Dec 31, 2011


Word which does not exist in any dictionary, and my Sarajevan informants did not understand it. They suggested it was supposed to be nagaziti (na sihir or jinns), which means to be bewitched, or alternatively nagrajisati, which mean to get into trouble or fare badly. It is believed that a person may be „bewitched“ by what most informants referred to as „something“, or more rarely as a „devilish brew“, which may attach itself to breadcrumbs, nails, blood, wood chips, or rubbish which has been left outdoors by humans. This stuff is believed to be used by sorcerers when making sihir. This devilish brew containing malevolent spirits may thus be transferred deliberately by sorcerers to people who are thereby „poisoned“. Again, a person is most vulnerable to such attacks at akšam (sunset). If going out after sunset he or she should always say bismillah as he or she may unknowingly step over rubbish of the type described, left by humans on the ground where „agents of the devil“ gather. The best protection, however, is to wear a zapis.

Dec 30, 2011

Bosnian healers

Among the most common problems healers are asked to remedy are chronic illness, marital difficulties, infertility, prolonged bachelorhood, and mental problems such as anxiety or depression. I knew of three people, two woman and a man, who practiced healing as described. They are usually called by their first names and the name of their village. All three lived in remote mountain villages. People came from all over central Bosnia and from Sarajevo to see them. One of the villagers' favorite stories about one of them was that during the Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo (1984) this „hodža“ had visitors from distant countries who took the trip all the way from Sarajevo to seek his help. The story was always told to establish this man's importance. However, the „real“ medresa-educated official hodžas dismissed these healers (and diviners) as „illiterate“ because they mixed Qur'anic knowledge with what the official hodžas considered to be non-Islamic folk beliefs.
The second category consists of bulas who do faith healing and divination and hodžas who write amulets. I will deal with both in turn. Female faith healers are typically middle-aged, and are bulas of the traditional rather than the medresa-educated kind. Generally, female healers use fewer written sources and concentrate on reciting Qur'anic verses, praying and divination. They are particularly sough after for salijevati strahu (to pour/cast horror) and the „praying of istihara“, traditional healing practices and divination accompanied by Bosniak prayers and teachings from the Qur'an.

Dec 29, 2011

The Writing of Amulets

The most common and popular form of help Bosniaks in the village sought in times of personal stress (particularly when was believed to have been caused by negative influences such as sihir) was an amulet, popularly called zapis (note), written by a hodža. A zapis may more rarely be referred to as mušema (the Arabic word which describes the wrapper around the note). Then more general term hamajlija (from the Arabic term for amulet) is also used. A zapis is a small piece of paper with a verse or phrase from the Qur'an written in Arabic and carried as a charm or amulet. Worn for protection against spells and indirectly therefore against illness, it can also be worn as an amulet to secure happiness and good fortune, or to ease anxiety and physical pain (such as headaches). Such problems are not untypically brought on by life-cycle changes, such a marrying and becoming a bride and new member of a household, the birth of a child, or the death or illness of a close family member. The paper is wrapped into a triangle in a small piece of red cloth which has been oiled or waxed to make it more resistant. (The Arabic word mušema means oilcloth). The zapis is attached by a safety pin as close to the person's body as possible, usually to the undershirt. Only a trained hodža is considered competent to write zapis, the few who actually do so are well known is rural areas, especially among Bosniaks. The hodžas who write amulets must know to write Qur'an verses in Arabic, and to able to choose verses appropriate to each case. They are often retired religious instructors with long experience and good psychological insight into local life. Some hodžas, however, think the practise is not in the spirit of Islam and is immoral (because of the money involved). The official Islamic Association was rigorously against it and would teach young medresa students to preach against it if posted to rural areas.
The verses written on the zapis are chosen according to the problem it is supposed to remedy. After the zapis has been written and wrapped there are several possible procedured: it may be worn immediately without any further measures being taken, or it may be put through various magical treatments. (It is important that the zapis not be worn or left in unclean places such as the lavatory if unprotected, that is, not oiled.) The magical treatment also varies with the nature of the problem the zapis is supposed to protect the person from.
One of the hodžas told me that fewer people asked him to write zapis for them today than in his younger days, since „today there are more doctors around, so fewer people come and ask us (hodžas) to write zapis. Besides, young people nowadays do not believe in praying“. Villagers and hodžas alike told me that in the late eighties fewer hodžas practiced forms of faith healing and divination such as the writing of zapis. This was clearly related to the younger hodžas' more formalized and more shari'at-oriented Islamic training, rendering them critical of such practices. Nevertheless, judging from the number of case histories I collected of people who had sought the help of a hodža and who had had a zapis written for them at least once, it was still a much used strategy for coping with misfortune. However, people tended to seek the help of one of the more prestigious sufi hodža, in contrast to the local ones, reported an increase in the number of people who had come to them with health or personal problems over the last few years.

