Nov 8, 2016

Punishing the spirit which causes fear

Besides lead melting and „odsjecanje skrate“ stravarke also know other methods of curing fear, such as "uvarivanje strahe“ or knife cutting. This last method is very rare and it is difficult to find a stravarka which practices it. Now deceased Fatima Dizdarević, was known for this method during the end of the previous century, she had learned it from her mother in law.

Stravarka takes a knife with a black handle (sheath) and as she touches the frightened, which is lying on the floor or the bed facing the ceiling, she follows the text of the esoteric basma. As in all other variations of curing with the help of magical formulas in this one too, the stravarka starts by nami body parts, starting from the head:

I’m not cutting you N nor your body,
but I’m cutting the head of the black fear,
I’m cutting its throat,
shoulders left and right hand,
fingers from the smallest to the largest,
I’m opening its chest,
cutting the heart and taking out the intestines,
cutting its stomach and breaking its spine,
cutting both legs,
feet and all ten fingers.
Be gone you dirty heathen,
you will not eat nor sleep here,
be gone black fear,
far away from N;
where the dog doesn’t bark,
where the cat doesn’t meow,
the rooster doesn’t crow,
with my formula and god’s will, huuu!

After blowing into the knife, stravarka repeats the movements with the knife from head to toe citing the text of the formula and repeats it nine times in total. After the last time she repeats it the stravarka throws the knife behind her back.

It is evident from the text that fear is seen as a supernatural parasitical being without sexual characteristics i.e. a “black spirit” which has possessed the diseased. At the end of the formula the stravarka calls it contemptuously “dirty heathen” – dirty mater – alluding that she has uncovered him and beaten him. With imitative movements and words, the stravarka touches the diseased gently with the blade of the knife, and she ritually punishes the spirit because he dared to enter the human body and he dared to torture it (1).

Personification of fear through the form of a dark spirit is no coincidence, it is based on the belief of all stravarke about the existence of a dark spirit (terror) which enters a human’s head and it is difficult to get it out. Similarly, there is “daily fear” and “nightly fear” – if someone gets scared during the day will be cured of the fear much more easily than the one frightened during the night “since it is the dark terror and it enters the human’s head!”.

Punishing fear is not a rare occurrence in the folk medicine of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In anthological works of Antun Hangi about the life and customs of Bosnian people, the author describes the method of lead melting and mentions that at the end of the ritual the stravarka uses scissors to “cut” the surface of the water in all directions, alluding with such movements that she is cutting the fear. Another data clearly points to the folk representation of fear as a spirit, namely, all stravarke have some rules which they or the diseased perform as a precaution that the fear doesn’t come back, whether it is putting on new clothes, hanging the scissors and knife above the entrance door, not looking back, etc.

Power of saliva

It is noticeable in shorter or longer exorcist formulas that fear is always chased away from the bones (among the folk it is said when one person scares another “he struck fear into his bones!”), like this one from Sandžak where the Bosnian stravarka says:

Be gone, fear,
from the bones under the skin,
from the skin onto the hair,
from the hair into the black sea!

Among the Bosnian folk there are some prophylactic processes which serve for annulling the influence of fear. Most frequently it is spitting lightly into one’s own chest. When we’re talking about negative particulars, especially about disease, or if a person is scared of something, there was a custom of lightly loosening the collar of the shirt, in order to separate it from the body, this would enable the saliva to reach the chest, close to the heart.

Traditional custom of spitting to the side or in front of oneself, when one wants to chase away evil, is a segment of an identical practice. Namely, in such a case if one notices thrown lead pieces and coal pieces on an intersection, remnants of a lead melting ritual intended for a random passerby to walk over, one should spit towards these objects and say: "On whom you have dwelt, on him you should stay, fear!", with the goal of saving oneself from such a supernatural transmission.

Fear like magic, according to folk belief, can be directed from one person onto another but only during that most recent moment, while it hasn’t overtaken completely the mind of the person. As soon as the first shock has passed, the frightened person, and if he sees another person at a fair distance can repeat three times the following formula, focusing on his target:

On a worm a worm,
on an ant an ant,
on a horse a horse,
on a cow a cow,
and on you my fear, huuu,
from God help and from me magical words!

Then he spits on his finger (index finger) and wipes it off of a tree or earth, in order to chase the fear and cleanse the body with such a ritual procedure.

(1) In folk medicine in BiH the practice of using metal, as a useful means of scaring spirits of disease, is traditional and its origin should be sought in the earliest human history. This skill is based on the belief that anything that can hurt or kill a man, such as lead (bullet) or iron (knife), can also have an identically destructive effect on the demon’s of disease. Ultimately such a notion is understandable if we take into consideration that spirits which attack and possess humans, exist in a similar manner as human’s themselves and are thereby vulnerable.