Monthly Archives: January 2017

Banya

In my post “Fulacht fiadh – sweat lodge” I proposed that fulachta fiadh could have been seasonal temporary campaign camps built by Fianna hunting bands, and that they consisted of wigwam type shelters which could have been used as both lodgings and steam rooms.

At the end of that article I said that, there is a place in Europe where we still find a particular type of temporary shelters which are built by soldiers, hunters and travelers on campaigns, which are very similar in construction to wigwams or inipis, which are heated by fire heated stones, and which are used as sweat and steam rooms…

That place is Western Russia, Ukraine, Belarus where the same type of temporary travel “sweat lodges” are still made today and are known as “походная баня” (pokhodnaya banya) meaning “hiking bathhouse”.

This is a type of temporary sweat lodges, very popular among the Russian military, mountaineers, hunters and other people who travel for extended periods in harsh environments. It consists of a stone oven set up in a small makeshift tent. Hiking banyas are usually made near a lakeshore or riverbank where many big, round stones are available to build the banya’s oven and there is plenty of cool water available for bathing. Large stones are made into a dome-shaped circular oven, one meter in diameter and a half to one meter in height so that there is space left on the inside to make a large fire. Firewood is burned for several hours in this improvised stove until the stones on the surface of the pile become so hot that water poured on them turns into steam. Around the pile, a space is tarped to form a small tent and the banya is ready when it becomes very hot inside. Fresh twig tips can be cut from nearby birch or oak trees and a bath broom called venik can be made and used for sprinkling the hot oven stones with water and for massage.

Bathers using banya can take turns cooling off in the ice-cold river or lake water.

Here are some examples of makeshift “hiking banya” sweat lodges. You can see that all they are basically a very flimsy makeshift huts built over a stone oven.

These Russian videos shows how to make banja stone oven from stones found on a beach:

How to make banja video 1
How to make banja video 2
How to make banja video 3 (and how to use it)
How to make banja video 4

On this great web page you can see pohodnaja banya made in the old style with the cover made from evergreen branches:

Couple of things to note. As you can see from the above pictures the “hiking banya” sweat lodges are extremely easy to make and a single person can put one together in less than an hour. Once you have the frame in place you can use whatever you have at hand as the cover: hides, blankets, tarp, plastic sheet or evergreen or broad leaf branches. Once you make the oven that is. This oven is basically a corbelled roof dry stone dome.

If you want to heat large number of stones, this is the most efficient way to do it. Because the fire is burning inside the stone oven, under the stone dome, and because the hot gases produced by the combustion rise, there is no heat waste. Almost all the heat produced by burning wood inside this type of oven gets absorbed by the stones and then is radiated out long after the fire has gone out. A stone oven heated by the burning fire for 3 hours will radiate heat for 12 hours after the fire is note out. This is incredibly efficient way of heating. Compare this with a hearth which becomes stone cold as soon as the fire is out. Also because the fire is completely contained inside the oven there is no danger that it can spread to its surrounding. This allows these ovens to be positioned next to the walls of the huts even if these walls are made of flammable material like wood.

Now imagine if you wanted to make a permanent banya. A village banya. You would instead of a makeshift shelter make a more permanent shelter, a wooden hut maybe, a log cabin. In my post about log cabins i explained that it was Central European Slavs who inherited the tradition of building log cabins from Central European Celts. The Slavs then passed this building tradition to the Scandinavians during the middle ages. So if Slavs wanted to make a permanent banya, they made a log cabin like this one:

And then inside they built a corner stone stove, just like the one from pohodnaya banya. Like this one.

And this is exactly what the oldest and the most traditional type of banya known to have been used in Slavic countries looked like. The original village banyas were detached, low-lying wooden structures (log cabins) heated by a corner stove which was made of large round stones. Once the stones are heated, the fire was put out, the ashes were removed and smoke was let out before the bathing began.  Hence the soot covered blackened interior and the term “black bathhouses” (“chernaia banya” or “Баня по-черному”).

Here is the black bathhouse while the stove is being heated. You can see the smoke bellowing out through the open door.

And here is the interior of the black bathhouse. It’s black 🙂

After the hut was aired, the door was closed. The super heated stones would radiate the heat and the inside of the hut would soon reach temperatures as high as the 90 degrees Celsius. People would come in and would sit naked on benches in the dry heat (sauna) or would splash water on stones creating steam (steam room). They even took stones from the top of the stove and used them to heat water in large wooden throughs which were then used for bathing…

The banya tradition is extremely old in Slavic lands. No one really knows how old. But if we are to believe Radzivill Chronicle, preserved as a 15th-century copy of a 13th-century original, banya was in wide use in Kieavan Rus in the 10th century AD. In this manuscript we find the story of Princess Olga’s revenge for the murder of her husband, Prince Igor. Prince Igor was killed by the Slavic tribe of Drevlians in 945 AD. The leader of the Drevlians had hopes of marrying the widow Olga and sent messengers to discuss the idea. 

“When the Drevlians arrived, Olga commanded that a bath should be made ready for them and said, ‘Wash yourselves and come to me.’ The bath-house was heated and the unsuspecting Drevlians entered and began to wash themselves. Olga’s men closed the bath-house behind them and Olga gave orders to set it on fire from the doors, so that the Drevlians were all burned to death.”

Now a lot of people would here say that banya was probably brought to the Slavic land by the Scandinavian Rus. After all banya is a type of sauna and “everyone knows” that sauna is a Finish invention which was then adopted by the Scandinavians, who then brought this custom with them when they invaded the the Slavic land. Right? I would dare say wrong…

The sauna in Finland is an old phenomenon but it is difficult to trace its roots. Finnish bathing habits were poorly documented until the 16th century. This is substantially later than the above mention of banyas in the Kievan Russ. Did Fins use saunas earlier than the 16th century? Maybe. How much earlier? As early as the 10th century? Maybe but we have no written records of it. However we do have written records that Slavs used banyas much much earlier than the time when first Scandinavians arrived into Central Europe.

An early description of the banya comes from the East Slavic Primary Chronicle of 1113. According to the Chronicle, or as it was called by its authors, The Tale of Bygone Years, the Apostle Andrew visited the territories that were later to become Russia and Ukraine during his visit to the Greek colonies on the Black Sea. The belief was held that Andrew crossed through East Slavic lands from the mouth of the Dnieper River, past the hills on which Kiev would later be founded, and went as far north as the ancient city of Novgorod. He had this to say about the Slavic bathing customs:

“Wondrous to relate,” said he, “I saw the land of the Slavs, and while I was among them, I noticed their wooden bathhouses. They warm them to extreme heat, then undress, and after anointing themselves with tallow, they take young reeds and lash their bodies. They actually lash themselves so violently that they barely escape alive. Then they drench themselves with cold water, and thus are revived. They think nothing of doing this every day, and actually inflict such voluntary torture on themselves. They make of the act not a mere washing but a veritable torment.”

If this source is to be trusted, Slavs used banyas every day in the first century AD. Now some people will say this is just a fairy tale, but this fairy tale is supported by archaeological evidence.

