos - blood (krv -> kr(o)w -> kroy)
Celtic: krowos - blood (krv -> kr(o)w -> kr(u)w -> kru)

I believe that the original Indoeuropean root word "KRV" meaning blood underwent the same change in Semitic languages. They inserted vowels to separate the hard consonants and they also replaced difficult to pronounce V with B. 

And here is the million dollar question: How did this PIE root "KRV" meaning blood find its way into Proto-Semitic languages? And when did it happen? And why is it only preserved in South Slavic languages, which are, according to the official linguistics, the youngest Indoeuropean languages? 

Saturday 23 March 2019

Water bull

This is Pešter highland. Located in South-Western Serbia, it is one of the best grazing lands in Europe. The area is also known as Raška, Ras. This area was during the Early medieval time a Serbian heartland, the land of Rasi, Rasci, Raci, as Serbs were known at the time.

The name of one of the oldest and strangest breeds of sheep, "Racka" sheep, literally means "The sheep of Rasi, Rasci, Raci (Serbs)" or Serbian sheep. They are depicted on a fresco from the 14th c. Serbian monastery in Kosovo.

One of the oldest Serbian churches, the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, is located in Stari Ras, the old capital of Raška

But Raška, Ras was a holy land even before the conversion of the Serbs into Christianity. The pictures of the Pešter highlands were taken from a peak called Trojan (another name for Triglav (Three-headed), old Serbian and Slavic supreme god. You can read more about Triglav in my post "Triglav Trojan Triniti Trimurti". 

This is the peak Trojan (1374 m). 

It lies at the edge of the Pešter highland, and from it you can see the whole highland. It was once probably an important pagan site. This can be deduced both from its name (Trojan- Triglav) and from the legends associated with the site

According to the local legends, there once was a lake below the peak. The lake was a home to a three headed (!) dragon, or in another version of the legend, to a water bull...Every year the local people sacrificed a young girl to the monster, so that it would leave them in peace. One year, it was Serbian king's daughter's turn to be sacrificed. But at the last moment, a knight, St George, arrived, killed the monster and saved the girl.

Interestingly, at the bottom of the Trojan peak lies Djurdjevica well (St George's well). This well is holly to both Christians and Muslims who live in the area, and they gather around every year on St George's day, to celebrate the Saint's day together...

The legend about the peak Trojan could be a depiction of the Christianisation of the Serbs in Old Ras...

The "Three-headed dragon" here is Triglav, the old God of the Serbs who was "killed" by the Dragon-Slayer, St George.  "A knight and a dragon" by Walter Crane

But it could be something else entirely...

The fact that the "monster" to whom the young girls were sacrificed was identified as both dragon and bull is very interesting. Dragon represents the destructive power of the burning summer sun. And summer starts in Taurus (Bull)...

Summer starts on the 6th of May, Jarilo day, Beltine (middle of Taurus). Jarilo represents the sun's heat, symbolized by the snake and the dragon. Funnily Jarilo was Christianized into St George, the Dragon killer, who kills Dragon-Bull :) 

You can read more about this in my post "Dragon killing Snake" and my post "Two crosses".

Every Year, in the middle of Taurus (Bull), the Young Earth, Vesna, is "sacrificed" to the Young Sun, Jarilo (literally the burning, the raging one). Spring (the princess) is "sacrificed" (it ends) so that Summer (bull, dragon) can begin. 

I wrote about Vesna in my post Flower Girls.

Similar legend about a water bull to whom girls were sacrificed is found in Bulgaria. 

The Belogradchik Fortress is an ancient fortress located on the north slopes of the Balkan Mountains, close to the town of Belogradchik, Vidin Province, Northwestern Bulgaria. 

The fortress was built by Romans around a natural rock outcrops

In the flatlands visible from the fortress lies Lake Rabisha, the largest inland natural freshwater lake in Bulgaria.

According to the local legend, the lake was once a home to a terrifying monster: Water Bull. 

The Water Bull was a giant with the human body, the head of a bull and the tale of fish. It terrorised the local area attacking the people and cattle. In order to placate the beast, the local people would, once a year, offer as a sacrifice to it the most beautiful young girl in the entire region. The girl would be taken to the lake shore in a procession. There she would be put on a boat together with many wonderful gifts and would be pushed into the lake where she would fall pray to the monster.

The terrible story of the annual sacrifices to the Water Bull actually has a happy ending. The most gorgeous girl in the world was born one day in the village of Rabisha. When she grew up and the time came to offer her as sacrifice, she was placed in a boat and pushed to the middle of the lake.

However, when the Water Bull saw her, he was so enchanted by her that instead of killing her, he fell in love. He asked his sister, who was a sorceress, for help, and with her powers she made the beautiful girl immortal. The Water Bull took his young wife to the bottom of the Lake, and never came back for more prey. The two of them are still believed to be living happily down there.

These two legends, I believe, can help us understand two important classical legends: Minotaur and Europa stories. But more about that some other time. 

By the way, water bull is also found in Scottish and Manx folklore, but apparently the Gaelic monster preferred local cows to local young girls...

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 marks 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. 

It also "scares away the witches", probably the "Old Hag Winter"...

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".