Tag Archives: Slavic paganism

Baba's day

Little Christmas is one of the traditional names in Ireland for 6 January, which is also widely known in the rest of the world as the Feast of the Epiphany. Little Christmas is also called Women’s Christmas (Irish: Nollaig na mBan), and sometimes Women’s Little Christmas or Little women’s Christmas. The tradition, still very strong in Cork and Kerry is so called because of the Irish men taking on household duties for the day. Most women hold parties or go out to celebrate the day with their friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts. Bars and restaurants serve mostly women and girls on this night. Children often buy presents for their mothers and grandmothers.

What is the origin of this custom?

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. Originally midwifes were the oldest women in the village, the ones who gave many births themselves and knew what is involved in giving and more importantly surviving birth. Hence they were the ones most qualified to help others give birth. No wonder then that in South Slavic languages the word for midwife (baba, babica) also means grandmother, old woman.

Babinden (Baba’s day) is a holiday celebrated annually in Bulgaria and parts of Serbia. It is celebrated on the 8th of January according to the old Calendar (today 21st of January). It is dedicated to “babice” (literally little grandmothers, little mothers) – midwives or any women who help at birth, and newly wedded women and women who have given birth during the previous year. The holiday has pagan origin and many fertility related rituals are performed on the day.

What follows is a description of rituals performed on Babinden in Bulgaria. Customs performed on Babindan in Serbia were very similar.

Even before sunrise mothers with children one to three years of age go to the tap to get fresh water. In the pot with water they place sprig of basil or geranium. 

Dried basil

Both basil and geranium oils are antibacterial, so placing of these plants in the water effectively makes the water sterile. This is why basil is placed in holy water….They then take bar of soap and a new towel and head to the home of the woman who delivered their children to “wash her”. The ritual bathing of the midwife used to be performed under a fruit tree in the garden or on the chopping block in front of the house or on the house stairs or the doorstep.

Infections caught at childbirth was the main cause of death in women in the past. It is interesting that the main ritual performed during Babinden is ritual washing of hands of the midwife with antiseptic water…Did our ancestors know about the link between the dirt, bacteria and infections???

Anyway, every woman gives the midwife the bar of soap, pours water that she has brought with here over midwife’s hands so that she can wash herself, and then gives the midwife the towel to dry herself. Soap and towel are kept by the midwife as presents. However the midwife does not dry her hands with the towel. Instead she dries her hands using each woman’s skirt so that she can get pregnant easily and so that she can carry her pregnancy safely and so that she can deliver the baby easily and safely. The midwife then decorates the woman with a bunch of geraniums, which is in Serbian and Bulgarian known as “zdravac” meaning “healthy”.


Geranium, apart from being used as an antiseptic, is also used to increase fertility and to ease menstrual and menopausal problems. Officially the name Geranium is said to be derived from the Greek “γέρανος” (géranos) or γερανός (geranós) meaning “crane” plus the Latin ending “ium”. However Latin word “gero” means, among other things, to bear, to give birth. Knowing that Geranium was used extensively in fertility treatments and at childbirth is it possible that the name Geranium is derived from gero meaning to be pregnant to give birth? Also in Bulgarian Geranium is known as Babino vince (Baba’s vine). In Ancient Greek the word for old is “γέρων” (geron). The Serbian word “baba” means an old woman and geranium is baba’s wine, old woman’s wine…Is geranium then derived from geron old?

Anyway, the bunch of geraniums is tied with “martenitsa”, a bracelet made of red and white thread. This is the symbol of the holy union of the young sun Jarilo (red) and the young earth Vesna (white) which makes the earth fertile (pregnant)…

While washing, the midwife takes a handful of water, throws it into the air, bounces three times up and down and says: “May children hop like this and may then become white and red! As many drops, so much prosperity and health!”.

After the ritual washing women give the midwife shirts, socks, cloths which which they place on her right shoulder. In return, the midwife decorates the children which she has delivered the previous year with “martenitsa” with a silver coin attached to it, which she ties around their right wrist. She also gives them socks and undershirts as presents. Then she washes the children’s faces, because it is believed that on Babinden water passing through midwife’s hands has a purifying, healing effect.

This belief in the healing property of the “midwife’s water” can be seen from another ritual performed right after the birth of a child. The midwife fills a pitcher with water, puts a bunch of basil in it and takes it to the church. The priest consecrates the water and blesses the midwife. She then returns the “prayer water” to the mother who washes her face and pours a little of it in the bed of the child at each bathing until it’s 40 days old, the purification period after the birth.

After the ritual washing of the midwife and the children, the ritual feast for young brides which is held in the house of the midwife. All young brides, who were assisted at childbirth by the midwife in the past year are invited. They bring bread, pie, roast chicken and wine. They kiss midwife’s hand and give her the food. Daughters and daughter’s in law of the midwife arrange the feasting table and everyone sits around it. 
The east is cheerful and boisterous, accompanied by songs, dances and sometimes rood and lewd jokes and scenes. And songs have mostly sexual symbolic meanings. The midwife often places wreath of dried red peppers around her neck then places hot brick under the skirts of women so that they will have more children. After the women have finished the feast, men are invited to join them at the table.
Climactic moment of the day is the ritual bathing of the midwife in the river or a well. It is performed after the feast. Women and men would sit the midwife on the oxen cart or a sleigh and drive her to the river or the well, where she would perform ritual bathing. Men pull the cart or the sleigh. They are sometimes dressed as oxen, with leather masks and horns.

Sometimes the midwife is taken to the river or the well in a large wicker basket. This is very interesting because it corresponds to the similar “old woman in a wicker basket” images found in Slovenia, about which I wrote in my post “Babji mlin – Grandmother’s mill“. These images are linked to Mother Earth rejuvenation rituals. 

The procession is accompanied by musicians. Everyone is dressed up and women are decorated with martenitsas, red peppers and wool. They sing ritual songs with erotic motifs, dance, drink and generally misbehave.