This is the map of the Prague-Penkov-Kolochin group of archaeological cultures identified with early Slavic populations in the 6th and 7th centuries. Please note that they cover the whole area between the Balkan and Baltic and that they are centered around Carpathian mountains, a land of forests, rivers and lakes, containing all the material one needs for making log cabins with stone ovens….

These cultures are descendants of the Kiev culture, an archaeological culture dating from about the 3rd to 5th centuries, named after Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. It is widely considered to be the first identifiable Slavic archaeological culture. It was contemporaneous to (and located mostly just to the north of) the Chernyakhov culture which was a mixed Slavic and Gothic culture.

The settlements of these Early Slavic cultures were no larger than 0.5 to 2 hectares. Settlements were often temporary, perhaps a reflection of the itinerant form agriculture they practiced. Settlements were often located on river terraces. The largest proportion of settlement features were the sunken buildings, called “grubenhäuser” in German, or “poluzemlianki” in Russian. They were erected over a rectangular pit and varied from four to twenty square meters of floor area, which could accommodate a typical nuclear family. Each house contained a stone or clay oven in one of the corners, a defining feature of the dwellings throughout Eastern Europe. On average, each settlement consisted of fifty to seventy individuals.

In the article entitled: “Prague type culture houses, aspects of form, function and meaning” published by Martin Kuna, Nad’a Profantová we can see drawings of the actual Prague culture archaeological sites showing houses with corner stone ovens still standing intact…

On this web page “Как жили и чем питались наши предки” you can see reconstructions of these Slavic houses with stone ovens. Here are two examples of the interiors of these Slavic sunken houses.

They look very much like interiors of black banyas don’t you think? Actually they look exactly like like black banyas. Black banyas are just houses used for bathing, bath houses, as opposed to houses used for living. But the construction was identical. The stone ovens are not just amazingly efficient heaters. They are fully functional cooking stoves. You can bake or roast inside the oven, just like inside a pizza oven.

A pot or a cauldron of water placed on top of the oven will quickly boil and can be used for efficient cooking. Here is a cauldron placed on top of a stone oven inside a black banya used for heating water for washing.

What is a house?

A house is permanent dry warm shelter.
Banya hut is just such shelter. The construction of black banya huts is identical to the construction of the early Slavic houses. They are both half sunken log cabins.
A house has a heating and cooking facilities.
Banya oven is just such facility. Identical ovens were found in every early Slavic house.
A house has place where people can sit during the day and sleep during the night.
Banya has benches built along the walls are just such places. They are used by bathers for sitting or reclining.
Identical benches were built in early Slavic houses for sitting during the day and sleeping during the night.
Basically there is no difference between earlySlavic banyas and early Slavic houses. They are one and the same.

If we look at the Wiki article about Finish saunas we will see that:

“…the ancestral type of finish sauna is the so called “savusauna” (smoke sauna). This is a special type of sauna without a chimney. Wood is burned in a particularly large stove and the smoke fills the room. When the sauna is hot enough, the fire is allowed to die and the smoke is ventilated out. The residual heat of the stove is enough for the duration of the sauna.”

“…One reason the sauna culture has always flourished in Finland has been because of the versatility of the sauna. When people were moving, the first thing they did was build a sauna. You could live in it, make food in the stove, take care of your personal hygiene, get warm, and, give birth in an almost sterile environment due to constant smoking of the interior of the black sauna and a very high temperature.”

Basically Finish saunas are black banyas, which are nothing else then the traditional Early Slavic houses. Now you could say that maybe Fins also had the same traditional houses. But the thing is that during the late iron age, early medieval time, semi sunken log huts with corner stone ovens (black banya, smoke sauna) were exclusively built by Slavs. They were so characteristic for the Slavic culture, that a discovery of these corner stone ovens in an archaeological site immediately classifies the site as a Slavic settlement…So the sentence “When people were moving, the first thing they did was build a sauna.” should actually be “When Slavic people moved into a new area, the first thing they did was build a house, which was of identical construction as a black banya or smoke sauna and which could have been used for living or bathing.”

The article about Finish saunas continues to say that “smoke saunas are still extant not only in Finland but also in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia”. All countries which have been hugely influenced by the neighboring Slavs and their culture.

Now remember “inipi”, the Native American sweat lodge? The translation of Inipi is actually not “sweat lodge”. The actual translation is “The way we live” or “We live” or “A house, and a sweat lodge and a birthing place and a spiritual place and….”.

For Early Slavs, banya was truly “the way they lived”. It was a house, a sweat lodge, a birthing place and a spiritual place, considering that a corner stone oven was the most sacred place for every Slav, the place where the spirits of the ancestors lived and protected the house and its inhabitants….

Still think that sauna was a Finish invention? When even the word sauna is not of Finish origin. In the Wiki article about sauna we can read that “Originally borrowing from the early Proto-Germanic *stakna- whose descendants include English stack, the word sauna is an ancient Finnish word referring to the traditional Finnish bath and to the bathhouse itself. In Baltic-Finnic languages other than Finnish, sauna does not necessarily mean a building or space built for bathing. It can also mean a small cabin or cottage, such as a cabin for a fisherman.” 
The word stack probably originally referred to the stone oven, basically a stack made of stones, which was something completely new and previously unseen by the Germanic and Finish people who used central open hearths, which as I already said are very inefficient heating systems. Those Germanic speaking people, probably Norse, who adopted the Slavic custom of building cornet stone ovens (stack of stones) continued to call every house that had these stone ovens “a stack”…They then passed this custom to Fins…And for the name being used for “a small cabin or cottage, such as a cabin for a fisherman” this is a perfect description of an early small Slavic house with the corner stone oven…

Let me present the chronology here:

The Russian chronicles say that Slavs used banya sweat and steam lodges every day in the 1st century AD.

Archaeological evidence shows that Slavs built “black banya” type objects in the 3rd century AD. We don’t know if these objects were used only as houses or if they were also used as sweat or steam lodges, but we can deduce from the ethnographic data that they were probably used as both.

Kievan Russ, a loose federation of Slavic and Norse Germanic tribes which existed in Central and Eastern Europe from the late 9th to the mid-13th century, under the reign of the Rurik dynasty. During this time Slavs continued to live in the same “black banya” type houses and to use “black banyas” as sweat and steam lodges.

The word Sauna is of Germanic origin.

The first mention of Finish Saunas dates to 16th century AD.

But was it Slavs who invented banya or did they borrow it from someone else? Is it possible that Slavic Banya is a cultural continuation of fulacht fiadh?

St Gall and the bear

Saint Gall, Gallen, or Gallus (c. 550 – c. 646) according to hagiographic tradition was a disciple and one of the traditional twelve companions of Saint Columbanus on his mission from Ireland to the continent. Saint Deicolus is called an older brother of Gall.

The most popular story about St Gall says that once he was travelling in the woods of what is now Switzerland. One evening he was sitting down warming his hands at a fire. A bear emerged from the woods and charged. The holy man rebuked the bear, so awed by his presence it stopped its attack and slunk off to the trees. There it gathered firewood before returning to share the heat of the fire with St Gall. The legend says that for the rest of his days St Gall was followed around by his companion the bear.

Here are two miniatures depicting St Gall. On one he is walking with the bear and on the other one he is praying with the bear. The illustrations are from “Pontifical-Missal of the St. Gallen” which was made in 1555.

