May 17, 2013

Pagan background of the folk calendar

As Christianity took over most of the pagan holidays and customs creating a cult of saints, in this analysis of ancient Bosnian calendar we won't waste space and time by discovering which saint took over which role of a pagan deity, instead we will focus on more important, original segments which are in its basis key principles for punctual description of the folk calendar whose content follows the creative cycle of nature. The only thing that is worth mentioning is that Christianity changed moved some dates a few days earlier or later from the original date of the pagan holidays in order to give it a Christian meaning and diminish the ancient, pagan one.

Researchers of ancient Bosnia came across archaeological evidence which point out that there was mixing between the Celtic religious cults with those of the Illyrians, especially with the Japodi, a tribe that inhabited the north-western part of Bosnia. By analysing the folk calendar of that part of Bosnia, which was transferred orally from one generation to the other, we can discover the traces of Celtic religion, the cult of fertility to be more exact, which is a staple part of what we know today as European witchcraft.

By describing particular calendar dates and beliefs connected to them we can relatively successfully reconstruct the ancient cult of triple goddess Brigid which is also considered the Grand Mother. Wheat was dedicated to her out of whom prophylactic symbols were created with intent to keep the family safe from evil. Herodotus in one of his descriptions of the Illyrians mentions that Illyrian women bring wheat as a sacrifice to one of their goddesses. This undoubtedly confirms the similar belief of the Celt and the Illyrians.

In the folk calendar dualism is emphasized, the permeation of the negative and the positive period during which nature begins and ends its circle of fertility, which is under the protection of the goddess mother and god sun. Modelled after the antique folk calendar, the Bosnian is divided on only two seasons i.e. summer and winter because it is in its essence agricultural and follows the natural cycles. According to the belief of the Bosnian folk summer begins in May and ends in November (Beltane-Samhain), and then comes the winter, when would the manifestation of the goddess mother, in her three forms, commence together with the winter solstice.

Zehmerija, Veljača and Baba we will analyse in more detail, besides female names and characteristics, they symbolise three life stages which are undoubtedly reminiscent of the pagan cult of the goddess mother, which was celebrated as triple goddess - girl, mother and old woman. The name Zehmerija, unlike the other two names, doesn't originate from Bosnia, it is a part of the Turkish folk tradition which was accepted by our people and merged into the tradition. But, while Zehmerija actually Zehmeri or Zehmerir in Turkish alludes to males, in Bosnia Zehmerija was always considered to be a female name. This is supported by "Crna Zehmerija" (Black Zehemerija), which represents the coldest winter days. During that period in the past people tended to get frozen fingers or toes, in case of very low temperatures.


Witches holiday Yule which is exactly on 21st December and more than ideally it corresponds to the calendar date of the beginning of Zehmerija. From the winter solstice the day starts to get longer by the amount that the rooster can jump from the house doorstep. In this folk belief there is a clear allusion to the sun cult, whose symbol is a rooster, because in paganism after 21st of December the sun is "born" and announces a gradual arrival of warmer days.

The goddess gave birth to a son, god, which will eventually become her lover and father of the child in the next cycle. She is tired and exhausted and that's why she's resting and recuperating. That's why it's cold and snowy in nature. The goddess like the Bosnian woman rests for 40 days (četeresnica) after birth, which is also how long the Zehmerija is, and during that time the folk tradition records various taboos which clearly allude to birth. Apparently, while the Zehmerija lasts the people would avoid travelling by night, in order not to cross places where the demons celebrate and dine which also has the greatest influence during that part of year. From such encounters between people and the Jinn, humans can fall ill both physically and mentally. A similar prohibition pertains to a woman who gave birth; she was prohibited from going out at night from fear of a demon attack, since she has no immunity to them during the first 40 days after birth.


Calendar wise Veljača is different from Zehmerija because it doesn't coincide with the other pagan holiday called Imbolc which is celebrated from dusk of 31st January until 2nd February which means that it comes at the end of Zehmerija, and we shouldn't disregard this information. Imbolc is the event when the Celtic triple goddess Brigid first appeared as a girl and made love with the young sun god, who was born on the shortest day in the year.