If during their trip to the river or the well they meet an unknown man, women take their hat off and ask for a ransom. Once they reach the river or the well, they overturn the cart or the sleigh or the wicker basket and throw the midwife into the water. As I said already the word “baba” means baby, mother, grandmother, midwife, basically anyone who gave birth or helped giving birth. It also means mother Earth, the great mother. Originally midwifes were the oldest women in the village, the ones who gave many births themselves. No wonder then that the word for midwife (baba, babica) also means grandmother, old woman. In January when Babinden is celebrated, mother Earth is at her extreme power, as Baba, the Old Earth, the Hag, the Goddess of death. This ritual bathing of baba, babica (midwife, old woman) in actually ritual drowning of the Old Earth. It represents the snow melt, the end of the winter, the death of the Hag and the birth of the new young earth. The snow melt represents the first menstruation of the young earth, the sign that she is ready to be fertilized by the young sun…

That this indeed is ritual killing of the Winter Earth can be seen from the custom which was until the 1980s preserved in the village of Dikanci, in Gora region in South of Serbia. On Babindan young men would make a straw, corn stalk effigy of an old woman called “Guđa” (probably Gđa, short of Gospođa meaning Lady) which personified Baba, the old Earth. I wrote about how “Baba”, the old Mother Earth became “the Lady”, the mother of Christ in my post “Babje leto – Grandmother’s summer“. Anyway, the young men would chase “Guđa” out of the village with sticks all the way to the river. There they would throw the effigy into the water and then they would break and throw the sticks into the water too with shouts: “May winter not return!!!”. Similar customs are preserved in other Slavic countries and in Ireland. I will talk about this in detail in one of my future posts…

After this ritual bathing of the midwife, a dance is held on the village square where a ritual circular dance kolo is danced by everyone. This dance represents the never-ending cycle of life, the spinning of the circle of the solar and climatic year.

The day ends when kolo winds through the village and ends at the midwife’s house. Everyone kisses her hands and gives her more gifts. This expresses gratitude and love for this woman who helps the new life to be born. Again you can see how veneration of the baba (midwife, old woman) is connected with the veneration of baba (mother Earth). 

Having children was by our ancestors regarded as the most important purpose in life. A proverb says “Q: Who is more important than the king? A: A child”. This is why women who helped deliver children were so highly respected.

Is this custom of celebrating midwives which are in the Balkans known as “babice” (little women) the origin of the “Little women’s Christmas” which is today celebrated in some parts of Ireland?

Cockerel and Lion

Cockerel standing on (or above) a lion. Painting on wood. Kirovsky Regional Museum, from ethnographic material collected in Vologda region.

Middle of Leo, 2nd of August, is when Slavs used to celebrate the day of Perun, the the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. The sacred bird of Perun, the storm god, was the fire cockerel. When Christianity replaced the old Slavic pagan religion, in Serbia Perun was replaced with Sveti Ilija Gromovnik (St Ilios the Thunderer, the Thundering Sun) and the cockerel became associated with this “Thundering” saint. The cockerel, the sacred bird of the thunder god is slaughtered, cooked and eaten on the day of St Ilios the Thunderer “so that the sun would not burn the grain”. This is a clear sacrifice to the Storm god for rain…Interestingly it has to be “the oldest” cockerel. Remember Perun is the the old sky god, old sun, the old head of Triglav, two other heads being Jarilo (young sky god, young sun) and Svetovid (adult sky god, adult sun)…This again confirms the link between the cockerel and Perun.

I believe that the fact that cockerel is the sacred bird of Perun, the Storm god, is why the weather-vanes placed on top of churches are in the shape of a cockerel. Weather-vanes like this one from 19th century Russia:

However the official theory is that cockerel shaped weather-vanes or weathercocks are placed on top of church steeples because of St Peter. 

In “Encyclopedia of Religions” by John G. R. Forlong we read that  “Pope Gregory I in the 6th century said that ‘the cock (rooster) was the most suitable emblem of Christianity, being the emblem of St Peter‘” Some say that it was as a result of this that the cock began gradually to be used as a weather vane on church steeples. Pope Leo IV had a figure of a cockerel placed on the Old St. Peter’s Basilica. And in the 9th century Pope Nicholas I ordered the figure of a cockerel to be placed on every church steeple, as a symbol of Jesus’ prophecy of Peter’s betrayal (Luke 22:34), that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed on the morning following the Last Supper.

So it seems that the placing of the cockerel weather-vanes on Christian church steeples has nothing to do with Perun and everything to do with St Peter. However in Slavic folk tradition St Peter seems to have acquired a lot of characteristics of Perun. He is the Saint who Eastern Slavs pray to for rain, as we can read in the “Songs of the Russian People” by W. R. S. Ralston. 

In “Slovenska mitologija – enciklopedijski recnik” by Svetlana M. Tolstoj, Ljubinko Radenkovic we can read that Bulgarians and Russians considered 29th of Jun, Petrovdan, the day of St Peter, to be the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. Just like Serbs considered 2nd of August, Ilindan, the day of St Ilija the Thunderer, the Thundering Sun, old Perundan, the day of Perun,  to be the end of summer and the beginning of Autumn. In “Перуника – цвет небеског или хтонског света?” by Ljubinko Radenkovic we read that in Dubrovnik region people used to celebrate St Petar Bogišar (St Peter of the Iris flower). Iris is in the Balkans known as Perunika, Perun’s flower. I wrote about the link between Iris and Perun in my post about Ognjena Marija

So it seems that both St Ilija (mainly) and St Petar became replacement for Perun. 

If so, is the cockerel standing on top of church steeples symbol of St Peter, there to remind people of St Peter’ betrayal of Jesus? Or is the cockerel standing on top of church steeples symbol of Perun, there to protect the church from the wrath of the storm god???

And did cockerel jump onto church steeples directly out of Slavic mythology, or did Goths, who before their migration westward lived for centuries mixed with eastern Slavs, act as intermediaries?

This is very interesting indeed, don’t you think?

Can you see me?