On both pictures there is a strange brownish circular object just behind his head made to look like a halo. The object looks very very very much like bodhrán, the Irish drum. 
bodhran

Bodhrán is one of the most basic of drums and as such it is similar to the frame drums distributed widely across the world. It has been suggested that the origin of the instrument may be the skin trays used for separating chaff, in baking, as a food server, and for storing food or tools. They are very similar to tambourines which are basically these drums with cymbals. In Ireland they are today played with a single drumstick called cipin. 

But is this halo like thingy behind St Gallen’s head a bodhran or some other drum very similar to bodhran?

Well bodhrans were apparently once played using fingers just like tambourine or daf drum. This is a daf drum. 🙂 

The daf is a large Persian frame drum used in popular and classical music. The frame is usually made of hardwood with many metal ringlets attached, and the membrane is usually goatskin. The earliest evidence of the Dap (Daf) dates back to Sassanid Iran. The Pahlavi (an ancient Iranian language) name of the daf is dap. The word daf is therefore the Arabicized form of the word dap. Some pictures of dap have been found in paintings that date before the Common Era. The presence of Iranian dap in the reliefs of Behistun suggests the daf existed before the rise of Islam. Dafs were part of religious music in Iran much before Sufism. Iranian music has always been a spiritual tool. It shows that dafs played an important role in Mazdean Iran emerging as an important element during the Sassanian times.

Now these types of drums were also favorite drums of the Gypsi dancing bear trainers from Eastern Europe. They would play the drum (tambourine) and sing while the bear would dance to the rhythm of their song. I remember these guys from the streets of Serbia from the time when I was a kid.

The Gypsy bear trainers belong to a special caste called the Ursari (generally read as “bear leaders” or “bear handlers”; from the Romanian “urs”, meaning “bear”. They are also known as Richinara, Mechkari. They are known to have existed during the population’s transit through the Byzantine Empire, as early as the 12th century, when they are mentioned in connection with the Athinganoi (Roma people) by Theodore Balsamon.

Here are some historical images of ursari with bodhran like drums:

As I already mentioned Gypsies arrived to the Balkans in 12th century. By 16th century Gypsies already lived in all parts of Europe

Soooo

Is St Gall’s halo from the “Pontifical-Missal of the St. Gallen” a gypsy drum then? Did the author of this 16th century manuscript, base his drawing of ST Gall with a drum and a bear on traveling Ursari Gypsy bear trainers? After all he lived and worked in the 16th century in the St Gall monastery located in the north of Switzerland, and by the 16th century Gypsy bear trainers have already reached Switzerland. 

Now here is something interesting.

Here is an early 19th century depiction of Gypsy dancing bear trainers from the area of Hesse in Germany. They have a monkey, and the player is playing flute and a drum.

Here is an illustration from “Roman d’Alexandre”, Flemish manuscript dated to 1338-44 written in French. It illustrates legends of Alexander the Great. The scene also has a dancing bear and its trainer, a musician playing flute and a drum and a monkey.

I was also told that there is an even earlier depiction of this scene from 12th century French manuscript. The illustration can be seen in Romanesque Manuscripts – The Twelth Century Vol. 1, P. 159 (Nr. 157), by Walter Cahn. Unfortunately I don’t have this book. I will be grateful if anyone has a link to this image so that I can add it to this post. 

On the above map of the dispersion of the Gypsies within Europe, we see that the records show that Gypsies arrived into Netherlands in 15th century. So who are the bear trainers depicted in the Roman D’Alexandre? And who are the bear trainers depicted on even earlier French manuscript? 

Was there the same tradition  of dancing bear trainers in Europe before the arrival of the Gypsies? 

Or were these early images of the dancing bear trainers based on “exotic” images from other parts of the world, like the Middle East or the Balkans and not on commonly seen scenes from Western Europe? After all it was the time of the Crusades, which coincided with the arrival of the Gypsies into Europe. 

Or did some of the Crusaders bring the exotic entertainers back with them to Europe as a show off? 

Or is it that these images are the earliest records of the wandering Gypsy entertainers in western Europe? We have all seen, from the last refugee crises, that it doesn’t take 300 years to walk from the Balkans to France? It takes few weeks. So if the first Gypsies did arrive to Balkans in the 12th century, chances are some of them went straight on further into Europe. Balkans was at that time full of the Western European crusaders, who mostly walked there. The inward migrants only start getting noticed when the number of migrants suddenly increase. Which is what happened in the 15th century, when Otomans finally took over the Balkans. So one or two small bands of street entertainers with dancing bears and monkeys would definitely not have been recorded in any official history. But they might have been noticed and recorded as a curio. Which is what these early depictions of bear trainers from Western European manuscripts could be…

What do you think?

Leto

Serbian word “leto” means both “summer” and “year”. The word comes from Proto-Slavic *lěto, which comes from Proto-Indo-European *leh₁tom. Cognate with Ukrainian “літо” ‎(lito) meaning “summer”, Belarusian “слецiць” ‎(sljecicʹ) meaning “to warm” and “слетный” ‎(sljetnyj) meaning “warmish”, Bulgarian “лято” ‎(ljato) meaning “summer”, Russian “лето” (leto) meaning “summer, year”, Slovene “poletje” meaning “summer”, Czech “léto” meaning “summer”, Slovak “leto” meaning “summer”, Polish “lato” meaning “summer”, and Upper and Lower Sorbian “lěto” meaning “year”.

Possibly also cognate with Old Gutnish “ladigh” meaning “spring” and dialectal Swedish “låding, låing” meaning “spring”, and with Irish “lá” ‎meaning “day”.

The etymology of this word is unknown. So let me propose one. Is it possible that the word “leto” comes from the word “let” meaning “flight”? The word “let” comes from Proto Slavic verb “letěti” meaning “to fly”.  So why would you derive the word meaning “summer, year” from the verb “to fly”? Because of the migratory birds. Every year, starting from the second half of February, right after the climatic start of the spring, 4th of February,  migratory birds start arriving from their wintering sites. The bulk of the migratory birds return by the end of April, just before the climatic start of the summer, 6th of May.

So every year, during spring, which is in Serbian called “proleće”, which can mean both “before summer” and “flying by, migrating”, migratory birds arrive back home, signalling the end of the cold part of the year and the beginning of the warm part of the year. 

Equally the end of the warm period of the year, which normally coincides with the end of October, the end of the climatic end of autumn, is signaled by the flight of the migratory birds, this time in the opposite direction, flying away to their wintering sites.

In the old Celtic and Serbian calendar, year only had two parts: the warm, white part, summer (6th of May to 5th of November), and cold, dark part, winter (6th of November, 5th of May).

So the period between these two “let” (flights) of migratory birds, between their arrival and their departure, is “leto” (summer). This beginning of the new “summer” is the beginning of the new period of vegetative growth and abundance, the “important” part of the year. I believe that this is why Serbian word for “summer” and “year” is the same: “leto”…

I was just made aware of the existence of a Macedonian folk festival called Letnik. The following is excerpt translated from Makedonians in Albania by Dragoslav Budimovski. Original title: “Будимовски К, Драгослав. „Македонците во Албанија“. Студентски збор, Скопје, 1983. стр. 151”:

Letnik, which is celebrated every year on March 1 in the old calendar and is associated with the return of migratory birds from southern regions to Macedonia. The return of the migratory birds is celebrated as the beginning of spring or summer, the period of growth and the beginning of agricultural work. Therefore this feast is often considered to be a celebration of the beginning of the year in terms of the active period of the year. 

