Dec 26, 2016

Spells as arrows

 Spells can be divided according to intensity – there are weak and strong spells. From the first the diseased person has transient symptoms such as yawning, headache, sudden passing of cold throughout the body. They usually influence the mood and appetite in children. Strong spells have a longer lasting and more pronounced activity; they can even cause death in smaller children while in adults they create “holes” in the aura, when we see a constant loss of energy, which is manifested in everyday life by sudden tiredness. In Islamic tradition a gaze of evil eyes is called strijelica (arrow), which is a suitable term. Spellbound or shot through person can be recognised by brown spots on the face, usually forehead, since evil, according to stravarke “always attacks the star”.

The only place on the human body which has immunity from spells is the backside according to folk belief. As soon as we are found in company of a person who is known to cast spells i.e. malicious, and if they laud us because of something, we should discretely touch our back side, whether by placing a hand or pinching the backside. Allegedly, it is a sure protection against spells. Similarly, in the south-western part of Bosnia (Velika Kladuša, Cazin, Bihać) certain women still today touch the child lightly, three times on the backside then on the face, while holding them, then they utter:

Whoever throws a spell onto this down here
may he throw a spell onto this up here!

Prophylactic motif of the backside, as a safe trump against spells, is used in this exorcist formula written down in Velika Kladuša:

Whoever casts a spell on you may he be inside the backside
may he stay there until barely matures,
with my basma and god’s will.

From all magical formulas in oral tradition, the healing ones from almost all peoples the formulas that are most widespread are exorcist basme against spells, which reveals to us a deep cultural fear from the destructive power of this supernatural apparition and its enormous geographical range.

One would often guess as to the state of the diseased, especially if a child fell ill. Dr. Sielski in his short work on the history of medicine called “How the folk healers cured the mentally ill and neurological patients”, notices that people would initially think it is fear based. Such a child could be recognised by “going to bed healthy and suddenly shouts – with a fixed gaze, fearfully looks to one side as if watching something, while shivering and jerking. This lasts for some time, then the child starts sweating from the excitement and droops and falls asleep. Only with soft words can it be calmed down a bit. People say that the disease is forced on the child, that the child is spellbound or scared of an apparition. Healing follows these principles.”


Allegedly the best cure against spells is an amulet of a Muslim priest but in the absence of it, a favourable substitute, is the ritual of coal extinguishing followed by an oral magic – bajanje.

Ancient belief in the magical power of words

Bajanje, a name which stems from the Turkish word bayamak – cast a spell with the intent of healing, it is based on exorcism, when with the help of poetic and often rhymed verses one wants to directly influence the spirit or spirits in order to free the body of the diseased. Bajanje is the integral part of shamanism and is usually performed by gifted persons. Namely, it is considered that some good spirits intervene in the magical education of a person or, more simply, they reveal to the chosen person ways in which it can penetrate into the world of ghosts and influence them directly. Usually during initiation they reveal which bajalice, rhymed vows they must utter in order to override the influence of evil spirits and to banish them from the human body. In combination with water, fire, herbs and special ritual gestures those persons succeed in suppressing evil and chasing it into “mračne havaje i puste haliluke” – eerie mythological place where havoc and infertility rule:

From nine spells and diseases on N eight,
from eight – seven,
from seven – six,
from six – five,
from five – four,
from four – three,
from three – two,
from two – one,
from one – none!
What stayed on the wing the fly takes away
into mračne havaje,
in puste haliluke;
where the rooster doesn’t crow,
the cat doesn’t meow,
where maša isn’t heard,
where the Jinn table is being set.
May there this namet(1) wait for judgement day (kijamet),
with my formula and god’s will! (2)

To find out if a child is spellbound, caring mothers would lick the child’s forehead or the temple or stroke it with fingers and then lick their finger and if they feel a sour, bitter or salty taste it is a certain sign that the child has been shot through or spellbound. Sometimes one would call a neighbour to perform this work and she licks the child’s skin between the eyes, and if she feels a salty taste, without a doubt the child is spellbound.

In that case one of the numerous exorcist formulas are repeated, such as this:

Bilobrk crosses the blue sea,
to dear god,
from dear god brings to N health and happiness (3) ,
and takes away začud and zazor,
veledalin amin.

Dr. Sielsk describes the way in which a stravarka performs a ritual of annulling evil eyes from a spellbound child. “In order to remove spells, coal is being extinguished. From fire, she takes out three coals and throws them into a wooden vessel with water. All the while uttering a prayer, she addresses the magical formula and blows three times (4) . If all three embers chirp, the spells will leave, if she doesn’t hear the sound, she repeats the extinguishing, prays further and gives water to the diseased which was used to extinguish the coals.”

(1) namet – other name for spell.

(2) Often one exorcist formula is actually a collection of two or three shorter formulas, which individual stravarke added during their work or simply which they simply inherited. Also, we can notice superficial corrections or changes; in certain exorcist texts we notice counting backwards, from nine to one, it can sometimes be located at the beginning or the end. Another detail which I noticed has to do with the surrounding the stravarka lives in. Namely, if the area from which she steams is traditionally religious then in the formula we have more sacral elements, otherwise usually the ending has the added expressions such as “with my formula and god’s will”, “by god’s decree” or the like.

(3) Health and happiness are the two basic terms when it comes to healing and victory over a disease (spell) which can be seen in this example of the lullaby from Mostar: “Đulbeharu don’t effuse my seed, don’t effuse my dear son, sleep son, may your health shine, may your health and happiness shine!".

(4) Though magic, like religion, was present from the beginning of mankind in all meridians, it still has an epicentre and that is certainly the Middle East. From ancient Babylon, Persia or Egypt, magic was raised on a pedestal from a common cult of bewitchment to an exalted science. That’s why the origin of bajanje should be sought in such a context. Namely, bajanje above water is mentioned in numerous stories from the 1001 night, where scenes of transformation are described, from an animal into a human or vice versa or throwing or removing spells, where a witch or magi or even a wise person would utter secret word above a vessel with water, would blow in it and them would use the water to sprinkle the victim. This leads us to a conclusion that knowledge of magical words shaped in prayers and bajalice and uttered above water without a doubt stem from the Middle East and through Gypsies and Ottomans it came down to our area and found a home in the folklore of all Balkan people.