Gesta Danorum (“Deeds of the Danes”) is a patriotic work of Danish history, by the 12th century author Saxo Grammaticus (“Saxo the Literate”, literally “the Grammarian”).

It consists of sixteen books written in Latin and describes Danish history and to some degree Scandinavian history in general, from prehistory to the late 12th century. In addition, Gesta Danorum offers singular reflections on European affairs in the High Middle Ages from a unique Scandinavian perspective, supplementing what has been handed down by historians from Western and Southern Europe.

The sixteen books, in prose with an occasional excursion into poetry, can be categorized into two parts: Books 1-9, which deal with Norse mythology, and Books 10-16, which deal with medieval history. Book 9 ends with Gorm the Old, the first factual documented King of Denmark. The last three books (14-16), describe Danish conquests on the south shore of the Baltic Sea and wars against Slavic peoples (the Northern Crusades), are very valuable for the history of West Slavic tribes (Polabian Slavs, Pomeranians) and Slavic paganism. Book 14 contains a unique description of the temple at Rügen Island and Slavic pagan rituals that took place there.

The original name of the island Rügen or Danish Rugia at the Baltic Sea was Rujan (meaning red in Old Slavic); thus the name would in translation imply ‘The Red Island’. The autochthonous inhabitants of the island were the Slavic tribe, the Rujani, whose name was cognate with the island’s; thus translating as “people from Rujan” or “red people” or “redheads”??? After the destruction and/or assimilation of the Rujani by the Danes, in 1168, the original Slavic name of Rujan was corrupted as Rügen in German and Rugia in Danish.

According to Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus, and also Chronica Slavorum by Helmold, the main temple on the Island was located in Arcona, late renamed to Jaromarsburg. The temple was dedicated to the god Svantovit (Svetovid), the main Sun god of the Slavic pantheon, and was used from the 9th to the 12th century. It contained a giant wooden statue of Svantovit (Svetovid) depicting him with four heads (or one head with four faces) and a horn of plenty. 

The temple was also the seat of an oracle in which the chief priest predicted the future of his tribe by observing the behavior of a white horse identified with Svantevit (Svetovid) and casting dice (horse oracles have a long history in this region, being already attested in the writings of Tacitus). The temple also contained the treasury of the tribe and was defended by a group of 300 mounted warriors which formed the core of the tribal armed forces.

The main ritual was celebrated once a year, at the end of the harvest at the beginning of November (Samhain?). All the inhabitants of Arcona gathered in front of the temple on this occasion. On the eve of the celebration the priest, who contrary to the common people had long hear and beard, meticulously cleaned the chapel, to which only he himself had access. The ritual which took place the next day was described by Saxo like this:

The following day, when the people camped out by the temple doors, the priest took the horn from the statue’s hand and carefully examined it to see whether the drink in it was evaporating, which was taken to be a warning that the harvest would be poor the next year, in which case he [the priest] obligated the people to save something of their current harvest for next year.  If the drink did not disappear, that foretold a bountiful year.  Thus, depending on what the horn predicted, he ordered the people either to save their harvests or to use them till they be sated.  Next he poured the wine as an offering at the feet of the statue, filled the horn anew and pretended as if he had drunk to honor him [the God], while at the same time he asked with lofty words for success/good luck for himself and the people of the country, for riches and for victory, and after that he brought the horn to his lips and drank all of it in one gulp, and thereafter he filled the horn again and placed it in the statue’s right hand.

There was also there as an offering an oval-shaped honey cake which stood almost as tall as a man. The priest would place it between himself and the people and asked thereafter whether they could see him [from behind the cake].  When they answered him, he then wished them that next year they should not see him, whereby the meaning of this was such that he did not mean death to himself or the people but rather that the next year should be bountiful [i.e., and the cake bigger].

Next he blessed his people in the name of their God, told them that they should honor Him with frequent offerings, which he expected as a the right payment for [their] victories on the land and sea.  And when this was done, they spent the rest of the day on a great feast, where they ate the offerings [for the God], so that that which was consecrated for the God they themselves ate.  At this feast, it was believed pleasing to the God to get drunk and as a sin to remain sober.

You can find the description of this ritual in “The Handbook of Religions in Ancient Europe” By Lisbeth Bredholt Christensen, Olav Hammer, David Warburton.

The “oval bread” the Slavic priests at Arcona were hiding behind is still made in Serbia as a traditional Christmas cake. The bread is called “česnica” and is an oval bread which is decorated at most with the cross, making it look like the “Celtic cross”. 

This is actually the solar agricultural cross which symbolizes  solar year divided into four parts by two solstices and two equinoxes. Sometimes the cross will have small semi circles on the edges of the cross hands. These are called “hands of god”.  They represent the three months of every season. You can read more about the solar cross in my post “Two crosses“. Česnica can also contain additional decorations symbolizing various crops, farm animals…

The preparation of this bread used to be always accompanied by various rules and rituals all indicating the Pre-Christian origin of this bread: 

The česnica is baked on Christmas Eve or early Christmas morning by the head of household or the woman of the house. The person who will prepare the česnica must bathe before that. In eastern and southern Serbia, after they kneaded the dough for the česnica, the head of household or the woman of the house take hold with dough-stained hands of the fruit trees, beehives, and cattle to make them more fertile.

Dough is usually made with wheat flour. But the flour is taken only from a full sack or the flour is milled from the last sheaf of wheat from the previous harvest. The water for the dough is in some areas collected on Christmas Day before sunrise from a spring or a well, into which a handful of grain is thrown. It is called the “strong water” or “living water” and is believed to be imbued with beneficial power. Or the water for the dough is collected from three springs. 