Holiday is mostly celebrated in Western Macedonia, in Galichnik, Golo Brdo, Pustec, Debar, Prespa, Ohrid and Struga. That this celebration has ancient pagan roots can be seen by the fact that in the areas where we have mixed population Orthodox and Muslim, like in Golo Brdo and Reka area, Letnik is celebrated by both Orthodox Christians and Muslims. However in mixed Macedonian Albanian areas only Macedonians celebrate Letnik. 

According to the testimonies of the local people, Letnik celebrations start in the early morning of the 1st of March. The first thing everyone does in the morning when they wake up is to look for a chicken (bird) so that you can be as light as a bird all year round. My comment: Originally people probably looked for return of migratory birds in flight. Then people look into their pockets so that they will have money and success (prosperity) all year round. People then go out in the forests and mountains and from there they bring home boughs made from blossoming cornel branches and they would put them over the fireplace. Alternately they would bring a cornel branch with which they would touch verige (the chain holding the cauldron over the fireplace), and then they would eat cornel blossom, so that they are healthy as cornel and as solid and strong as iron. My comment: Cornel is probably chosen because it has bright yellow flowers, like the summer sun everyone is awaiting…

Young children would pick dry branches and would go from house to house throwing them into house fires saying: How many sparks so many children (similar to Christmas Eve ceremony my comment: ceremony which is related to rekindling of the sun’s fire). During Letnik day it was mandatory to bring a branch of cornel if you visited anyone’s house, and in return the hosts would give the guests nuts, boiled grain and sweet. If the year turns out to be good for the host, the person who entered the house on first on Letnik morning is asked to do the same next year as he is believed to have brought luck to the family. my comment: Similar to the Christmas Položajnik (first footer) ceremony

This pretty much confirms my theory that the word leto comes from let. But there is more. 

In Slavic mythology, Jarilo was the son of the supreme Slavic god of thunder, Perun, his lost, missing, tenth son, born during Velja Noć (Great Night), the pagan Slavic celebration of the New Year. We don’t really know what the “Great Night” means, but I believe that this Great Night was originally the night before the beginning of winter which in the Irish calendar is marked by Samhain, the 31st of October, and in the Serbian calendar by St Mitar day (Mitrovdan) the 8th of November. I believe that this night was originally the night of the 5th of November, the mid point between the autumn equinox and winter solstice. 

I also believe that the expression Great Night was also an euphemism for Winter, the time of cold and death. Right in the middle of the winter is the night of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, which is also the middle of the winter, the middle of the darkest part of the year. This is the night when new fires are rekindled, to symbolize rekindling of sun’s fire, the birth of the new sun, new solar year. This new sun is Jarilo, whose name means the young one, but also the hot one.

However, on the same night when he was born, according to the Slavic tradition, 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 (Mitrovdan).

With the advent of spring, Jarilo returned from the underworld, that is, bringing spring and fertility to the land. Spring festivals, actually more precisely summer festivals of Jurjevo/Jarilo, St Georges day,  that survived in the Slavic folklore celebrate Jarilo’s return, the return of the summer heat. This is also the time when in Irish folklore we find Beltane, the day of bonfires…

And when does Jarilo return from the land of the dead? When the migratory birds return from Irij, the land of the dead where they spend winter, the period between Samhain (Mitrovdan) and Beltane (Djurdjevdan)…So again we have the link between the migrating birds and the beginning and the end of the year…

And there is more:

Remember my post about Radegast – Welcome guest?

In it I talked about a group of bronze idols which was discovered in mid 18th century in the lake Tollensesee near Prillwitz in Mecklenburg, South Baltic. Many of them bear Slavic inscriptions in runic letters. A significant number of the figures shows the characters with lion heads and lush manes. 

Baltic Slavs who lived in Pomerania, Pomorje, Fomorie and other Western Slavs had a god called Radegast of which we have many medieval records but of which we know very little. What is interesting is that the lion headed idol with the duck on his head from the Prillwickie idols group has inscription on identifying it as Radegast. 

Radegast, who has a lion’s head, has bull’s head on his chest. Why? Summer, starts in Bull (Taurus) and ends in Lion (Leo). The Lion headed figure has bull on his chest because the Leo sun, the old sun at the end of the summer contains Taurus sun, the young sun at the beginning of the summer. The old Sun is the young sun at heart 🙂 

Slavs also had god Belbog of whom we know even less. I would like to propose that Radegast and Belbog are one and the same deity and they were represented as the man with the lion’s head. 

Belbog means white god. This god is the equivalent of the Celtic god Belenos and Welsh god Beli. This is the god of day, summer, light. The white part of the year and the white part of the day. The name of the Celtic god Belenos comes form bel + nos. In Slavic languages bel, beli, beo means white, and nos means carries, brings. So belenos = bel + nos = white + brings = the bringer of the white. Belbog comes from bel + bog = white + god.

Why is this god represented as a man with the lion’s head? This is a representation of an anthropomorphic sun. Sun is the strongest in the middle of Leo. And the middle of Leo is also the middle of the white part of the year, which as I said, in Serbian and Celtic calendar starts on the 6th of May Beltane (Djurdjevdan, St Georges day) and ends on the 5th of November Samhain (Mitrovdan, St Martin’s day). This is the day of Thundering sun, Grom Div, Crom Dubh, Hromi Daba.

You can read more about this calendar in my post “Two crosses“.

And what is the duck doing on Belbog’s head. He has a duck on his head, as ducks, and other migratory birds return by the end of April just before Beltane (Djurdjevdan, St Georges day), announcing the beginning of the summer, the white (bel) part of the year. It is the duck who is the “welcome guest” = Rad Gost, Radegos. Radegast. This is basically an euphemism for the long awaited beginning of the new summer…The beginning of the new Leto.

I wish it was summer now…I hope the welcome guests start arriving soon 🙂

King John

Does anyone else think that this picture, allegedly showing king John on a stag hunt, looks strange, and may be hiding something in plain sight?

Well I checked and officially there is nothing special about this picture. It is simply a picture depictint the king who liked hunting chasing a stag day and night.

But maybe, just maybe, there is more in this image than meets the eye.

In Europe, St John’s day, (Ivandan, Jovandan in Slavic languages) is Christianized Midsummer, Summer solstice celebration.

In Serbia Midsummer, Summer, Summer solstice day is also known as Vidovdan, day dedicated to Svetovid, sun god. The sacred animal of Svetovid is white horse. This is an image of the solar rider on a white horse is also found on (medieval???) standing stones from Bosnia.

I already wrote about this in my post “The horseman“.

The same solar rider and horse are found on many Celtic coins:

The rider of the solar horse on Celtic coins often had solar head, a head with hair sticking out like sun rays. The rider was the sun, sun god. We can see this from the fact that the rider is sometimes the sun disc. John has the ray crown which actually represents the sun rays. The same crown was worn by Sun god in later Roman period of Sol Invictus worship and by emperors who worshiped the sun god. This is Aurelian in his radiate crown on the left with Sol Invictus on the right.