Salijevanje strahe

The same was not, however, said about salijevati stravu or salijevati strahu which can also be performed by less religiously educated Bosniak women, as it requires less knowledge. The central item in the ritual is a lump of lead which is heated and then thrown into water, where it forms a pattern from which the supplicant's troubles are interpreted. Apart from the local bula there was one other woman in the village who performed this ritual. She had learned it from an old bula from the district, who decided to stop performing it because of pressure from her children who complained that it was primitive superstition. She taught the woman from Dolina how to perform it and gave her the lump of lead ( which should be handed down from one bula to another). I observed salijevati strahu on several occasions. It was always performed at the request of women who had either been bereaved by the death of a close relative, or had been upset by other events in the immediate family and were anxious and unable to sleep, though they did not know the reason why. The casting of the lead and the Qur'anic recitation were believed to help define the problem and thereby relieve the anxiety. The ritual could only be performed by devout women who could recite Qur'an verses. The pattern formed by the lump of lead was always interpreted as an indication that something had upset the patient, and suggestions were made as to what this might be and what the patient should do. She may be advised to say specific prayers regularly od perform other religious duties. The lead ritual might be repeated a couple of times over the next week or two, until she felt calmer and less worried.


Prayers of istihara are said specifically to predict the future. People, usually women, will come to the bula and ask if she can pray istihara on their behalf to find out whether a certain project will succeed, for example. Before going to sleep the bula will pray for a dream that will reveal whatever it was the person in question wanted to know about her future. The bula will then interpret the dream. The istihara is said to demand intense concentration and be mentally very tiring; not every bula can do it. While shari'at-oriented Islamic scholars consider much of the divination practiced by Bosniaks in Bosnia to be against the spirit of Islam, the bula I spoke to emphasized that the istihara is a practice referred to in the Qur'an.

Dec 27, 2011

Iblis, help me!

For a woman to become a sihirbazica (witch) and gain magical powers she needs to take the holly Qur'an and throw it on the ground and stomping it utter: Iblis, help me, I give you my soul, help me in my intentions (or wishes)".

In Bosnia it is believed that after this blasphemous act she becomes a witch: she can cast love spells, exert revenge on her enemies, become invisible...
In the past, according to ethnological writings, young women often became witches in order to become attractive with the help of magic, so that men would want them. Similarly, a woman would become a witch in order to bring her man back, who left her or to separate him from his beloved girlfriend, her rival.
In their practice the Bosnian witches used various ways to cast love spells on men, and the most famous one is the one with white beans. The ritual was performed as follows:
At night, when no one is around, the witch would take an axe and place it behind the entrance door along with nine white beans on which she urinated on. Then the witch goes to the fire place inside the house and places the beans in the ash near the fire. She would then utter: "the beans crackle, bah bahti, the axe behind the door and X in front of it. Die, burst until you come to me, with Gods power and my merit, veledalin amin".
She would then blow three times in the direction of the man and then she would swallow her spit. The witch stirs the beans in a circle with a metal spoon, takes the axe and brings it and places it next to her feet, and then she stirs the beans with the spoon one more time and brings the axe back behind the door. While doing this she utters:
"I am placing the axe behind the door; I am not placing the axe but the brain and wits of X behind the door. Die, burst until you come to me, with God's power and my merit.Veledalin amin".
After that she repeats the following words three times: "basmice, basmice sisters as ordained by God, bring me X there is the dark and the cloud, I am his shining sun and moon. Dark all around him and I am his only light, elzalif amin".
At the end she blows down her bosom three times, turns around and goes to bed.
It is believed that after this ritual the man who was the target of the ritual becomes plagued by an unexplainable longing and wish to see the woman as soon as he can. Because of the love magic the man cannot sleep nor concentrate on anything else. If he resists the urge to visit the witch strange blisters appear on his body and he suffers a high temperature for days. When he visits the woman, and as soon as he lays his eyes on her, all of the symptoms disappear immediately. 