A coin is put into the dough during the kneading, some families using the same coin from year to year; it may be a valuable piece. In some regions, little figures carved from cornel wood, representing chickens, oxen, cows, swine, bees, and the like, are also put into the dough. In other areas, the inserted objects include grains, broad beans, walnuts, tufts of wool, twigs, and splinters from various wooden buildings. In Semberija, families insert a piece of the first splinter produced in felling the badnjak (young oak tree which is the traditional Serbian Christmas tree). Badnjak is ceremonially burned through Christmas eve on the house fire. In Jadar, western Serbia, the number of embers of the badnjak equal to the sum of grain and livestock sorts grown by the family are taken out of the fire and placed on the česnica. Each of the sorts is associated with its own ember on that loaf. The sort whose ember retains its glow longer than the others should be the most productive in the coming year. In Bosnia, when the dough is shaped and ready for baking, a number of notches are cut in the upper surface of it, and seeds of various crops are placed into the notches. The more a notch has risen when the česnica is baked, the more productive the crop whose seed is in it will be in the following year. To ensure an abundance of grain, some people place a bowl filled with grain on the česnica.

All of this indicates that česnica is directly linked with fertility and particularly grain fertility. 

The word “česnica” could be derived either from the noun “čast” meaning honor, or “čest”, meaning “share”. Both roots describe this bread perfectly. It is a bread made in honor of Dabog, Triglav, the Sky father, the father of grain who was in Christianity replaced with Christ. The bread is also made to be shared. 

In Serbia Christmas dinner is the most festive meal of the year. It begins about noon, or even earlier. The family members seated at the table stand up when the head of household gives a sign. The head makes the Sign of the Cross and lights a candle, before blessing the gathered relatives and saying a prayer, after which they all kiss each other while saying, “Peace of God, Christ Is Born.” The head of the family and another man of the family hold the česnica between themselves, rotating it three times counterclockwise. The fact that česnica is turned three times shows that the bread was originally dedicated to Dabog – Triglav. The counterclockwise rotation of česnica is an example how an old Pre -Christian ceremonies and symbols which could not be eradicated where in Christianity turned into its opposites. Originally česnica must have been turned clockwise, to the right, the way the sun moves across the sky. Making people turn česnica counterclockwise implements magical way of destroying the symbol’s power by either turning it upside-down, or the other-way-round. We see this being used over and over again with Christianized pagan symbols, rituals and beliefs…Anyway, after it is rotated, the česnica is then carefully broken among the relatives, so that each of them gets his own piece of the bread, without a crumb falling off. Bread falling onto the ground, and throwing bread away are still considered a big sin in Serbia. 

Up to three pieces of the loaf may be set aside: one for the absent relatives (if there are such), one for a stranger who might join the family at the dinner, and one for the položajnik (polaznik), their first visitor on Christmas Day (if he is not present). The rest of the česnica is consumed during the dinner. The family member who finds the coin in his piece of the bread will supposedly be exceptionally lucky in the coming year. The head may try to buy the coin from this lucky relative. Each of the other objects hidden in the bread indicates the segment of the household economy in which the person who finds it in his share of the česnica will be especially successful. 

Now remember the giant bread from Saxo’s description of Slavic pagan fertility ritual? They are still made in Serbia too. These are giant communal česnica breads which are ceremonially broken and shared among all the members of the community. Or at least everyone quick enough to get a piece 🙂 