The crown that John is wearing is the same radiate crown, the solar crown.

The line between the light (red) and dark (blue) part of the picture can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly this  could be the line between the day and night, so the evening. Secondly this could be the line between the period of the year when the days are getting longer and the period of the year when the days are getting shorter, so the summer solstice. Regardless of which one of these two interpretations we take, it seems that the painter went through considerable pain to make it obvious that this change from light to darkness is important. King John is depicted right on the line between light and darkness and his clothes are also made of the same light and darkness. Meaning he is related to light, he is light. He is the sun. I believe that the line between the “light” and “dark” part of the picture is the summer solstice, because this fits with St John’s day being the midsummer, summer solstice celebration.

King John is chasing the stag, another solar symbol.

The same stag hunt scene is represented on many Bosnian medieval standing stones, like this one from Crljivica:

But just like King Arthur and his knights, who are unsuccessfully trying to catch the white stag, King John and the unknown deer hunter from Bosnia will never catch his stag…Because the stag is just the symbol of the sun, more precisely the 9 sunny months of Spring, Summer and Autumn.

King John is also holding his hand in a very strange way, with the palm pointing up, towards the sky, towards the sun. The reason why palm up means salvation is because sun god and heaven is “up”. The reason why palm down means damnation is because earth, devil and hell is “down”.  And he is pointing up…Towards the sun on the St John’s day, the day of the summer solstice. The day when the sun, the king of heaven is on his throne, the highest point the sun reaches in the sky on the northern hemisphere…

Lastly, the corners of the picture are very interesting. They all have the same symbol, “the hands of god” which represent the solar year, divided into four seasons around solstices and equinoxes with three months each…The god whose hands these are is the sun. 

This symbol is found on Serbian Christmas cakes. Christmas is the Christianized winter solstice celebration, the celebration of the birth of the new sun, new solar year. This is why there is so much solar imagery on Serbian Christmas cakes which are votive offerings to the sun god.

You can read more about these cakes and their ritual use in my post “Can you see me“.

No what about the lanterns? Well officially they are not lanterns at all, but just “patterns”…In Serbia midsummer celebrations and customs have been during Christian time spread through the summer and associated with several summer saints. One of these is St Peter’s day which used to be celebrated on the is celebrated on the 28th of June according to Julian calendar but is today celebrated on the 12th of July according to the Gregorian calendar. During St Peter’s day celebrations in Serbia people light up special votive torches called “lile”.

I believe that these were once lite up on the eve of the summer solstice.  In Southern Europe (including Angevin domains in southern France) this is the time when grain ripens and the time when fireflies light up the night.

South Slavic words for firefly are “svitac”, “svitnjak”, “svijetnjak”, “svitaljka”, “cvitnjak”, “kris”, “krijes”, “kres”, “kresnica”…These are also words used for fire and torches which are lit up on the shortest night of the year, as part of the Slavic summer solstice celebrations…

Are the “lantern” like “patterns” on the picture fireflies or votive toches? 

So that’s it.

Interesting? 
Possible? 

Well yes and yes. 

Overanalyzing of a pretty but otherwise meaningless painting? 

That is possible too.

We will never know 🙂

Cantre'r Gwaelod

Cantre’r Gwaelod meaning Sunken cantref (province) is a legendary ancient sunken kingdom said to have occupied a tract of fertile land lying between Ramsey Island and Bardsey Island in what is now Cardigan Bay to the west of Wales. 
There are several versions of the legend. The earliest version appears in the Black Book of Carmarthen which dates to the 13th century. In it the land is referred to as Maes Gwyddno (English: the Plain of Gwyddno). In this version, the land was lost to floods when a well-maiden named Mererid neglected her duties and allowed the well to overflow.
It is interesting that a very similar story is also found in “Historical and descriptive notices of the city of Cork and its vicinity” first published in 1839 by John Windele. On Pages 42-43 we can read this:
A short distance to the south west, from the City, is Lough na famog, (probably the Lough Ere of the Hajiology,) now called the Lough of Cork, a considerable sheet of water supplied by streams from the adjoining hills; the high road runs along its eastern shore, and the other sides are skirted by grounds, unhappily without tree or shrub, to add a feature of beauty or interest to the picture. It is the scene of one of CROKER’S charming Fairy Legends, detailing the bursting forth of the lake, through the negligence of the princess Fioruisge (Irish: Fior-uisge – spring water), daughter of King Corc. In taking water from the charmed fountain, she forgot to close the mouth of the well, and the court, the gardens, the King, and his people, were buried beneath the flowing waters. 

The incident is common to almost every lake in Ireland. 

Six centuries ago, Cambrensis had a similar legend concerning Lough Neagh, which Hollinshed has repeated in a less diffusive style. “There was,” he says, “in old time, where the pool now standeth, vicious and beastlie inhabitants. At which time was there an old saw in everie man his mouth, that as soon as a well there springing, (which for the superstitious reverence they bare it, was continuallie covered and signed,) were left open and unsigned, so soone would so much water gush out of that well, as would forthwith overwhelme the whole territorie. It happened at length, that an old trot came thither to fetch water, and hearing her childe whine, she ran with might and maine to dandle her babe, forgetting the observance of the superstitious order tofore used: But as she was returning backe, to have covered the spring, the land was so farre overflown, as that it past hir helpe; and shortly after, she, hir suckling, and all those that were within the whole territorie, were drowned; and this seemeth to carie more likelihood with it, because the fishers in a cleare sunnie daie, see the steeples and other piles plainlie and distinctlie in the water.” 
In 1770, Welsh antiquarian scholar William Owen Pughe reported seeing sunken human habitations about four miles (6.4 km) off the Ceredigion coast, between the rivers Ystwyth and Teifi.
In the 1846 edition of The Topographical Dictionary of Wales, Samuel Lewis described a feature of stone walls and causeways beneath the shallow waters of Cardigan Bay. Lewis took the view that considering that the Ptolemy maps marked the coastline of Cardigan Bay in the same location as it appears in modern times, the flood described in the legend must have occurred before the second century AD.
Modern historians however rejected the legend as a fantasy. 
But few years ago, ferocious winter storms stripped thousands of tons of sand from beaches in Cardigan Bay. What was revealed was a huge prehistoric forest, hundreds of oaks that died more than 4,500 years ago when they stopped growing and were then submerged under the surface of the Cardigan Bay. This ancient forest, named “the forest of Borth”, once stretched for miles on boggy land between Borth and Ynyslas. Then something happened, the climate changed, the sea lever rose and the whole area disappeared under a thick layer of peat and sand and the ancient forest disappeared from view.
What is interesting is that archaeologists also found a timber walkway made from short lengths of coppiced branches, held in place with upright posts. It has been dated to between 3,100 and 4,000 years old, built as the local people found ways to cope with living in an increasingly waterlogged environment. Human and animal footprints were also found preserved in the hardened top layer of peat, along with scatterings of burnt stones from ancient hearths.