Dec 22, 2011

Sedef or Sedefil

Another plant used specifically for protection against the evil eye was rue (Ruta graveolens) or Sedefil. Since newborn children were believed to be most susceptible to the evil eye, the Bosniaks used to put a branch of rue in the baby's clothes but and   associated it with birth as well as death (it was placed above the head of the deceased)

The most famous plant among the Bosniak people which is by tradition connected to the sacred and the mystic elements is rue (Ruta graveoles). The word rue (sadef) has its origin in the Arabic language and it is commonly called in Bosnia "sedefil", "sedefat" etc. It is commonly believed that this plant has strong apotropaic powers, the old Egyptians, Chinese, Romans and Celts were aware of this fact. In Arabia, Peganum Harmala is a plant that is credit for annulling negative effects, especially spellbound eyes, in Bosnia this role is performed by nacre. Its worth is perhaps best understood by the old adage of grandparents who say "one should cater for nacre more than its own child."
In alternative medicine in Bosnia and Herzegovina, nacre was mostly used for heart diseases. Tea was usually made from this plant or a dry mixture of it would be combined with honey and eaten as such. Prophylactic characteristic of nacre should be sought in its original form, namely one leaf had five smaller leaves which associate us to five fingers or Khamsa (Hand of Fatima). Except the fact that the plant was placed under children's pillows to protect them against spellbound eyes, girls usually wore a bundle of the plant in their hair for the exact same purpose. Besides being able to protect one from spellbound eyes, the plant possessed a characteristic which enabled it to annul any and every magical or hostile effect and therefore it was usually found in front of a house, a bush planted near the entrance door or perhaps from both sides to prevent evil from entering the premises. These are the reasons why this plant gained popularity amongst the Bosnian people who see nacre as their national amulet.
Also the practice of using nacre is common in Bosnian spiritual healers, especially "stravarka" (ocakli kadin). One of them, "stravarka" by the name of Bilka, puts a bundle of the plant on the Qur'an and a piece of led over it to annul evil as soon as she begins the ritual. Bilka explains the usage of this plant: nacre is a heavenly plant which wards off any and every evil.Nacre is successfully used to annul black magic, this is one of many Bosnian recipes. It is necessary to take nine flowers, nine leaves and nine branches of nacre and place them inside a bottle which was beforehand filled with clear spring water. After that one must repeat the following nine prayers: El-Fatiha, Ikhlas, Falaq, Nass and Tebetyeda. After this is completed the bottle is closed and left closed overnight. The following day a person which has problems with negative energy has to first take a bath, and then when the body is clean it needs to wash himself with the water from the bottle taking care that every part of the body is washed with this water. One should not dry his body with a towel, but wait for it to be dried by itself and after that the parts of the plant need to be thrown out in a place where people don't trot.

Natural order: Rutaceae. Other names: Herb of Grace, Herb of Repentance. French name: Rue. German name: Raute. Italian names: Ruta, Ruga. Spanish name: Ruda trago-amargo. Turkish name: Sedef otu. Chinese name: Yiin-haiang- ts'ao. Bosnian name: sedefil, sedefčić, etc.

Amulet or Hamajlija

 In Bosnia and Herzegovina there is a long tradition of wearing amulets, which are called “hamajlija” (amulet). They are shorter or longer texts from the Quran written on a piece of paper where a picture of a magic square is present (wafq) and at the end of the text the name of the owner is written. Amulets were worn for various reasons such as the protection from sickness and as a cure but mostly because they provide immunity to the wearer.

When someone wants to get an amulet they go to a hodja (mullah) who uses the system of Arabic astrology and numerology, also known as “ebjad hisab”, and turns the name of that person along with the name of his mother into their numerical equivalents and divides it by the number 12. When he receives the final number he then writes the corresponding text.
Every amulet begins with the words: “Bismilahir rahmanir rahim” and continues with some prayer, usually it is the first verse of the Quran, El-Fatiha. The constituent part of any good amulet is the magical square or wafq whose content is made up of a sequence of numbers, Allah’s names or short quotations from the Quran.