And we have ethnographic evidence that česnica breads were in the past used for the same “peekaboo” grain fertility ritual described by Saxo. 
In his dictionary, Vuk Karadzić says this about the verb “milati”: “I have heard that in Herzegovina people “milaju” at Christmas with česnica (large round flat Christmas bread, cake). This is what they do: Two people take česnica, one of them holds it in front of himself and asks the other: “Milam li se”? meaning “Am I visible? Can you see me? Am I sticking out from behind the cake?” The other man then says: “Milaš malo” meaning “you are visible a little, you are sticking out a little”. The man holding the bread then says “Danas malo a dogodine ni malo” meaning “This year a little, but next year hopefully not at all”. 
Ljubomir Pećo noted the same custom among Croats in the village Zabrđe in Bosnia. 
Similar custom was recorded in Old Serbia. Jastrebov, in “Obыčai i phsni tureckihь Serbovъ. S. Petersburgъ”, 1886, str. 41, upor. i RJA talks about the custom called “milanje”: A househusband hides behind a pile of breads and asks his family: “do you see me?”. The family members reply “We see you this year, but we hope not to see you at all next year”, meaning “We hope the grain harvest next year is so big, and that we can make so many breads, that you can hide completely behind them”. 
In some parts of Old Serbia and Makedonia, the househusband hiding behind the Christmas cake says “You see me now, but may god give such huge ears of wheat this year that you wont see me at all behind them. Sometimes the “milanje” ritual was performed in Serbia at the end of the harvest with newly harvested grain. In the village of Grmljani in Lika near Trebinje this ritual was performed during the threshing of grain on the threshing floor. A pile from newly threshed grain was made on the threshing floor. Two people would stand on the opposite sides of the pile. The first man would then ask the second: “Do you see me?” and the second would answer: “I don’t see you”, to which the first man would reply “May god give that you don’t see me next year either!”
The word “milanje” comes from “maljanje” which comes from “malo” meaning “a little”. So the meaning of “milanje” is “sticking out a little”…
This is a magical ritual which is performed with the intention to give god a hint to make the next years grain crop even bigger. In a way people are trying to trick god, as bread used in the ceremony is never big enough for a person hiding behind it to fully disappear from view, no matter how big the harvest was. 
This custom was also preserved as a a new year or all souls (samhain), end of harvest, thanksgiving tradition in some other Slavic nations. 
Ukrainians and Belarusians have the same custom, except that they use a shief of wheat instead of bread. 
Karpatho Rusyns have the same custom. In the article about Christmas and New Year customs of the Rusynes, written by Mykola Musinka on “carpatho-rusyn.org” we read that most magic customs were connected with Christmas Eve (Svjatyj vecur, Korocun, Vilija). On that day the husbandman covered the floor with straw. An unthreshed grain sheaf, usually oats (called in some localities “Didko” or “Diduch” meaning grandfather), was placed on the honorable seat at the table, i.e., “into the corner” under the icons. According to historical and ethnographic literature, in the archaic Slavic homes one corner was reserved for a representation of the pagan gods. Oats or straw were also used for decorating the festive table on which there had to be seeds from all crops. In the spring these very seeds were used in the first sowing. The oats and straw had a magical function in pagan society: they were expected to secure plenty of fodder and grain. Christianity provided another rationalization for the custom, stressing the birth of Jesus on straw and oats, thus transforming the two into symbols of that event. Also placed in the place of honor was the festive bread (korocun, kracun) decorated with wintergreen or periwinkle (barvinok) and various small figures. Prosperity was symbolized by a “mountain” of bread at the end of the table. At the beginning of the evening meal the husbandman hid behind this “mountain,” asking: “Can you see me from behind the bread mountain?” The children replied in a chorus: “We can’t,” after which the husbandman concluded: “Let us wish you’ll not see me either in the spring from within the hay or in the summer from within the wheat!”
So lets recapitulate. 
Serbs are people whose main deity was once Dabog (giving god) also known as Hromi Daba, and Triglav (the three headed one). They have a special votive bread called “česnica” which they bake for Christmas, the Christianised Winter Solstice, the end of the solar year. They use this bread for magic ritual related to fertility and good fortune. The bread is round made from sweet dough. A coin is put into the dough during the kneading. In some regions, little figures carved from cornel wood, representing chickens, oxen, cows, swine, bees, and the like, are also put into the dough. In other areas, the inserted objects include grains, broad beans, walnuts, tufts of wool, twigs, and Christmas tree splinters… The bread is broken by family or community members and consumed during the Christmas dinner. The family member who finds the coin in his piece of the bread will supposedly be exceptionally lucky in the coming year. Each of the other objects hidden in the bread indicates the segment of the household economy in which the person who finds it in his share of the votive will be especially successful. This bread seams to have also been made at the beginning of November, for the thanksgiving ceremony marking the end of the harvest and the end of the agricultural and vegetative year. Saxo Gramaticus in the 12th century mentions this bread as the votive bread made by Pagan Slavic tribe known as Rujani, (red, redhead people???)  who lived on an island of Rujan (red, redhead people???) island, which lies just of the coast of South Baltic, which Slavs call Pomorje meaning seaside. People from Pomorje are known as Pomori, Pomorci. 
Now this is very interesting because:
The Irish are people whose main deity was once Dadga (giving god) who is believed to be another name of Crom Dubh, and who is possibly the god who was represented by three headed idol found in Ireland. The Irish have a special votive bread called Barmbrack which is today made for Halloween, Christianised Samhain. Samhain, which was originally celebrated at the beginning of November, was the thanksgiving ceremony marking the end of the harvest and the end of the agricultural and vegetative year. Barmbrack  traditionally contained various objects baked into the bread and was used as a sort of fortune-telling game. In the barmbrack were: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence) and a ring. Each item, when received in the slice, was supposed to carry a meaning to the person concerned: the pea, the person would not marry that year; the stick, would have an unhappy marriage or continually be in disputes; the cloth or rag, would have bad luck or be poor; the coin, would enjoy good fortune or be rich; and the ring, would be wed within the year. Samhain was also the time when Fomorians extract their taxes of corn, milk and live children. Fomorians were an evil race of people who came from across the sea and their name is said to mean “sea (seaside???) people”. Samhain is also the time when the Irish sacrificed first fruit, including first born children, to the evil god Crom Cruach (Crom Dubh). Samhain was also the time when a demon known as Aillén Tréchenn (from trí ceann, three-headed) came from Cruachan in Roscommon, and caused havoc in all of Ireland, especially Emain Macha (Armagh) and Tara.  O and in Irish the word “rua” means red-haired person. 
Do you think that this is all a coincidence? Or maybe there is some kind of connection here? 
But the best part is still to come: 
The etymology of the word “barmbrack”. In Ireland “barmbrack” is sometimes called “Bairín Breac”, and the term is also used as two words in its more common version. The official translation of “Bairín Breac” is 
bairín – a loaf – and breac – speckled (due to the raisins in it), hence it means a speckled loaf, a similar etymology to the Welsh “bara brith”. Bara brith comes from Welsh “bara” meaning bread and “brith” translating as speckled”
But this Welsh name could just be a direct transliteration of the Irish Bairín Breac. The Irish Laigin, who gave their name to the province of Leinster, used to rule the north Wales Llŷn Peninsula, which was named after them. So I believe that they might have brought this bread and the name with them. 
But that is beside the point. The important bit is that I don’t think that the translation of the “Bairín Breac” as “speckled bread” is correct. Sure now raisins are added to the dough, but I don’t think that the ancient Irish had access to grapes and raisins. I believe that this is a recent addition to the recipe and that originally the “Bairín Breac” was made from plain sweat leavened dough. I believe that the correct translation for “Bairín Breac” is patterned bread, bread which has patterns inscribed on it. Why? Because believe or not the word “breac“, apart from meaning speckled, which by the way also means patterned, has another very interesting meaning: carve, engrave, mark with letters, figures, to write…Now this is most interesting because it perfectly describes “česnica” which is always marked with letters, figures, patterns…Decorating of special votive breads with patterns has been practiced in the Balkans since early Neolithic. Special bread stamps were developed for stamping breads probably to standardize and make easier the inscription of the religious patterns used by all the members of the community. Some of the patterns and patterned stamps actually haven’t changed since neolithic and are still used on votive breads today. 
Vinča culture was one of the cultures which decorated their breads with patterns and which had bread stamps and votive breads. I mentioned one of these votive breads in my post about Newgrange, because a giant stone copy of the small Vinčan clay votive bread stands in front of the entrance into Newgrange. 
This is small Vinča votive clay bread:

This is giant Newgrange votive stone bread:
Both of these votive breads are decorated, inscribed with patterns and symbols. Both of them are “Bairín Breac”. Both of them are “česnica” breads. 
Now remember the Redhead Rujani people from South Baltic. On Samhain, they would bring a giant, inscribed, patterned česnica bread in front of the temple entrance, and the priest would hide behind it and would ask his people: “Do you see me”? Serbs performed the same ritual on Christmas day, the Christian replacement for Winter Solstice. 
Newgrange tumulus is aligned with the sunrise on the Winter Solstice so originally it was probably used for ceremonies on Winter solstice morning, beginning of the new Solar year. However Irish tradition strongly associates Newgrange with Samhain, so it is possible that the original alignment and use of Newgrange was over time forgotten and the date on which Newgrange was used for ceremonies shifted from Winter Solstice, the beginning of the new Solar year to Samhain evening, the beginning of the new Agricultural year. Regardless of how and when Newgrange was used for ceremonies, I believe that Newgrange was used as the temple of the divine marriage of Heaven and Earth, the marriage which produces grain, bread. Hopefully lots and lots of big breads, as big as the votive stone bread standing in front of the tumulus entrance. Or bigger. So is it possible that similar to the Slavic tradition, a pagan priest would come out of the Newgrange tumulus on Summer Solstice or Samhain, stand behind the giant votive stone bread and ask his people: “Do you see me?”. 
Well we will never know, but… 
Sources for “milanje” ritual in the Balkans:
Српски рjечник, истолкован њемачким и латинским риjечма” Вук Стефановић Караџић (Dictionary of Serbian language by Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic)
Srpski Mitoloski Recnik – Grupa Autora” (Serbian mythological dictionary)
Stara slovenska religija u svjetlu novijih istraživanja posebno balkanoloških” – Akademija nauka i umjetnosti Bosne i Hercegovine, 1979
Christmas in Croatia” by Dunja Rihtman-Auguštin
“Kalendar srpskih narodnih obicaja” by Mile Nedeljkovic. Not available online

Archangel Michael

This is Archangel Michael, my family saint. He is celebrated today on 21st of November. I wish all people who celebrate Archangel Michael (Srećna Slava) Happy Slava. 

But who is really Archangel Michael?

If we look at the Bible we find that it has this to say about Archangel Michael:

Genesis 3

“{3:24}And in front of the Paradise of enjoyment, he placed the Cherubim with a flaming sword, turning together, to guard the way to the tree of life.”

1 Chronicles 21

“{21:16} And David lifting up his eyes, saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand, turned against Jerusalem: and both he and the ancients clothed in haircloth, fell down flat on the ground.”

“{21:30} And David could not go to the altar there to pray to God: for he was seized with an exceeding great fear, seeing the sword of the angel of the Lord.”

Who is Archangel Michael? The Archangel Michael is the closest to the Lord in the Jewish scriptures, for his very name means “Who is like God.” As the eldest Archangel, he is given captaincy of all of God’s natural phenomena, including rain, wind, fire, snow, thunder, lightning, and hail. Michael is believed by many Jews to have appeared to Moses as the fire in the burning bush and to have led Daniel from the lions’ den. Additionally, because it is said in the Book of Revelations that Michael will lead God’s troops against the dragon and his angels at the final battle, many people seek the aid of Michael against wrong-doers on Earth

The archangel who controls the rain, fire, thunder, lightning and who punished the wrong-doers. Is this a description of Perun? The Archangel with a flaming sword who stands between Heaven and Earth guarding the heaven and pointing his flaming sword towards the earth. Is this a description of lightning? Is the lightning the flaming sword of the lord?

In my post about “Ognjena Marija” I explained that in Slavic mythology, Ognjena Marija or the “Fiery Mary” is considered to be the sister of St Ilija, the thundering sun and (or) wife of the thunder god Perun, who is just another name for Ilija, Ilios, Sun god, another face of Sun god. She is also known as Perunika, Perena, Ljeljuja, Leluja, Ljelja, Gorka, Veronika. Later, under Christianity, her importance was degraded and she was regarded as an evil goddess, described as an evil and ugly woman named Irudika (who was in turn a daughter of Poganica).

She was the goddess of lightning, weddings, motherhood, and protector of marriage and justice on earth. Perunika wears a rainbow as her belt. In some parts of Croatian people still call rainbow “the mother of god” referring to Ognjena Marija. Onjena Marija, Perunika uses a heavy sledge hammer (a symbol of thunder deities) to punish people, and controls lightning. Gromovnik (God of Thunder) Perun, helped by his wife Perunika Ognjena Marija, ”loads” the thunderbolts and shoots them at thieves, liars, and immoral people in general.
In Serbo Croatian flower Iris is also called Perunika, Ljeljuja, Leluja, Ljelja, Sabljarka, Bogiša. The name “bogiša”, originates from the region around Dubrovnik town, southern Croatia and means God’s flower. The flower is dedicated to the goddess Perunika. According to a legend, this flower grows at the place where Perun’s spark, lightning, hits the fertile soil. In the same way, a place hit by lightning was considered sacred and objects, like a stone or tree, from such a place were consecrated. This represents a divine sexual act: Perun, the thunder giant, penetrates the earth with his penis (lightning),  inseminating the earth with heavenly semen, rain. In Serbian Perunika could mean the place where the seed of perun sprouted. Perunika = Perun + nika = Perun + sprouted.
Considering that Perunika, Ognjena Marija, is directly linked with fertility of the land, it sounds logical that Perun’s female companion punishes immoral and dishonest women by the ”white plague” (sterility).

In Medjimurje (northern Croatia), one greeting used on the feast day of St. Stephen (Dec. 26) mentions God with lelulja (ljeljuja), i.e. perunika, in his hand. This is the most probable origin of the alternative Perunika’s name Ljelja. But also this could indicate that the true meaning of Perunika is actually lightning, electricity, the spark of life. Perunika, the wife of Perun, symbolized by flower Perunika, is the essence of his power, Electricity, Lightning. 

In the same way Indrani is the wife and essence of the power of Indra, and Shakti is wife and essence of the power of Shiva. 

Perun holding Perunika is Shiva holding Trishula, Lightning. 

And guess what? Iris (Perunika) has the petals of the same color as lightning, blue – purple laced with lightning like golden pattern. It also has three main petals.