So people who lived in the forest of Borth, and who witnessed it’s submergence under the waves of the Cardigan Bay, continued to live in the area. They must have passed the account of this event from generation to generation until eventually it came to us as a legend about the submerging of the Maes Gwyddno (the Plain of Gwyddno). 

What is interesting is that the destruction of the forest of Borth happened at the same time when the Irish bog oaks found in the area of the above mentioned Lough Neagh, stopped growing because they were suddenly submerged in water for 10 years…. The I wrote about this in my post “Partholon and the great flood“. In that article I talked about a very strange correlation between the Irish myths and legends talking about the great floods of the mid 3rd millennium BC, and the actual dendochronological data from the same period…I concluded that the Irish myths about the great flood of Partholon are probably real histories, memories of the real catastrophic weather even which hit Ireland during the period 2354 BC and 2345 BC. 

And we now see that Wales was also hit by the same event. Dendochronoligical data obtained from the tree stumps found in the Cardigan Bay seems to match the dendochronological data from Lough Neagh. 

Did Welsh people, just like the Irish, manage to preserve the memory of the “great flood” and pass it on to us across 4500 years? Or did some past great winter storms reveal the remains of “the forest of Borth” to the amazed and bewildered medieval witnesses only to cover them again, triggering human imagination and eventually giving us the legend about the submerging of Cantre’r Gwaelod?

I just thought of something. The Laigin people from Ireland at one stage controlled Llyn peninsula. I wonder if this is how we find almost identical “let the tap running” explanation for the legend in both Ireland and Wales? 

In “The Lleyn peninsula : It’s history, literature & antiquities” we read that “…practically every lake in Wales has some story or other connected with it. The story about the lake Glasfryn is very interesting. The story says that in the olden times there was a well where the lake is now, and this well, kept by a maiden named “Grassi,” was called “Grace’s Well.” Over the well was a door, presumablv a trapdoor, which Grassi used to open when people wanted water, and shut immediately afterwards. One day Grassi forgot to shut the door, and the water overflowed and formed a lake. For her carelessness Grassi was turned into a swan, and her ghost is still said to haunt Glasfryn House and Cal-Ladi. This little lake is now the home and breeding-place of countless swans…

This is almost identical to the legend about the Lough from Cork. So it is quite possible that the Laigin are the link here…

Also who is this “princess” or “maiden” who is blamed for the “great flood”? Cold this be the Old Mother Earth, the Mother Goddess, who controlled the waters, like “Baba”, the hag from Slavic mythology did? Wells were considered holy to her, an the well water was called  “živa voda”, living water. If the Earth is the Mother Goddess, then the well water is her menstrual blood, the living water indeed… This is a very interesting theme to explore….

The Etruscan sun

This is Etruscan sun shaped dish from Cerveteri, Calabresi tomb, dated to mid 7th century BC (Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, Vatican Museums, Rome). You can see the high resolution image of this object here.

It belongs to the “bucchero” (bukkero) type of ceramics which was produced in central Italy by the pre-Roman Etruscan population, who called themselves Raseni. Regarded as the “national” pottery of ancient Etruria, bucchero ware is distinguished by its black fabric as well as glossy, black surface achieved through the unique “reduction” method in which it was fired.

This is also one of the most important misunderstood objects that I have come across so far. 

Officially the animals represented on it are bulls and rams????

Actually the two animals at the bottom are two lions, you can clearly see that because they have manes. The animal at the top is a bull. The composition represents summer.  

Summer is the sunny, hot part of the year, which is what the blazing sun shape indicates.

The Summer starts on the 6th of May, Beltane, Jarilo day, which falls in the middle of Taurus zodiac sign. This is what the bull symbolizes. Autumn begins on the 2nd of August, Crom Dubh day, Lughnasadh, Perun day. This day falls in the middle of the Leo zodiac sign and this is what two facing lions symbolize. You can read more about this in my post “Two Crosses” and in my post “Ognjena Marija“.

There are also two dogs etched on the sun disc. One dog is standing between the lions, to mark the “dog days”, the hottest period of the summer which also falls in the middle of Leo zodiac sign. The other dog is licking bull’s neck. The reason why dog is licking the bull’s neck is because summer, represented by the bull, is “killed” by autumn, represented by the lion(s). This killing of summer happens during dog days. The dog is licking the bull’s neck because the blood is gushing out of it. The bull’s neck is symbolically slit when harvest begins just like the “necks” of wheat (wheat stalks) are slit by harvesters during harvest… I talked about the link between harvest and slaughtering in my post “Klas“.

Now a question: where else have you seen a dog licking a bull’s neck? Can you remember?

So to conclude. The meaning of this object is: The bull is killed by the lion, summer gets replaced by autumn. Harvest begins. Rejoice…

One more interesting thing:

The lions are eating people, which are etched disappearing into lions’ mouths. Did Etruscans sacrifice people on the first day of Harvest?

Golem and Gavra

Prague golem

In Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated anthropomorphic being that is magically created entirely from inanimate matter (specifically clay or mud). The oldest stories of golems date to early Judaism. In the Talmud, which was compiled between 200 AD and 500 AD. In Sanhedrin 38b we read that Adam was initially created as a golem (גולם) when his dust was “kneaded into a shapeless husk”. Like Adam, all golems are created from mud, but no anthropogenic golem is fully human. What distinguishes a golem from a human is golem’s inability to speak. 

Sanhedrin 65b describes Rava creating a man. He sent the man to Rav Zeira. Rav Zeira spoke to him, but he did not answer. Rav Zeira said, “You were created by the sages; return to your dust”

Now word used for man in the above story is “gavra”. So man, golem that can talk, is in Hebrew called “gavra”. Which is very interesting considering that in Slavic languages word “govor” means “speech”. And “govori ja” means “I speak”. So in Slavic languages gavra means exactly what it supposed to mean: someone that can talk, not golem, man…

How is this possible?

Does the word “gavra” has the meaning in Hebrew that is related to talking? And if not, how is it possible that this Slavic expression ended up in ancient Hebrew?

O and by the way, the word “golem” in Slavic languages means “big”, “large”, “huge”, “giant”. The word comes from Proto-Slavic *golěmъ meaning “big”, “large”, “huge”, “giant”….Wasn’t golem supposed to have been much bigger and much stronger than a normal human?

Curiouser and curiouser…

Zlatorog – Goldhorn

In my post “Goat” I showed that the beginning of the Capricorn zodiac sigh falls right in the middle of the mating season of the Alpine ibex wild goats. Alpine ibex mating season starts in December, and ends in January typically lasting around six weeks. Winter Solstice, 21st of December falls right in the middle of this period and the day after the Winter solstice is the beginning of the Capricorn (goat) period, which last from December 22 – January 20…

This information is the key that allows us to finally unlock the true meaning of one of the most interesting legends preserved in Europe. The legend of Zlatorog, the Goldhorn. 

This is Triglav. With an elevation of 2,864 metres, height is the highest mountain in Slovenia and the highest peak of the Julian Alps.
Just below Triglav mountain lies The valley of Triglav Lakes.
The Valley of Triglav Lakes is a karstic, high mountain valley in the heart of Julian Alps with many small lakes dotted among the rocks. The lowest lake is Black Lake (Črno jezero) at an elevation of 1,294 metres above sea level. The highest is Podstenje Lake (Jezero v Podstenju), which is located at an elevation of 1,993 m.
The valley and the surrounding peaks are incredibly rugged and rough and incredibly beautiful. Here are some pictures of the valley that might give you better idea of what kind of place this is. 