The difference of 12 days is perhaps due to the events i.e. mistakes in oral transfer of the tradition from one generation to the other. But, we shouldn't ignore the fact that Zehemerija, which lasts for 40 days, begins on December 21st and ends 1st of February. The name Veljača probable comes from Velja, Vela or Velika which alludes to the fact that the girl became a mother, and that's why she obtained the title grand/big, the one that brings forth life. Her symbol is the full moon. The goddess recovered from birth. God has strengthened and his warmth slowly permeates the earth and that's how the first signs of spring come about. His power grows continually, the light pierces darkness and the days become longer. The nature is slowly coming to life, which is reflected by the Bosnian calendar in the form of a fight between southern and northern wind. The goddess shows her blessings, the folk tradition claims that if the beginning of Veljača i.e. 14th, 15th and 16th of February is marked by precipitation of snow the year will be fruitful, especially for wheat, usually a symbol of the goddess.

Baba or Grandma

Baba, as the name suggests, symbolises an old lady. In the same way, the pagan holiday Ostare falls on the vernal equinox on the last day of a seven day cycle which is ruled by the Baba. With that we could claim that the last day symbolises the end of the life cycle. In this period the goddess mother conceived a child i.e. son who will be born on December 21st. Baba can be easily seen as a pregnant woman since the Bosnian term zbabna refers to a pregnant woman and the word babine refers to the traditional visit to the woman who gave birth. The folk description of Baba's character clearly alludes to classic symptoms that a woman has during childbirth - she is wilful, fickle, prone to frequent changes of mood... Due to such circumstances the goddess mother can sometimes steal fertility from humans and cause a dry year or a year marked by frequent storms.

During this period the goddess covers the earth with fertility, awakens it from its slumber, and the god grows and slowly reaches maturity. The hours of the day and night are equal, and light slowly triumphs over darkness. Farming activities start. The sun is in its northernmost point.

The end of Baba begins with a seven day period during which Did rules, the male principle, or better to say god whose mother is the goddess, he has now reached maturity and shares grace to the people, which is described in the folk tradition: "Did is merciful because during it one can start planting potatoes". The seed is placed in the earth which needs to supply the crop, fertility. The dominant influence of god is seen in the following months.

Jurjevo (Hidirlez)

In the pagan tradition Beltane symbolises the beginning of the light half of the year i.e. the arrival of summer. For the Celts that is the holiday dedicated to the god of light (sun) who has fire as its symbol. That's why each year during Jurjevo or Hidirlez in Bosnia early in the morning, before sun rise, a fire is lit in the yard as a sign of welcome to the sun which will appear in the east. Because of the strong monotheistic influence that ritual was interpreted as a defence from snakes, which allowed it to be hidden and freely practiced throughout the ages.

Ajvatovica - ancient cult of sun

Ajvatovica according to all the available data is an Illyrian tradition of the sun cult which announced the renewal of nature, its fertility through water and the forest. The days of Ajvatovica last from 15th to the 25th of June which coincides with the summer solstice (June 21st). In Celtic religion during the summer solstice a large ritual takes place, holly unity of the mature sun god and mother earth. On this day the sun god's might is at its peak.

40 days and nights is the time that Ajvaz Dedo prayed for the water to start flowing perfectly coincides with the period of June 21st to July 31st i.e. the beginning of the second pagan holiday which is celebrated for three days of Lugha or Lughnassan.


Lughnassan which lasts from 31st July until 2nd of August is the ancient holiday of harvest. In Bosnia during that period comes the Aliđun which is considered by the people to stand for the height of summer during which there is prosperity of fruits and grain. In the past the Bosnian people visited cult places in nature, known as dovišta, and those were the places where god was worshiped and celebrations were held followed with entertainment and food. With that the old pagan tradition was followed of praising the holiday of harvest and thankfulness for the yields of nature. Dovište Lastavica was until the middle of the twentieth century a cult place where Bosnian people would gather for 2nd of August to practice the ritual of slaughtering sheep, which is a tradition from the Illyrian times as many ethnologists claim, and it symbolised "sacrificing a virgin to the devil" i.e. a specific deity from whom one sought mercy and blessing in order to ensure fertility.


Samhain (31.10-02.11), symbolises the end of the summer and the light part of the year after which winter and darkness arrive. Among the folk it is called Kasum, Turkish name for November. The name Kasum stems from Arabic which means "something which is shared". The end of the warm period and the beginning of winter is best supported by the folk saying: "Jurjevo brings a green leaf and Kasum white snow!" That is where the Bosnian folk calendar ends.

Iris illyrica Bosnia