Just like trishula has three spikes: 

This Russian “Christian” icon depicts Ognjena Marija or the “Fiery Mary” surrounded with fiery wheels of Perun, inside the burning flame.

The fiery wheels of Perun, the Thunder god, are actually burning sun wheels of Svetovid, the Sun god. In South Slavic folk tradition the day of Perun is the 2nd of August, the Crom Dubh day in Ireland. But this day is also the day of St Ilija the Thunderer. St Ilija the Thunderer is Ilios, the thundering sun, the sun at its hottest, the sun that burns with its fiery eye. In Serbian tradition the rolling thunders which can be heard around the 2nd of August are said to be made by the fiery wheels of St Ilia’s chariots thundering over the tops of the clouds, and the lightning that is seen flashing in the clouds are the sparks created by those same fiery chariot wheels.

This basically means that the sun wheel of Svetovid is thunder wheel of Perun. Sun creates, gives power to lightning, which is exactly what the latest scientific data is telling us: Solar radiation and lightning are intrinsically linked.  

Now remember, Michael “is like God”. And so is Perun. Perun is like Svetovid. Perun is Ilija the Thunderer, who is Thundering sun Ilios. In my post about Triglav, Trimurti I wrote that 

The book of Veles has this riddle:

Jer tajna je velika, kako to Svarog biva u isto vreme i Perun i Svetovid.

Translated into English this means: 

Because it is a great secret how come Svarog (hevenly and earthly fire) is at the same time Perun (thunder) and Svetovid (Sun).

And the answer to this riddle is Triglav, Trimurti. Svetovid (sun), Perun (thunder and lightning) and Svarog (Jarilo, fire) are three faces of one and only god Triglav. 

Perun is “like” Svetovid and this is depicted through the symbols of Svetovid and Perun: their wheels. The wheel of Perun is “like” the wheel of Svetovid. It is actually the fiery version of the wheel of Svetovid. Sun creating fire through lightning. 

Now if Michael is “Like El”, is Michael actually Perun, who is “Like Svetovid”? 

In Indian mythology, Trimurti consists of Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. In Serbian mythology, Triglav (Svetovid, Perun, Svarog (Jarilo)) consists of Višnji, Živa, Branjanj.

In Serbian the meanings of the names of the holy trinity (Trimurti, Triglav) members (Višnji, Živa, Branjanj) actually correspond to their role in Serbian Trinity:

Vishnji (meaning “one who is up high”, from vis “high”), the sun (Svetovid).
Branjanj (meaning the protector, supporter, from bran “protection”, braniti “to protect”), the fire (Svarog, Jarilo).
Živa (meaning alive, living from Živ “alive, life”), the giver and taker of life (Perun).

In Serbian the word “Živ” means Alive and the word “Život” means Life. The tree of Life in Serbian is “Drvo Života”. And Michael is guarding the access to the tree of Life (Život). Is this just a coincidence or is this a hint that Michael is Živa – Perun, the electricity part of the holy trinity? And as we know now, electricity is what powers all the life in the universe….

The references to the “captain of the host of the Lord” encountered by Joshua in the early days of his campaigns in the Promised Land (Joshua 5:13-15) have at times been interpreted as Michael the Archangel, but there is no theological basis for that assumption, given that Joshua then worshiped this figure, and angels are not to be worshiped. Some scholars also point that the figure may refer to God himself. In the book of Joshua’s account of the fall of Jericho, Joshua “looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand”. When the still unaware Joshua asks which side of the fight the Archangel is on, the response was, “neither…but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.
So Joshua worshiped Michael (the fiery sword of god) like God. Michael who is “Like God, Closest to God”. Serbs worshiped Perun (the lightning which causes fire and destruction) like God, the god of warriors. 

What is amazing is that when asked whose side he is on, Michael answers “neither”. This is exact description of the nature of lightning. It is not on the side of heaven nor it is on the side of the earth. It is in between connected to both heaven and earth.

The Book of Revelation (12:7-9) describes a war in heaven in which Michael, being stronger, defeats Satan:

…there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.” 

Slaying the dragon is a job of Thuner gods though out Evroasia. In Slavic religion, Veles is said to live in the roots of the Tree of Life in the shape of a serpent and is constantly trying to destroy the tree of life by eating its roots. He is killed by Perun in the shape of an eagle who lives in the branches of the Tree of Life. Perun the defender of the Tree of Life kills Veles the dragon, the great snake. This is another proof that Michael is actually Perun, Shiva, Thor, the thunder god, the lightning sword of the Lord God, the Sun.  

A reference to an “archangel” also appears in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians 4:16

…the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God…“.

This archangel who heralds the second coming of Christ is not named, but is probably Michael, the lightning which descends from heaven to earth with the sound of thunder, the voice of Archangel, the trumpet of God.

Do you think this is all a bit strange? It gets even Stranger.

The earliest and most famous sanctuary to Saint Michael was the Michaelion built in the early 4th century by Emperor Constantine at Chalcedon, on the site of an earlier Temple called Sosthenion. A painting of the Archangel slaying a serpent became a major art piece at the Michaelion after Constantine defeated Licinius near there in 324, eventually leading to the standard iconography of Archangel Michael as a warrior saint slaying a dragon. The Michaelion was a magnificent church and in time became a model for hundreds of other churches in Eastern Christianity which spread devotions to the Archangel.

A temple called Leosthenion (Greek: Λεωσθένιον) or Sosthenion (Greek: Σωσθένιον) had existed at the location prior to the 4th century. The site corresponds to modern Istinye.

According to a widespread tradition, current already since the 6th century, the Church of St. Michael at Sosthenion was founded by Constantine the Great, who visited the temple, erected by the Argonauts and dedicated to Zeus Sosthenios or a winged deity. Constantine interpreted the winged statue of the temple as a Christian angel. After sleeping the night in the temple, Constantine reported a vision that the angel was the Archangel Michael, and converted the building into a church to honor him.

Winged Zeus, Winged thunder god, was “interpreted” by Constantine as “Archangel Michael” who we have seen has all attributes of Perun, the thunder god. 

Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to become a Christian and in 313 AD along with his co-Emperor Licinius signed the Edict of Milan, allowing Christians to worship freely and build public churches, rather than worshiping in secret. However, Constantine and Licinius later fought each other and in 324 AD Constantine defeated Licinius at the Battle of Adrianople, not far from the Michaelion – attributing the victory to Archangel Michael.

“Constantine felt that both Licinius and Arius were agents of Satan, and associated them with the serpent described in the Book of Revelation (12:9). Constantine represented Licenius as a snake on his coins. After the victory, Constantine commissioned a depiction of himself and his sons slaying Licinius represented as a serpent – a symbolism borrowed from the Christian teachings on the Archangel to whom he attributed the victory. A similar painting, this time with the Archangel Michael himself slaying a serpent then became a major art piece at the Michaelion and eventually lead to the standard iconography of Archangel Michael as a warrior saint.”

Archangel Michael was the warrior saint because Perun was a warrior God. And Archangel Michael slaying the Dragon is Perun (Eagle) slaying Veles (snake), Sun. Light overpowering Water, Darkness…

Did Constanin turn Perun into Archangel Michael? 

Well I don’t know, but have a look at these two pictures. 

The labarum (Greek: λάβαρον) was a vexillum (military standard) that displayed the “Chi-Rho” symbol ☧, formed from the first two Greek letters of the word “Christ” (Greek: ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, or Χριστός) — Chi (χ) and Rho (ρ). It was first used by the Roman emperor Constantine I. Since the vexillum consisted of a flag suspended from the crossbar of a cross, it was ideally suited to symbolize the crucifixion of Christ.

According to Lactantius, a Latin historian of North African origins saved from poverty by the Emperor Constantine I (r. 306–337), who made him tutor to his son Crispus, Constantine had dreamt of being ordered to put a “heavenly divine symbol” (Latin: coeleste signum dei) on the shields of his soldiers. The description of the actual symbol chosen by Emperor Constantine the next morning, as reported by Lactantius, is not very clear: it closely resembles a Chi-Rho or a staurogram, a similar Christian symbol. That very day Constantine’s army fought the forces of Maxentius and won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (312), outside Rome.

There is a symbol, a “heavenly divine symbol” which closely resembles ChiRho. It is the heavenly wheel of Perun, the warrior deity of Slavs who is like Svetovid:

Constantin, the first Christian Roman emperor, was born in the Balkans, in what is today the south eastern part of Serbia, in the town which is today called Niš, but which was known as Naisus during Roman times. What was Constantin’s tribal origin? I don’t know. But if he was fighting in the Civil War, he must have turned to his countrymen, to his compatriots, to his tribesmen for support. And what if they believed in Perun, the thunder god, being the protector of the warriors? What would be the best way Constantin could appease them? What was the best way for Constantin to get their support? Well he could have told them that he did not forget the “old faith” of their forefathers. And that if his compatriots joined him, they would be fighting as “us” against “them”. And that they would be fighting under the protection of their old warrior god. And how would he show that? By placing the symbol of their old warrior god, the wheel of Perun, the heavenly divine symbol, which closely resembles ChiRho, onto their standards and shields. 

Under this sigh you will conquer!

And they did. 

Is this why, when eventually Constantin won the war, he built the temple dedicated to “Archangel Michael”, who is Like God, the commander of the heavenly army, the slayer of dragons, the guardian of the Gates of Heaven and the Tree of Life, the one who is between the Heaven and Earth?

What do you think, who is really Archangel Michael?

Shepherd's chapels from Velebit

In my post about the Indian Summer, which is in Central Europe called Babje Leto (Grandmother’s summer), I showed that the beliefs related to Babje Leto (Grandmother’s summer), show that the old Mother Goddess, Mother Earth, Baba, was with the arrival of Christianity replaced with Mary, the Holy Mother of Christianity. 
In this post I will talk about the shepherd’s chapels from Mount Velebit in Croatia. They offer us even more direct proof of the replacement of the Mother Goddess, Mother Earth, Baba with Mary, the Holy Mother.
Alpine transhumance is a seasonal droving of grazing livestock between the valleys in winter and the high mountain pastures in summer. Transhumance is a traditional practice that has shaped much of the landscape in the Alps, as without it, most areas below 2,000 m would be forests. The exactly the same type of practice existed once on Dinaric Alps
This is the highland pasture area called Jezera (Lakes) on mountain Velebit in Croatia. This is the area where in the past people living around the mountain used to bring flocks of sheep and goats and herds of  cows to spend the hot summers grazing on a good green highland grass. 
Jezera plateau
Jezera plateau
Each large grazing area had pre Christian shepherd’s temples with sacrificial altar. These pagan temples were later turned into Christian churches, locally known as “stočarske kapelice” (shepherd’s chapels). The oldest one is the shepherd’s chapel in Jezera (Lakes) plateau grazing area. There on top of the “Goli hrbat” (Naked back), at the height of 1470 m above the sea level, lie in complete isolation ruins of an ancient sacral building with dimension 10 x 5 meters. The stone walls, which were built using dry wall building technique, were 1.3 meters thick. The most unusual thing about this chapel is the altar stone. The altar is actually bedrock, which existed there before the church was built. Bedrock is in the Balkans known as “kamen živac, živi kamen, živa stena” (living stone, living rock) and is venerated as sacred. They are called so, because they are believed to be still part of the living body of the Mother Earth. These types of stones are also known as “baba” stones. The fact that the altar stone was carved out of bedrock shows that this was an ancient pre Christian altar stone which was later encased inside of the Christian church, surrounded by the thick church walls in order to have it’s “evil” power contained.
Remains of the old shepherd’s chapel

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

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

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

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

Veliko Rujno

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

Veliko Rujno chapel

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

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

Malo Rujno

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

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

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

Mala Paklenica

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

Saint Jacob chapel

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

Libinje plateau

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Mitske predaje i legende južnovelebitskog Podgorja” by Mirjana Trošelj

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

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