The valley is located under the mount Triglav. In Serbian mythology we have two main deities: Triglav (Three headed god), Dabog (giving god), Djed (Grandfather), the sky father. and his wife Troglava (Three head goddess), Dajbaba (giving goddess), Baba (Grandmother), the earth mother. It is their constant interplay that produces all life on earth. 

This valley is the location of the story of Zlatorog (Goldhorn), magic Ibex goat with golden horns. 

Here is the full text of the legend of Zlatorog:

The Valley of Triglav lakes and Komna plateau were once a green heaven. It was inhabited by White women, good fairies who kept the mountain pastures green. They also visited the lower valleys and helped humans whenever they found them in need. They also helped women at childbirth. A child who was delivered into the world by them, was protected by the White Ladies for the rest of his life. They never asked for thanks or payment. But they didn’t allow anyone to enter their Lake Valey. If anyone accidentally or because of arrogance got close to their homes, they would hurl down rocks and stones and avalanches, or cause terrible storms of snow and hail and would force people to return to the valley. The Lake valley was also home to a heard of white goats whose leader was Zlatorog (Goldhorn). He was indestructible. If it got hurt, from his blood a miraculous flower, called Triglav rose would spring. 

Triglav rose, Latin name “Potentilla nitida”, is a species of cinquefoil in the Rosaceae family that is endemic to the Alps where it grows on elevation of 3,200 metres


If Goldhorn ate a single leaf or petal from this flower, he would instantly recover.  His golden horns were the key to unlocking a big treasure, which was hidden on Bogatin (Rich) mountain. The treasure was guarded by a multi-headed snake, dragon. 


The only mortal, who was allowed to climb on the highest summits of the Lake Valley, was the son of a beautiful widow – the Trenta Hunter. He was delivered by the White women, so he was under their special protection. 

The Trenta Hunter had a girlfriend, a daughter of an inn keeper who owned a tavern on the confluence of Koritnica and Soča river. One day innkeeper’s daughter caught an eye of a rich Venetian merchant. He gave her lots of expensive jewelry and promised her life in great luxury if she married him. When Trenta Hunter came next time to the tavern to see his girlfriend, the girl’s mother demanded from him to produce a treasure that will match the wealth of the Venetian merchant, or he will never be allowed to see her daughter again. Alternatively he could bring back a bunch of Triglav roses in mid-winter to prove his fidelity – an impossible task.

The young hunter, desperate and hurt left the tavern. On his way out, he was joined by the Green Hunter, who was known in the valley to bring into troubles many decent young guys. It was the Green hunter, who proposed to the Trenta Hunter to kill Goldhorn, take his golden horns and with their help take all the treasures of Bogatin (Rich) mountain. Once he brings Bogatin treasure to his girlfriend’s mother, she was surely going to let him have his sweetheart back. 

They started climbing the mountain the very same night, and in the morning as the sun rose they spotted the Goldhorn. Trenta Hunter took aim and pulled the trigger. The bullet hit Goldhorn. The blood gushing from Zlatorog’s wound melted the snow and up sprang a magical Triglav rose. The dying Goldhorn nibbled on a few petals and was instantly healed. It jumped up and leaped away. Wherever he touched the ground, snow melted and Triglav roses sprang up from under his hooves, luring the Trienta hunter onto higher and higher ground. But as they climbed, the sun caught Zlatorog’s shiny horns. The hunter was blinded, lost his footing and plunged into a gorge.

The once kind and trusting Goldhorn was enraged that he was treated in such a manner. In his fury he gored his way through the Triglav Lakes Valley, leaving it much as it looks today. He left the area with the White Ladies, never to return.

The innkeeper’s daughter waited in vain for her lover to return home. As spring approached, the snow began to melt, swelling the Soca River. One day it brought her a sad gift: the body of Trienta hunter, his lifeless hand still clutching a Triglav rose.” 
That’s it. 
Now how are we to understand this story? 
Well this story has several levels. 
Firstly it is a story about how greed can destroy people. And this is the level most people stop at. 
Secondly it is a great environmental warning. The destruction of the Lake Valley and its transformation from the lush green paradise to barren karst plateau was caused by Goldhorn, who disappeared afterwords. The Alpine ibex historically ranged through France, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Bavaria, Austria and Slovenia. Starting in the early 16th century and with firearms becoming common, the overall population declined due to over-exploitation and poaching. The ibex became extinct in Switzerland and Germany by the 18th century, and was extinct in Austria and northeastern Italy by the 19th century. This is why in most versions of the Legend, Goldhorn is legendary white chamois buck. Only in some Slovenian versions, which I believe are the older ones, he is an Ibex buck. Basically by he time the story was recorded, Alpine ibex was extinct and local people replaced the now gone ibex with still present chamois. The fact that the story says that Goldhorn disappeared after the destruction of its habitat, proves that originally Goldhorn was Alpine ibex.
It is also interesting that when alpine ibex left, the “white ladies” also left never to return. Who were these mysterious “white ladies” who kept the mountain pastures green and who also helped women at childbirth?

In my series of articles about Baba, the Mother Goddess, I explained that in Serbian the word “baba” means mother, grandmother and midwife, basically anyone who gave birth or helped giving birth. It also means stone, rock, mountain and mother Earth, the Great Mother who gave birth to us all. The word baba also has many meanings in Slovenian: an old woman, hag, demon spirit or witch, dry, barren river bed or ravine, rock or a crag.

Many stony mountain peaks in the Balkans have the name whose root is the word “baba” and there are quite a few of these in Slovenia. This is one of them, Velika Baba in Jezersko region

Also many isolated stone crags in the Balkans also have names whose root is the word baba. This one from Slovenia is called “Poljanska baba” and is located on the eastern slope of Mt. Mežakla.

Shepherd’s in Slovenia still believe today that these “baba” stones are linked to weather, water, humidity, mud, soil and fertility and pasture abundance. Until recently, during their spring ascend to Great Mountain above Kamnik, shepherds would leave a few coins or a loaf of bread at a place called “Babji trebuh” meaning “Baba’s belly”. The offering was left for “baba” so that she doesn’t “walk around the mountain bringing cold and hail“. It is interesting that in the Balkan folklore a dark cloud that brings the storm with hail or sleet is also called “baba” and that the direction from which the storm clouds usually arrive over the hill or a mountain is called “babja” meaning baba’s domain. 

Now “baba”, grandmother, hag, an old lady has a white hair so an old lady is also a “white lady”. As I already explained in my post “Baba’s day“, baba is also a word for midwife, the one who delivers babies. And she is also the one who controls earth, water, darkness and cold, the domains of the Mother Goddess. So I believe that the white ladies are memories of the old Earth Goddess, Baba, the Great Mother Goddess. My research shows that the reverence of the Great Mother was only very recently suppressed in the Balkans. I believe that the departure of the “white ladies” and the turning of the lush green pastures into desolate rocky desert, describes the belief of the local people that the abandonment of the old beliefs and the respect for the Great Mother Earth is what has brought the destruction of the environment…

But there is another, and to me the most interesting layer to this story. The astrological one. And this is the layer which only becomes accessible when we know the link between the ibex goat and the Capricorn sign. The Zlatorog story describes the succession of three winter astrological signs, Sagittarius, Capricorn and Aquarius. 