In Velika Kladuša an amulet is written for nine days before the appearance of the new moon. When the whole text is completed the paper is folded into a shape of a triangle and sown in a red fabric. Beforehand a leaf of rue (Ruta graveoles) or a piece of  yew (Taxus bacuta) or three beans of coffee are placed inside the amulet. In the past the amulet was encased in metal and sown inside of a rabbits skin.It is interesting to mention that the amulet has a fascinating effect on the wearer. If the wearer is under the influence of black magic, soon after he has started wearing the amulet around his neck a harmful sensation will befall him, for example chest pain, nightmare, etc. That is a positive sign that evil has been neutralized. Also this is the crucial moment when the amulet and the wearer have bonded.

Amulets were mostly worn by children, according to the ethnological data collected during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the majority of Bosniak children wore an amulet sown on the top of their fez, shaped like a triangle and sown inside a red fabric, so that it can protect them from spellbound eyes o which children are most susceptible to. In such an amulet a standard prayer that was written in it was a prayer from the Quran called Ali’Imran, using an ink made out of rose water mixed with musk and saffron.

Amulets were also worn by pregnant women so that they can be protected from spellbound eyes and to prevent a possible loss of the offspring. Besides this a red sting was tied around children’s arms or a small shell was sown on their hats to annul every influence of spellbound eyes. A classical amulet was often worn in a triangular metal box which is called “Mahfaza” whose shape also had a symbolical meaning. Namely, each side of the triangle symbolized a verse from the Quran: “I am God", "There is no God but me”, “No one truly knows what I am.”  In Bosnia and Herzegovina since the old ages amulets connected to war are also known, they are called “En’am”, named after the same prayer in the Quran, these amulets were worn by soldiers going to war.

Besides written amulets in Bosnia we find various objects- amulets; a wolf’s tooth was worn by feeble and scared children, a figurine of a frog made out of silver were worn by women who wanted to be protected against gynecological issues or they wore a silver plate on which it was written “Mashalla”. Out of herbal amulets, garlic, leaf of rue or a piece of yew were used, and from the animal amulets, thorns from a hedgehog, a rabbits foot, a wing from a bat, etc. Besides the need to protect himself from evil, man also wanted to protect his animals.
For protection purposes a red fabric was tied to a tail of a cow, a wooden spoon was used for horses, or a small amulet was written and placed on the horns of the animal. Besides people and animals, material goods were also protected from evil. In the past in Bosnia and Herzegovina a lot of attention was given to the protection of the house from black magic and spellbound eyes, to keep peace and happiness inside the house. Along time ago the practice was to write Allah’s name “Ya Hafiz”, which means “God Protector”, on the house doors, especially in Sarajevo. The name was written in Arabic in golden letters on a dark background.

The amulet doesn’t only have the power to protect a human or a house from black magic, its scope of action is much larger and it can, among other things, protect its owner from negative propaganda and crooks. For that reason an owner would write the following on his house: “I said, and swore to Allah that I will do X.” After that he would take four pieces of paper and write on each one of them, one name of the four great Angels: Azrail, Jibrail, Israfil and Mikail and he would place these papers in four corners of the house.In Bosnia we encounter various beliefs about amulets, and these are the most popular ones;  it is believed that an amulet can lose its protective power if it is punctured by a sowing needle. In the same manner the amulet has no power of protection if its owner drinks or eats a spell in his drink or food, it protects man only from external influences, whether they be material or astral origin.

For attraction

This three basme (love magic words) repeat 3 times and blow in the direction from the person you love:

Elif elif etti
you to my meti
what I'm speaking
may you speak it too.

Evretna sabretna safretna
what I'm speaking
may you speak it too.

Bosnian love spells

When Bosniak girl see new moon then she whispers three times magic words:

Sarem sokli Sarajevo,
ibrishimli hirayevo,
hane bishi yaterishi,
of mine N. (name of lower) chifderishi,
anihi pyanihi you are drunk N.sichumihi.

(Sarem sokli Sarajevo, ibrišimli hirajevo, hane biši jeteriši, mome N.ćifderiši,
pijan si N.sićumihi.)