Sagittarius 23 November – 21 December
Capricorn 22 December – 20 January
Aquarius 21 January – 19 February

The story shows the inevitability of the passing of winter and the arrival of spring.

Here is the story again with the translation of the used symbols:

The only mortal, who is allowed to climb on the highest summits of the Lake Valley, is the Trenta Hunter. 

This hunter is Sagittarius. Sagittarius is the time of the year when all farm work is finished and all animals have already finished growing their winter fur. It is the time of the first snow and the beginning of the winter fur hunting season. This is why this is where we find Sagittarius, the hunter.

He is the son of a beautiful widow. He was delivered by the White women, so he is under their special protection. 

Sagittarius is the son of Virgo. Virgo is the lady who stands on the lion (Leo), the sign that comes after Leo. Virgo is the sign when Baba, the Mother Earth, starts taking over from the Father Sky. This is the time when weather starts getting cooler and wetter. By the time Sagittarius is born, Mother Earth is a widow. The agricultural year is over, the killing of the bull is finished and Scorpio has already cut his balls off (I will explain what this means exactly in on of my future posts). And the winter, the season in which Mother goddess is the sole ruler, has began on the 8th of November. 

The young hunter is joined by the Green Hunter, who is known in the valley to bring into troubles many decent young guys. It was the Green hunter, who proposes to the Trenta Hunter to kill Goldhorn. His golden horns were the key to unlocking a big treasure, which was hidden on Bogatin (Rich) mountain. 

Green Hunter is Jarilo, the young sun. Jar in Slavic languages means both hot, young and green. Jarilo is the the representation of young male passion. Considered a bad thing in Christianity. He is the mysterious “Green Man” who brings new vegetative cycle. In Celtic and Serbian calendar, the year is divided into two parts: summer which starts with Celtic Beltane (1st of May) or Serbian Jarilo day, St Georges day (5th of May) and Celtic Samhain (31st of October) or Serbian Mitrov dan (8th of November). I wrote about this in detail in my post “Two crosses“. In Serbian mythology Mitar and Jarilo are represented as mounted hunters. Jarilo encourages Mitar to go after the goat of Winter solstice, which is mid point between them and so speed up the passing of winter.  Only if Mitar, The Hunter, Sagittarius catches the Goat, Capricorn, will the new solar year start.  

The treasure was guarded by a multi-headed snake. 

The treasure is plentiful of food during summer and autumn. The beginning of summer is marked by Jarilo day, which in Christianity became St Georges day. Jarilo, the fire head of Triglav, is the Snake king, the multi-headed snake, the Dragon, the fire and heat of the sun. Christian missionaries showed a great sense of humor when they turned Jarilo, the dragon into St George – the dragon killer…But this was time and time again used recipe of destroying old religious beliefs: turn them into their opposites…

The hunters start climbing the mountain in the evening. 


This is the evening of the winter solstice. 

In the morning as the sun rose the Hunter spots the Goldhorn. He takes aim and pulls the trigger. The bullet hits Goldhorn. 

The moment when the hunter hits the goat, when Sagittarius meets the Capricorn, is the Winter solstice day. The day when the new sun, the new solar year is born, when the days start getting longer again. The Capricorn is the true Goldhorn, who brings the new sun between his horns. This sun is the key to the great treasure, the new vegetative year which will start soon when Capricorn dies…

But the hunter gets blinded by the sunlight reflecting from Zlatorog’s golden horns, slips on a cliff and falls to his death. 

The hunter dies on Winter Solstice day, the last day of Sagittarius. The day when the new sun is born and the sun’s blazing fire is rekindled. This is the end of Sagittarius and beginning of Capricorn. 

The blood gushing from dying Zlatorog’s wound melts the snow. 


The dying Capricorn’s blood which melts the snow is the first snow melt which occurs in Aquarius, after Capricorn ends. The water which Aquarius pours is this first snow melt which swells the rivers and breaks the ice. It is during Aquarius that we find Celtic Imbolc (1st of February) and St Sava (27th of January, but originally probably 4th of February), the beginning of Spring. 

From the place where snow has melted springs a magical Triglav rose. The dying Goldhorn nibbles on a few petals and is instantly healed. 

The death and resurrection of a goat is a common scene reenacted during Coleda ceremonies in Slavic countries. These ceremonies are, I believe, the origin of Christmas carols. I will talk about this more in one of my future posts. 

The once kind and trusting Goldhorn, enraged that he was treated in such a manner, leaves with the White Ladies, never to return.


Well until next winter and the next big Goldhorn hunt…

This legend once and for all confirms that zodiac signs were markers used to describe important natural events in Europe. This means that zodiac signs had to be invented in Europe, not in Babilonia. The fact that the true meaning of this story had stayed hidden for so long is solely because no one saw the link between the ibex goat and the Capricorn before.

Snowdrops

Its this time of the year again. The time when first snowdrops appear out of the snow. In Serbia they are called “visibaba” meaning “hanging granny”. They appear at the end of January, beginning of Febrary, which is the coldest part of the year. This is the part of the year ruled by the old white-headed hag, old earth, winter earth, Morana. And they actually look like a bent old hag with long white hair. The appearance of snowdrops at the time when Morana is most powerful signals that her power is beginning to wane. The old white-headed hag, winter earth, is soon going to die and will be replaced by the beautiful young maiden, spring earth, Vesna. 

I have just discovered a very interesting thing. Snowdrops bulbs are poisonous!! They contain galantamine, which is lethal in large quantities but in a small amount is used as a medicine against early Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia…

Let me know when you spot the first snowdrop. 

Wrach

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

In Serbian villages the role of “vrač” was usually performed by a woman who was then called “vračara”, feminine form of “vrač”. Vračara was the healer, midwife, amulet maker, spell caster, fortune teller, and basically keeper of “magical” and other ancient religious traditions and taboos. Some of the rituals preserved as part of this folk magic are remnants of ancient Vedic, Greek, Roman, Celtic, Old Slavic, Turkish… religious rituals which accumulated in Serbian culture…

Vračara was usually an old woman who received her “magical” knowledge from her mother who got it from her mother who got it from her mother…Vračara was quintessential witch…But witch which was part of the community. The good witch. The real ones never charged for their services. They did their what they did because it was their calling. 

Vračara was most likely to look something like this. Basically your typical Serbian baba (grandmother, old woman, hag, “wrach”):

The tradition of vračara was suppressed during Christianity, when vračara was seen as part of the old pagan belief system. It was also suppressed during Communism when vračara was at best seen as part of the backward peasant culture and at worst as fraudster who was danger to society. It is today also suppressed as stupid dangerous superstition of which we Serbs should be ashamed… 

Despite centuries of suppression, village vračara managed to survive until recently. However today the tradition is dying out because the Serbian villages are dying out and crumbling to dust. And soon the Celtic “wrach”, Serbian “vrač”, the old village “witch” will disappear into the legend for ever…